Since beginning his time with the Woodstock lacrosse program as a volunteer six years ago, Conway has helped to elevate the Wolverines to a playoff team for three consecutive seasons. But unlike many successful coaches, he has done it with his voice, rather than his arms or legs.
A former scholarship athlete the University of West Alabama, Conway was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis roughly 25 years ago.
Initially, the disease seemed to have little effect, and for the first few years after the diagnosis, Conway was able to lead a relatively healthy life.
But his health quickly began to degenerate in the 1990s, and the disease left him wheelchair-bound in 2000.
Despite having only one arm that functions fully, Conway refuses to let life pass him by.
“My motto is that there are two kinds of people: winners and whiners,” he said. “On the field, we do our best to turn the whiners into winners.”
When asked what keeps him motivated, Conway was quick to point out his family as his inspiration.
“(My wife) Leana was the answer to my prayers,” he said.
Behind family, Dennis Conway’s second motivation is lacrosse.
“If it wasn’t for my family and lacrosse,” he said, “I wouldn’t get out of the bed in the morning.”
For Conway, lacrosse is more than just a sport.
“You have to have discipline to play. You have to be dedicated,” he said. “I’m more concerned about making the players into the men they need to be. We’re teaching life skills.”
Leana Conway admires her husband’s determination not to let his disease keep him from his goals.
“He is completely determined to make the best of this,” Leana Conway said. “I don’t know how he does it. Most days, I wouldn’t get up if I were him.”
“You get what you give out of it,” Dennis Conway said, a lesson that, in his mind, applies to both lacrosse and life.
When asked what impresses him most about Conway, Joshua Sailers, the head coach of Woodstock’s boys lacrosse team, found it difficult to narrow it down to only one thing.
“His caring — how much he cares for the players and wants them to succeed,” Sailers finally settled upon. “Not only on the field, but even in the classroom. He is one of the bravest guys I know, the way he preserves. He doesn’t let (the disease) hold him back, not one bit. He really gives you a lot of life lessons on how to persevere. He has taught me a lot.”
When asked how the players responded to Conway, Sailers’ response was immediate and emphatic.
“They respect him 100 percent,” Sailers said. “They look up to him and how courageous he is. To them, he’s an open ear.”
For Sailers, the award comes as no surprise at all. After all, he was the one who nominated Conway for the award.
“The award is given for those who give their all for the sports,” Sailers said. “That’s what he’s done for the last six years. That’s why I nominated him for it.”
The only person it seemed who was genuinely surprised that he received the honor was Conway himself.
“Shocked,” Conway said in reply as to whether his selection caught him off guard. “I’m just a community coach. I was really, really surprised — but very honored.”
With his strong sense of determination and deep sense of caring, it is an honor that Conway most certainly deserves.