SEATTLE -- Washington guard Kayla Burt, who returned to college basketball last season after surviving a near-death experience, on Tuesday was named the winner of this year's Comeback Award by the V Foundation.
The honor, presented in memory of the late Jim Valvano, goes to an individual or team that accomplishes a personal triumph in the face of adversity. Burt was chosen from more than 50 nominees and 17 finalists.
"There's very few who could have accomplished what Kayla has done," Huskies coach June Daugherty said. "It's a very, very special honor. It's also very, very well deserved."
Burt announced last August she would play for Washington again, 20 months after her heart stopped on New Year's Eve 2002. She was resuscitated by teammates that night and later had a defibrillator implanted in her chest.
Doctors initially told Burt she couldn't play college basketball anymore because of a condition that causes heartbeat irregularities.
She remained on scholarship, serving as a student assistant coach until further tests at the Mayo Clinic showed she didn't have the abnormality. That's all it took for Burt to rejoin her teammates.
"Everything was taken away within 24 hours," she recalled. "Within the snap of a finger, the game was gone. You always wonder, 'Can I come back? Is there something I can do?' When it became clear there was a possibility, I did everything I could."
Burt's family agreed to assume all risks and release the university from liability for consequences. Burt averaged 9.6 points, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals last season as a junior.
"She loves the game. She's extremely competitive. She loves to be out there playing basketball with her teammates. She just has that inside her, that inner drive," Daugherty said.
Burt agreed her story is inspirational, but she insisted she feels more touched by tales she's heard from others who wrote her letters to share similar experiences.
"You think you're the only one," Burt said. "In reality, it happens more and more -- people having medical problems at a young age. I've had numerous people contact me, tell their stories.
"So to win this award is very humbling," she added. "It's not something you can really prepare for."