The Air Force’s 2020 Male and Female Athletes of the Year both hail from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Capt. Amber Hansen, commander of Global Activities Squadron Detachment 4 at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, and Airman 1st Class Michael Mannozzi, who works in Religious Affairs at the 88th Air Base Wing Chaplain’s Office, competed against other highly-qualified athletes throughout the Air Force for the prestigious award.
Every year, the Air Force recognizes one male and female military member for their athletic accomplishments. Each installation nominates candidates by submitting packages that highlight their top athlete’s sports-related achievements, military awards and civic recognition from the past calendar year.
Hansen’s highlights include:
-Finished first out of 20 competitors in a national powerlifting event, winning best overall and setting two U.S. records in squat/total with a mark of 1,284 pounds
-Selected for international qualifier and earned U.S. Powerlifting Association elite status in squat, bench and deadlift, ranking 23 among 1,317 members and top 8% globally
-Qualified for Team USA in two weight classes, earning top three in equipped and top 10 among raw lifters, becoming the only female to achieve both
“I had no idea that this award actually existed until a couple of years ago, but as soon as I found out about it, I wanted to win it,” Hansen said. “I submitted packages for it a few times, so I was so excited to see that I won this year.”
Hansen has been powerlifting since 2014 but did not start competing until 2016, when she found her training home at a local gym in Dayton.
“I train four times a week for a few hours each, so at this point it is ingrained in my routine and second nature,” she said. “I love chasing numbers and besting myself, so that alone motivates me to get in the gym and get my work done.”
Hansen is not only driven to succeed in powerlifting. She also aims to be the best Airmen and leader she can be.
“I trust her to command one of my geographically-separated units, and she has done a phenomenal job of taking her detachment to the next level,” said Lt. Col. Stanley Wong, NASIC Global Activities Squadron commander. “I have known her for about five years now and understand how much she puts into powerlifting; I watched her compete at the 2021 Kern U.S. Open a couple months back through a YouTube streaming feed, and she was just awe-inspiring.”
Other than motivating herself to get better, Hansen says she enjoys the idea of helping others reach their goals as well so they can possibly have the same opportunities.
“I have a lot of people supporting me, teaching me and helping me do well in the sport, so being able to pass that knowledge on makes this journey fulfilling,” she added.
Mannozzi was recognized for the following accomplishments:
-Placed sixth at the 50K Race Walk Olympics with a time of 5 hours, 2 minutes, 1 second
-Placed second at the America’s Premiere Walking Classic 10K with a time of 56:52
-Earned 35th in the World Athletics Global rankings and no. 6 nationally with a personal-best time of 5:02.01
-Earned top 10 national rankings in 20K and 50K Race Walk Olympic distances for the 11th consecutive year
Not long after Mannozzi was awarded 2020 Male Athlete of the Year, he was offered the final entry into the Olympic trials for the 20K Race Walk in Eugene, Oregon. Although he did not make the U.S. team, Mannozzi broke a few barriers while he was there, such as:
-Started in last for the race’s first 15% (three laps) and then moved up — passing 20% of the field, including a two-time Olympian — to finish in 12th, the highest-place improvement among any of the competitors
-Had the largest margin of time improvement of any competitor in both the men’s and women’s field
-Only Air Force athlete to compete in two events at the Olympic trials (The first being the 50K in 2020, and now the 20K)
-Only enlisted athlete to compete at the Olympic team trials
-First Chaplain Corps member to ever compete in the USA Olympic team trials
“Being selected as Air Force Male Athlete of the Year is the greatest athletic recognition of my life, and humbling to know that I represent the United States Air Force,” Mannozzi said. “This honor is recognition of my hard work and great support from caring people, and I am grateful because I could not have achieved this without help from others.”
While in Oregon, Mannozzi received plenty of support from WPAFB personnel. Some came from the Air Force Marathon Office. He’s competed in the annual marathon and helped kick-start a new race walking category.
“Our relationship with A1C Mannozzi began before he was an Airman back in 2019,” said Brandon Hough, Air Force Marathon director. “He is a tenacious competitor who has risen to the top of his sport through a relentless drive to be the best he can be.
He never once lets the fact that he is a national class race walker inhibit lifting others up and constantly encourages walkers and runners of all abilities. He is not just an excellent ambassador of race walking, he is an excellent ambassador of the U.S. Air Force as he upholds our core values in his sporting pursuits, his personal life and when he comes to work every day.”
Mannozzi said he finds motivation to race walk through a culmination of factors, including fighting other’s expectations of his attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, being a father and proving to his two autistic sons they can pass any limitation, being a husband to his supportive wife, and living for both himself and his late father, who passed away when he was 14.
“I lavished the idea of race walking because I knew it was my ticket to a better life,” he said. “I knew it would make myself better and improve my weaknesses that have plagued me for years. … Race walking represents so much of who I am. After my father passed, I really wanted to do something meaningful with the time I have in my life.”
Along with winning the Air Force award, Mannozzi also takes every opportunity to help others and be an ambassador to the sport, whether he is instructing Airmen on base or athletes in Bermuda on behalf of the USA Track and Field Race Walk team.
“He holds himself to a high level of professionalism, engagement, and has a huge heart for people,” said Col. Kim Bowen, 88 ABW chaplain. “He not only epitomizes what the Chaplain Corps represents, but he also inspires us all by what he does.”
Leaders and colleagues say Hansen and Mannozzi’s athletic accomplishments, and other attributes epitomize what it means to be an Airman.