Jean Schaefer, the mother of late Olympic champion bobsledder Steven Holcomb, who died in 2017, gave a moving speech as she accepted a pair of silver medals on her son’s behalf.
This year’s Team USA Awards, which will air next month, featured a special medal reallocation ceremony for Holcomb and his teammates, who received bronze medals during the 2014 Sochi Olympics in both the two-man and the four-man bobsled events, both of which Holcomb participated in. In March, the International Olympic Committee announced that as other athletes had been disqualified for doping, Holcomb and his teammates would be receiving silver medals.
“Thank you very much, that was very much appreciated,” Schaefer tearfully said during one ceremony. “I am Steven Holcomb’s mother, and I am honored to be the voice of Steven tonight.”
“I tried to imagine what Steven would say and what he would be feeling. I think Steven would be feeling extreme excitement and pride. Silver medals for his team and for his country. The reward of dedication and just plain hard work,” she continued. “A sense of satisfaction to be recognized as competitors with integrity. A deep gratitude to his teammates Chris [Fogt], Steve [Langton], Curt [Tomasevicz], with whom he shares this honor.”
In a particularly emotional moment, Schafer opened up a silver box, which held a bouquet of flowers her son had received during the 2014 games.
“Finally, I’d like to share with you, these are the flowers from the medal ceremony in Sochi. They were carefully packed in a silver shoebox — yes, silver — to journey all the way from Russia to Steven’s mom in California,” she said, pulling out the dried flowers. “They say so much about Steven Holcomb as a man. He was thoughtful, dedicated, kind. A man who had a passion for the bobsled. We love you Steven, and we miss you, thank you.”
Olympic champion wrestler Jordan Burroughs, who hosted the Team USA awards, opened up to PEOPLE about the “inspiring” moment.
“She [Steve’s mom] read her speech in rehearsal and although it was a preparational phase for her, it was still a lot of emotion involved hours before she even read it again. But I think that being in that room and reading Steve’s story throughout the day and being around his family members and hearing the type of man that he was, it was incredible and it was inspiring, ultimately,” Burroughs said.
“And you could see the love that the people in the video had for him, his teammates, his family, they truly thought that he was a great man and so it was quite the moving moment and I was just happy to be a part of it. I’ve never seen a reallocation ceremony and I’ve never really even watched bobsled but now I’ve become a fan of it. … It was special,” he added.
In a press release, United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee CEO Sarah Hirshland said it was “incredibly moving to honor and rightfully acknowledge four members of our Team USA community with medal reallocation ceremonies.”
“It was a recognition that is long overdue,” she added.
Holcomb, who competed in three Olympic Winter Games, was found dead in May 2017 in his room at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York. He was 37.
At the time, he was preparing to attempt to compete in what would have been his fourth Olympics, the 2018 games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
In the 2010 Vancouver games, he was part of a four-man team that took home the gold. At the 2014 Sochi games, he medaled twice, winning the bronze in both the two-man and four-man bobsled.
The full medal reallocation ceremonies for the Team USA 2014 Olympic bobsled teams will air on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 22, from 2 to 3 p.m. EST.
To learn more, visit teamusa.org. The Tokyo Olympics begin next summer on NBC.
• With reporting by ADAM CARLSON