Edwards, Paradise receive Big Ten Medals of Honor

Seniors+Taylor+Edwards+and+Michael+Paradise+became+Big+Ten+Medal+of+Honor+recipients+on+Wednesday.

Left: Mark Capapas; Right: Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Seniors Taylor Edwards and Michael Paradise became Big Ten Medal of Honor recipients on Wednesday.

By Claire O'Brien, Staff Writer

Illinois announced Taylor Edwards, senior in AHS, and Michael Paradise, senior in Engineering, as the recipients of the Big Ten Medal of Honor on Wednesday via Twitter. Each year, the University honors one male and one female senior athlete with the award.

Edwards played four seasons of softball and one season of women’s basketball at Illinois, while Paradise was a member of the men’s gymnastics team.

The award is typically handed out at the Oskee Awards, Illinois Athletics’ annual award show held at the end of April, but the show was called off this year.

Both Edwards and Paradise are winter athletes, but Edwards concluded her season when sports were canceled. Paradise was in Puerto Rico ziplining with his teammates when he found out his senior season was cut short.

“We were (right) about to go down,” Paradise said. “(One of my teammates) was already strapped in and then that’s right when Justin let us know, and then he’s, you know, just kind of laying there like, ‘I’m about to go down the zipline right now, are you kidding me?’”

Paradise is graduating with a degree in aerospace engineering and is set to attend graduate school at Illinois in the fall. He would take an extra year of eligibility if it was offered, but the NCAA has not mentioned extending eligibility to winter athletes.

Paradise was finishing a final exam when Illinois Athletics hosted a Zoom press conference to announce the awards and joined the Zoom meeting when he finished his final. Edwards stayed on the call to congratulate him.

Despite the abrupt finish to his Illinois career, Paradise is hoping to compete at the U.S. national gymnastics meet.

Paradise found out about the Medal of Honor “either Sunday or Monday.” Head coach Justin Spring had known for a while about Paradise winning the award and called to share the news.

“I was very shocked,” Paradise said. “I just didn’t quite understand what the award was at the time. And (then) it processed and (I) let it sink in and I was like, ‘oh, wow, this is, this is a big deal.’”

Paradise found that concluding his Illini career winning the Medal of Honor was a fitting way to do so.

“It pretty much encapsulates all that I was able to accomplish throughout my four years here at Illinois,” Paradise said. “(I’m) just very honored (to) be honored in that fashion.”

Monday was the day when Edwards also found out about both of her awards.

Edwards heard about her Medal of Honor and Fighting Illini Spirit Award wins the same day. Women’s basketball head coach Nancy Fahey broke the news about the Medal of Honor to Edwards over a phone call.

“Coach Fahey called me and congratulated me on winning the Spirit Award,” Edwards said. “We were just (having) a (normal) conversation and she said, ‘you know (the) Big Ten Medal of Honor, right?’ and I was like, ‘yeah?’ and she said, ‘uh huh.’ And I didn’t really know exactly what she meant by that, but the wheels started turning and she goes ‘it’s all yours.’’’

Edwards was quick to defer credit for her award to her support systems on campus, including academic advisers, teammates and coaching staff.

Once her time at Illinois was up, Edwards planned to play professional softball in Switzerland, but now is looking at a career in college athletics administration. She recently became a Big Ten autonomy rep where she advocates for student-athletes during meetings with conference administrators.

“My future aspirations are to work in collegiate athletics administration,” Edwards said. “I’ll be looking for a starting point there, whether that be an internship or a full-time job working in any realm of college athletics.”

In her time at Illinois, Edwards said some of her favorite memories include making the NCAA tournament. Edwards was a member of the 2016, 2017 and 2019 NCAA tournament teams.

Growing up near the Illinois campus, Edwards felt concluding her college career with the Medal of Honor was the best way to go out.

“For me, it really is the epitome of fulfilling a childhood dream,” she said. “This experience at Illinois has been way more than I ever could have thought or imagined.”

@claire_obrien43

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