The Craig H. Neilsen Visionary Prize launched in 2020 to celebrate influential voices in the world of spinal cord injury. The Prize was created to honor the legacy of Craig H. Neilsen and is awarded to individuals who embody the values that were important to him during his lifetime.
Each prize winner is awarded $1 million, respectively.
2022 Visionary Prize Recipients
Yannick Benjamin, a lifelong New Yorker, was born to French immigrants. His father and uncles worked in fine dining, and by the age of 13, he knew he wanted to follow in their footsteps. By his mid-twenties, Yannick had worked in many of New York’s most prestigious restaurants and in 2003, he became a Certified Sommelier.
Weeks later, a car crash left Yannick paralyzed from the waist down and forced him to reinvent his career. For over a decade, he worked at Le Du’s Wines before becoming the Head Sommelier at the University Club.
In 2021, Yannick and his partner George Gallego, also a paraplegic, opened Contento, a disability-friendly restaurant in East Harlem inspired by Peruvian cuisine. Early reviews were glowing and Contento was a regional winner for Fine Wine’s 2022 Wine List Awards (North America) and added to Michelin’s New York City restaurant guide. In 2016, The Wine Enthusiast named Yannick one of their “40 Under 40,” and in 2021, he won the Sommelier/Beverage Director of the Year at the Wine Star Awards, as well as the VinePair Wine Professional of the Year. Most recently, Yannick made Food and Wine’s 2022 list of “Game Changers” and he is currently an Advanced Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. In November 2022, Yannick launched Beaupierre Wines & Spirits, a retail and gathering space, in Hell’s Kitchen, New York.
Always athletic, Yannick is an accomplished para-athlete, who has competed in 10 NYC marathons, and the Boston and Chicago marathons. Yannick’s indomitable spirit and infectious enthusiasm have inspired sommeliers, wine distributors, and winemakers to support his Wine on Wheels initiative, which gives back to the spinal cord injury community.
Joshua Basile, Esq.
Joshua Basile, Esq. is a DC-based attorney, Founder of Determined2Heal and SPINALpedia, and Community Relations Manager of accessiBe. Joshua decided to pursue a legal career to represent and fight for the catastrophically injured after suffering his own traumatic injury in 2004. Mr. Basile’s life changed forever during a family vacation when he suffered a severe spinal cord injury resulting in permanent paralysis. As a quadriplegic, he knows firsthand the daily struggles of the catastrophically injured and the importance of improving one’s quality of life.
After graduating magna cum laude from law school and passing the Maryland and District of Columbia bar, Mr. Basile joined Jack H. Olender & Associates. He also cofounded SPINALpedia.com – an online social mentoring network and video archive that allows the spinal cord community to motivate each other. SPINALpedia’s “Living with Adventurous Wheels” program organizes and sponsors adventures and sport outings for SCI families. Josh has personally mentored thousands of SCI families to help simplify the difficult transition into life with paralysis and to navigate disability employment benefits when pursuing and maintaining a job. In 2019, Mr. Basile was inducted into the National Disability Mentoring Coalition’s Susan Daniels Mentoring Hall of Fame.
His competitive attitude also continues outside his legal career. He is an inventor of both a device and a sport. He holds a patent for a golf device he created that allows those with physical limitations to putt a ball anywhere on a green or a miniature golf course. His putting device is used in Slingshot Golf, the sport he created, which allows players of all abilities to play against each other. Josh is also one of the driving forces behind the fuelService app, which streamlines communication between drivers with disabilities and gas stations willing to assist with pumping.
Dr. Oluwaferanmi “Feranmi” Okanlami, MS
Dr. Oluwaferanmi “Feranmi” Okanlami is an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine with a joint appointment in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Michigan. He serves as the Director for Medical Student Success in the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion and in 2021, was named the Director of Student Accessibility and Accommodation Services. Born in Nigeria before immigrating to the US at a young age, Dr. Okanlami earned a master’s degree in Engineering, Science, and Technology Entrepreneurship from The University of Notre Dame, and completed his Family Medicine Residency at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Indiana. Feranmi received his MD from the University of Michigan before matching into Yale University’s Orthopedic Surgery Residency Program.
At the beginning of his third year at Yale, he suffered a spinal cord injury, paralyzing him from the chest down. After two surgeries and intense rehabilitation, he regained some return of motor function.
Nationally, Dr. Okanlami serves as the Disability Issues representative on the Steering Committee for the Group on Diversity and Inclusion at the Association of American Medical Colleges, while sitting on the National Medical Association’s Council on Medical Legislation. He was also selected by the White House Office of Public Engagement to participate in the Health Equity Leaders Roundtable Series and honored with one of Michiana’s 2017 Forty under 40 awards.
Dr. O, as he is affectionately known, has a catchphrase “Disabusing Disability” which he uses to demonstrate that DISability doesn’t necessarily mean INability, and serves the goal of creating a health system that is both inclusive and accessible for all. In 2020, he stepped up as the faculty lead for the COVID-19 hotline for the University of Michigan and was appointed to the COVID Campus Response Committee. He also serves on the Council for Medical Legislation at the National Medical Association.
About the Prize
The Craig H. Neilsen Visionary Prize was established in 2020 to honor the memory and legacy of our Founder, Craig H. Neilsen. Created to reflect his dreams for the spinal cord injury (SCI) community, Prize recipients are influential voices for the world of SCI, unafraid to take bold risks. They also show great potential to expand or advocate for new ideas to enrich lives affected by SCI.
The Prize highlights values that were important to Craig in his lifetime. Recipients reflect many of the qualities that Craig was well known for, such as extraordinary determination, inexhaustible passion, and an ability to inspire. This unrestricted $1 million award is meant to draw attention to and celebrate passionate individuals advancing the world of SCI.
The Ideal Nominee
Individuals are chosen based on the influence and distinctiveness of the person’s contributions. There is no restriction on the specific profession of people considered for this Prize, as the world of SCI is made up of artists, athletes, clinicians, scientists, writers, and others. Ideal Prize nominees are mid-career individuals committed to SCI, with the potential to remain influential in the field as their work continues to evolve.
The Foundation does not accept unsolicited nominations for the Prize.
- A body of work that has positively affected the SCI community and demonstrates creative/out-of-the-box thinking
- Reflection/embodiment of the Foundation’s values
- Potential to make an impact on people living with SCI
- Ability to facilitate the nominee’s growth and influence on the SCI community
- The individuals must live and work in the U.S. or Canada
- Nominees can come from any field, but must have a meaningful connection to the SCI community