Growth of women’s hockey leads to remarkable contributions from female photographers

As the sport of women’s hockey has grown by a quantum leap since the introduction of women’s hockey at the 1998 Nagano Winter games, one of the areas where women have started to break through is in the traditionally male dominated field of sports photography.

While the budding Canadian Women’s Hockey League has seen male photographers such as Dave Holland, Richard Scott, Pasquale Stalteri and Brandon Taylor contribute some remarkable shots; there is also a group of women that have helped to capture the grit and determination of the fearless, frozen females of the rink.

(Left to right) CJ Ireland, Lyne Landry, Jessica Moffatt and Mandi Duhamel represent a former era of Ottawa women's hockey captured by Krista Windsor

(Left to right) CJ Ireland, Lyne Landry, Jessica Moffatt and Mandi Duhamel represent a former era of Ottawa women’s hockey captured by Krista Windsor

Among them was Ottawa’s Krista Windsor. One of the first women to contribute superlative photos of the CWHL’s finest in action, her work helped to provide the now defunct Ottawa Lady Senators with a pictorial history of its contribution to sport in Canada’s capital region.

Monica Dupuis releases a wrist shot while Brampton's Bobbi-Jo Slusar tries to defend at Ottawa's Carleton Ice House. Photo by: Krista Windsor

Monica Dupuis releases a wrist shot while Brampton’s Bobbi-Jo Slusar tries to defend at Ottawa’s Carleton Ice House. Photo by: Krista Windsor

Possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of the game, the opportunity to contribute with the Ottawa Senators was a labor of love. Having also taken nature and wildlife shots, Windsor has a keen eye for detail.

Windsor’s shots are an invaluable archive which helped to commemorate an era of women’s hockey in Ottawa that was gone too soon. The efforts of Lady Senators such as Kendra Antony, Robyn Rittmaster, and Danika Smith are captured masterfully through the lens of Windsor. For a generation of women that worked towards establishing a new era of women’s hockey in Ottawa, Windsor’s superlative photos are the ones these hockey pioneers shall likely show their grandchildren one day.

Based out of Montreal, Jess Desjardins’ work behind the lens is helping to only enhance the status of the CWHL’s Montreal Stars as one of the world’s finest women’s hockey franchises. Adding a major league feel to the contests at Etienne-Desmarteau Arena, Jess Desjardins is establishing herself as one of the finest women’s hockey photographers.

Jess Desjardins at the 2013 Clarkson Cup (Image obtained from:

Jess Desjardins at the 2013 Clarkson Cup (Image obtained from:

Of note, she was also part of two remarkable hockey events in 2013; the Clarkson Cup in Markham, Ontario, known as the Stanley Cup of women’s hockey and the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Ottawa. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that one of her photos was selected to be the cover of the Clarkson Cup souvenir program. To have an image selected for a magazine cover is certainly one of the finest compliments that a photographer can have.

Caroline Ouellette (left) and Dangerous Dominique Thibault were photographed by Desjardins. The image would make the cover of the 2013 Clarkson Cup program.

Caroline Ouellette (left) and Dangerous Dominique Thibault were photographed by Desjardins. The image would make the cover of the 2013 Clarkson Cup program.

Having grown up in Montreal, Desjardins is also a filmmaker contributing to videography with the Stars as well. With a past as an instructor and technician at Recording Arts Canada, she has also done freelance work as a sound recordist. Fluent in English, French and Spanish, she has certainly found her niche immortalizing the action which features the wondrous women that compete for the Stars.

Quickly emerging as the definitive photographer for hockey in New England, Melissa Wade captures more than just the excitement of women’s hockey. Seeing the frozen perimeter of the rink through her lens, she has also become a fixture at National Hockey League and American Hockey League contests.

Having covered both NCAA men’s and women’s competition, along with the CWHL’s Boston Blades, her presence adds a feeling of importance. For generations of collegiate hockey players, her images capture a moment in time in which the highly conditioned athletes gracing the ice have a feeling of indestructibility and an ambition to excel at the game with a pure love for the game.

Boston College captains Corinne Boyles (left) and Meagan Mangene celebrate a 5-1 home win over  the Maine Black Bears on October 6, 2013,  their Hockey East season opener at Kelley Rink. Photo by Melissa Wade

Boston College captains Corinne Boyles (left) and Meagan Mangene celebrate a 5-1 home win over the Maine Black Bears on October 6, 2013, their Hockey East season opener at Kelley Rink. Photo by Melissa Wade

Originally from Memphis, Wade calls Boston home. Her first exposure to photographing hockey came at the New Jersey Devils training camp several autumns ago. Motivated by the fact that early online searches resulted in less than a dozen or so photos of her favorite players, Wade began a website and fulfilled the need to accommodate other fans looking for photos also.

Employing a style that covers everyone on the ice and not just superstars, it has resulted in a terrific database which provides fans of all levels of hockey a unique view of the game. With the advent of social media, it has served as a remarkable tool for others to appreciate her devotion to the game.

With an archive of over 25,000 photos, Wade has created a visual diary, a time capsule that shall be treasured in the years to come. For fans of ECAC Hockey and Hockey East women’s hockey, she is the premier authority when it comes to capturing their glorious actions on ice.

Having revolutionized women’s hockey through the concept of a charitable pin-up calendar, the Vancouver Ice-O-Topes became an international sensation, while using proceeds to assist less fortunate teenagers in East Vancouver. Conceived by Topes member and fantastic photographer Rebecca Blissett, her unique vision and talent shone in the inaugural edition of the calendar.

Employed as a professional photographer, Blissett has had her work featured in Elle magazine, People, Spin, Metal Hammer, Peace, The Globe and Mail and the National Post. In addition, Vancouver-based entertainment magazine the Georgia Straight features many of her photos as she captures the zeitgeist of the Vancouver music scene.

Through the lens of Blissett, Ice-O-Topes player Tara Loseth recreates Paul Henderson’s goal against Russia in the Summit Series, one of the most iconic moments in hockey history. (Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett)

Through the lens of Blissett, Ice-O-Topes player Tara Loseth recreates Paul Henderson’s goal against Russia in the Summit Series, one of the most iconic moments in hockey history. (Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett)

Of note, her earliest experiences photographing hockey came while she sat in the penalty box shooting Junior A hockey. With a specialization in creative portraiture along with promotional shots for musicians and CD artwork, Blissett was the key to creating a set of tasteful yet powerful pin-up portraits that captured women’s hockey players in an unprecedented fashion.

Released in 2010, the first edition of the calendar sold out quickly, resulting in television appearances, including a popular talk show in Brazil. Other releases would follow annually up to 2013.

Creativity was a strong element in every edition of the Topes groundbreaking calendars. For the 2013 edition, classic hockey moments were reproduced with the Topes unique style. Throughout, Blissett has emerged as the creative genius bringing the worlds of glamour, athleticism and art into an amalgam of visual perfection.

Vancouver Ice-O-Topes women’s hockey more than just eye candy

Having made international news for their calendars, the Vancouver Ice-O-Topes are one of Canada’s most famous women’s ice hockey teams. To dismiss them as mere candy would be overlooking their hearts of gold. While there is a visual appeal to their calendars, partial proceeds have gone to the Britannia After School Hockey (BASH) program while the remainder helped raise money for highly valued ice time.

With the club having issued calendars since 2010, they have become collector’s items among hockey fans. It would earn the club nicknames such as Fire on Ice and the Hot Hockey Women of Vancouver. After past fundraisers included the selling of frozen foods, team player and professional photographer Rebecca Blissett conceived the idea of a calendar.

Donating her time, Blissett worked tirelessly to organize and capture the images of her scantily-clad teammates. When not on the ice, Blissett is a professional photojournalist, whose work has appared in various publication includeing: Elle magazine, People, Spin, Metal Hammer, Peace, The Globe and Mail and the National Post and many other renowned publications. Her earliest experience in sports photography included shooting Junior A hockey from the penalty box.

An image from the 2012 Ice-O-Topes calendar (Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett)

An image from the 2012 Ice-O-Topes calendar (Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett)

Assisting underprivileged teens in the area of East Vancouver, British Columbia, the objective of BASH is to provide a chance for them to compete at ice hockey. As Several team members are from East Vancouver and have competed on Britannia Ice, the project was close to their hearts.

Reaching unprecedented success, the 2010 Topes calendar made news on one of the biggest television programs in Brazil – Domingo Espetacular. The popular news show featured journalist Paulo Henrique conversing with the Topes while displaying his soccer skills on the ice.

Building on the momentum of the 2010 edition, the 2011 calendar also featured members of Vancouver’s Little Guitar Army along with members of the city’s homeless soccer team, Vancouver Portland FC. When the 2011 version became available, Ron McLean and Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada also mentioned the calendar.

Competing in the second division of the Adult Safe Hockey League at Burnaby 8-Rinks, the Topes have the talent to complement their beauty.

A heartwarming image of the Ice-O-Topes in their chicken uniforms at the Iceland Cup (Image obtained from:

A heartwarming image of the Ice-O-Topes in their chicken uniforms at the Iceland Cup (Image obtained from:

One of their greatest legacies is their international play in Iceland. As the sport of women’s hockey continues to grow in the tiny nation, the Ice-O-Topes were there to help shape its growth. Competing at the Iceland International Ice Hockey Cup, they were the only Vancouver-based club to compete during its early years. Of note, the Topes claimed three championships in a row but lost the 2012 championship to the host team.

Contested in the capital city of Reykjavik from October 5 to 7, the Topes experienced victory in three of their group-stage games in the elite-A division. During group-stage play, the club had defeated the eventual champions Iceland Red by a 3-2 count. In addition, they had bested a club from Toronto in a 3-1 win while another club from Icelandic was defeated 3-2.

Iceland Red would regroup in the championship game and shut out the Ice-O-Topes by a tight 1-0 score. Despite the heartbreaking loss final, the Topes incorporated an element of play and humor by wearing their third jerseys; a chicken costume. The origins of the costumer date back to Halloween 2007 when team captain Shan Saunders introduced them to the club. Goaltender Megan Spahan was dressed as the yellow-yolked egg.

Of note, former Canadian national team goaltender and CWHL co-founder Sami Jo Small and her husband, Paralympic gold medalist Billy Bridges were at the Iceland Cup providing instruction to several players.

In 2012, the club captured their second consecutive title at the 13th Annual Apex Shoot-Out hockey tournament. Held outdoors in Penticton, BC (home to the Program of Excellence), the Topes claim the A Division crown with a victory over the Vancouver Raging Daisies.

With Megan Spahan between the pipes, the road to the title began with a 7-2 decision over the Okanagan Farmers. A 7-0 win over the Daisies in preliminary round play continued with a 6-1 semifinal win over the Vancouver Violent Femmes. Sarah Somerville was named the Tournament Most Valuable Player. When not on the ice, the players helped promote the team pin-up calendar.

Celebrating winning the 2012 Apex Shoot-Out Tournament Women's A Division. Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett

Celebrating winning the 2012 Apex Shoot-Out Tournament Women’s A Division. Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett

During the 2011-12 season, the Topes logged 25 points in 28 games played with a 12-15-1 mark, scoring 85 goals and allowing 86. They ended their season with a three game winning streak, grabbing seven wins in their final nine games.

Naomi Smethurst was the leading goal scorer with 19 goals, while Kiera Scanlan, who played collegiate hockey with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, earned 11 assists. Of note, Scanlan also participated with the WBL North Stars in the 2008 Oregon Scientific Phoenix Cup, a women’s baseball tournament in Hong Kong.

Smethurt would finish the campaign as the leading scorer with 24 points. On special teams, Scanlan and Smethurst would make an impact as Scanlan led the squad in power play markers and Smethurst led in short-handed tallies.

Holly Quinn logged 18 penalty minutes. Between the pipes, Megan Spahan led the Topes with 10 wins. Milestones for the season featured Scanlan and Lindsay Trimble with the longest point scoring streak (8 games). Smethurst, Sonya Glover and Tara Loset each had four points in one game during the regular season. Smethurst had the finest performance as she scored four goals in one game on September 18 vs. Machette Betties. In that game, Glover would log four assists.

Spahan has competed with the Ice-O-Topes since 2007 with her finest season being in 2011. She logged a 14-11 win-loss mark and a 2.51 goals against average. In 2009, she had another strong season as she was 12-10-2 with a 1.98 GAA.

Re-creating classic hockey scenes for the 2013 edition of their popular calendar. This image re-creates Roger Neilson waving the white flag during the Vancouver Canucks classic playoff run. (Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett)

Re-creating classic hockey scenes for the 2013 edition of their popular calendar. This image re-creates Roger Neilson waving the white flag during the Vancouver Canucks classic playoff run. (Photo credit: Rebecca Blissett)

The 2013 edition of the calendar was unique in the fact that Blissett opted to not re-visit the somewhat exhausted pin-up style. Attempting to employ a different concept, the women of the Topes recreated some of the most famous scenes in hockey. Classic scenes such as Bobby Orr’s leap through the air after scoring the 1970 Stanley Cup winning goal and Paul Henderson’s iconic goal at the 1972 Summit Series are just some of the exciting classic scenes re-interpreted through Blissett’s remarkable work with the camera.

Other classics included a new look at Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card a la Topes, along with Ken Dryden’s classic stance in the goal mouth where he leans on his stick along with Tiger Williams riding his stick after scoring the Maple Leafs. All given new life with the Topes re-creating such memorable moments, the fourth annual edition of the calendar employed a more challenging theme while trying to avoid the overused concept of classic pin-up shots.

While the Topes are not publishing a 2014 edition of the calendar, their efforts captured the hearts and minds of both male and female hockey fans while helping a worthy cause. All remarkable hockey humanitarians, the competitors of the Topes are true builders of women’s hockey in the Pacific region of Canada.

Nikki Johnson shines as one of the sporting superstars of Las Vegas

Nikki Johnson first came to the attention of sports fans in 2008 when she appeared at the Women’s Football Camp and Conference in Las Vegas. Still a student at Silverado High School, she was already carving her legacy in football.

Playing in the inaugural season of the Las Vegas Sin, Johnson was nominated as the Rookie of the Year, MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. A second-team All-America selection with the Women’s Football Alliance, she earned the nod as a wide receiver, testament to her talent.

Having played against the boys as a child, Johnson was moved when she saw Sam Gordon, a 9 year-old girl from Utah rush for over 1,900 yards in the Ute Conference in 2012. Johnson even wrote her a letter of inspiration, indicating how she impressed she was with her play.

Represented by the SMWW Agency, Johnson is a sports model, motivational speaker and broadcaster.
An ambassador for the LFL, she is truly one of its gems. Having represented the league in All-Star games in Mexico and Australia, with a sparkling time of 4.8 in the 40-yard dash.


Championing the worthy cause of having girl’s flag football earning the status of a sanctioned sport in the state, she would speak about its benefits at the conference mentioning that recreational flag football leagues for girls had nearly 2000 participants in Southern Nevada. Emphasizing the importance of giving girls a place to learn the game at an earlier age level, Johnson even set up a program to help establish the growth of the sport in her school district.

Although the Clark County School District in Nevada mentioned girl’s flag football would be classified as a club sport for 36 high schools in 2009, the desired result came in 2012. Following in the footsteps of Florida, Alaska and several regions of Canada and Mexico, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association would sanction the sport.

During that time frame, Johnson was also one of 10 young women that were chosen to help promote girls flag football for the National Football League. It would mark the beginning of a fruitful relationship with the league. From encouraging women to contact her so that she could put them in touch with proper NFL channels to get women’s football started in their area, she would also serve an internship with NFL Films in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. In addition, she would contribute to NFL Matchup, a weekly show featuring Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge, as a production assistant gathering stats and researching facts.

In women’s tackle football, Johnson participated in the Women’s Football Alliance with the Las Vegas Showgirlz. Competing at the Wide Receiver position, Johnson would emerge as the squad’s receiving leader in 2010. Several of her Sin teammates also made their mark with the Showgirlz; Yevette Tanner, Jennifer Cowan and Mia Chambers (who was tackled in LFL play by a drunken fan). Of note, Johnson would also play with another WFA squad, the Silver State Legacy.

Perhaps more impressive was the fact that an NFL Films crew followeed Nikki and her Showgirlz teammates, including a workout session at Van Hook Sports Performance, highlighting the growth of the women’s game. As a side note, former pop culture icon Robin Leach contributes to the Las Vegas Sun and is one of Johnson’s biggest fans, having frequently covered her storied career.

Johnson (left) and Joey Davenport during the introductory news conference for the Las Vegas Sin expansion squad. (Photo credit: Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Johnson (left) and Joey Davenport during the introductory news conference for the Las Vegas Sin expansion squad. (Photo credit: Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Her importance and value to her team is the equivalent of Peyton Manning in men’s football. Heading into the 2013 campaign, Las Vegas head coach Jeremiah Captain praised her talents to the Las Vegas Sun, calling her an accurate passer who could make any throw on the field. While Las Vegas has attractions such as Celine Dion and Britney Spears, Johnson and her superlative displays of football talent are every bit worthy of being a headliner as well.

A see-saw battle against the Green Bay Chill at Orleans Arena would help to solidify Johnson’s status as one of the league’s premier pivots. With both clubs fighting for a postseason berth, fans expected a shoot-out between Johnson and elite quarterback Anne “Showtime” Erler.

For fans of LFL Canada, this was just the continuation of a very intense rivalry between the two. During the inaugural season of the Canadian version of the sport, Johnson was named starting quarterback and eventually became offensive co-ordinator for the Regina Rage. Erler would earn the starting job with the Saskatoon Sirens, setting the stage for the football mad province of Saskatchewan to witness women’s football at its finest. Their rivalry would reach its summit during the last game of the Canadian season as the winner would advance to the LFL Canada championship.

With Cassandra Strickland at a 2013 Super Bowl weekend party at Tabu night club. (Photo by Cashman Photos: Obtained from

With Cassandra Strickland at a 2013 Super Bowl weekend party at Tabu night club. (Photo by Cashman Photos: Obtained from

The match between Green Bay and Las Vegas would go down as one of the most exciting and historic in league history. With Erler and wide receiver Anna Heasman leading the league in passing and receiving, Johnson made perfect use of her weapons on offense, including Carmen Bourseau, Kelly Schroeder, Stephany Pearls and Danika Brace.

In a game where the lead changed eight times, Heasman would finish the game with an LFL record five receiving touchdowns. Despite the record, Johnson would steal the show by registering four touchdown passes and a 35-yard touchdown run. Her run provided the Sun with a 32-26 lead. After Erler tied the score, Johnson did not disappoint the hometown crowd. A 5-play, 35-yard drive saw Johnson pick apart the Chill defense with a 4-yard pass to Maddie McCoy proving to be the game-winning TD pass.

During the 2013 LFL season, Johnson fifth among all competitors in rushing with 213 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry while earning All-Fantasy honors. Her 213 yard output accounted for 47 percent of the Sin’s rushing attack. In terms of passing, Johnson finished among the top five in the league with 309 passing yards and eight touchdown passes. She was also one of the nominees for the LFL’s Offensive Player of the Year Award.

Such a strong presence at the quarterback position was essential in the Sin earning the second highest rushing in the league with an average of 185.3 yards per game. Johnson was also a key factor in Kelley Schroeder blossoming into a deep threat as she finished her campaign ranking as the fifth-best receiver in the league.

Returning to the tangent of LFL Canada, if fans conduct an internet search on Nikki Johnson, they will likely find her hit on Toronto Triumph defender Devine Burton constituting most of the top search results. Named as one of the Top 10 plays of the year on ESPN Sports Center, the play consisted of Johnson on her way towards scoring a rushing touchdown, she drops her shoulder, sending a powerful message to anyone that tries to stand in her way.

While the hit against Burton is a viral video, the reality is that the game possessed some of that typical Johnson magic. Defeating the Triumph by a 40-32 score, Johnson was named Player of the Game. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that after 48 minutes of smash mouth football, she was part of a post-game autograph session, with an ice pack on her right wrist. A true display of character and dedication to her fans.

Showing great loyalty to her fans. Signing an autograph after a Regina Rage win while sporting an ice pack on her right wrist. (Image obtained from:

Showing great loyalty to her fans. Signing an autograph after a Regina Rage win while sporting an ice pack on her right wrist. (Image obtained from:

Her presence certainly added a major league feel to LFL Canada. She would finish second in the league in four categories, including passing yardage, touchdown passes, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, respectively.

While it is easy to look on the surface and see the beauty that Johnson and her colleagues from the LFL possess, the most revealing element is their dedication and athleticism. From her role as a women’s sports activist and a Title IX champion, Johnson is one of the modern day builders for women’s football in Nevada. With the goal of working in operations for an NFL team or with an apparel company, Johnson would be a tremendous asset. Although words such as beautiful, elegant and sophisticated may describe Johnson, durable, resilient and talented are equally fitting. A remarkable person during an exceptional period of growth for women in sports, a day may come when fans will boast about having had the chance to see her play, the way those today speak about Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana.

Ex-marine Shannon Ihrke emerges as one of UFC’s most popular ring girls

At first glance, it would seem impossible to fathom that a beauty such as Shannon Ihrke was once a member of the United States Marine Corps. Having grown up in the northern part of the state of Minnesota, she spent two years at St. Cloud State before leaving to enlist in the Marine Corps.

Boot camp for Ihrke would be held at Parris Island, South Carolina. Serving in an administrative capacity, Ihrke was stationed in North Carolina, South Carolina and Illinois. Various tasks for this Marine included accounting and legal administration. After four years as a Marine, she eventually reached the rank of sergeant (rank E-5), the highest ranking for a non-commissioned member of the Corps. Ihrke would leave to pursue a full-time modeling career.


Becoming a finalist for Maxim Magazine’s Hometown Hotties competition in 2011, she would be featured on the cover of Maxim’s Salute to the Military issue. Having also been a centerfold in Show Off Magazine, Empire Radio Magazine and Fight Magazine. Runway work included Fight Chix apparel and winning the 2013 Loop Rock Girl crown in Chicago for radio station WLUP-FM (97.9 FM).

Her debut as a ring girl in Mixed Martial Arts came in 2011 as a 23 year-old at Pro Elite: Big Guns. She would also appear in her hometown of Walker, Minnesota as the Ring Girl for the King of the Cage: Winter Warriors event of December 2011.

It was only a question of time before she would come to the attention of the UFC. Appearing in the November 2013 dated UFC Magazine (on the back page), she is poised to become one of the most popular personalities of the global promotion. Following in the footsteps of Arianny Celeste and Brittany Palmer, this All-American girl next door come to life is as tough and patriotic as she is stunning.

Image obtained from Busted Coverage

Image obtained from Busted Coverage

Lauren Brill brightens up Buffalo’s sports scene

The most exciting name in Buffalo sports does not belong to Mario Williams, EJ Manuel or Ryan Miller. Since the summer of 2012, Lauren Brill has been keeping Western New York sports fans glued to their televisions. With a love of sport that shines through, she may be the remedy to appease Bills fans suffering through another disappointing season or Sabres through another rebuilding.

Having joined WIVB/WNLO-TV (a CBS affiliate) in August 2012, she has garnered national attention as one of the most popular female sports broadcasters. Pulling double duty as a sports anchor and reporter for the channel, she can also be seen nationally on Top Rank Boxing and ESPNw.


In a career that has spanned eight years, Brill has paid her dues. Prior to relocating to Buffalo, her humble beginnings included internships with CBS and NBC Sports. She would also work for the NBA as a Broadcast Assistant and Feature Writer. Of note, one of her most popular contributions for the NBA website included co-authoring the 57 Greatest NBA All-Star Game Moments.

Her big break would come in 2009, when she became co-host of The Mike Sherman Show. Although she was with the program for less than one year, she had the opportunity to interview reggae dancegroup T.O.K. at the MTV Video Music Awards. In addition, she would be part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, speaking to rap superstar Nelly.

Brill would return to the sports world with reporting duties on MSG Varsity. During a memorable run, she would continue to establish herself as a rising star in sports, including four New York Emmy Award nominations. Stories such as North Rockland’s Water Boy would be one of her great pieces that was nominated.

Considering that prominent NFL reporters such as Vic Carucci and Pam Oliver once honed their craft in Buffalo, the city has proven to be a great proving ground. There is no question that the Buffalo sports scene is spoiled by Brill’s presence.

For those who believe there is a Buffalo sports curse, Brill’s presence certainly helps to create a positive vibe. While the city looks for new sporting legends to replace those of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Dominik Hasek and Pat LaFontaine, the fiercely loyal Buffalo sports fans have adopted her as one of their own. Although she may be destined for an even more prominent sports role, there is no question that she is building a legion of loyal fans in the Queen City.

Former softball player turned IFBB pro Felicia Romero cover girl for Oxygen Magazine

Having once played softball for the Arizona State Sun Devils program, Felicia Romero has found new life as an IFBB Figure Pro. As the cover model for the November 2013 edition of Oxygen Magazine, it is a sign of validation after a remarkable athletic career.

At her first-ever national contest, the 2006 NPC USA Championships in Las Vegas, she earned top honors and a pro card. Having competed in local NPC shows since 2004, the guidance of nutritionist Kim Oddo was essential in her national triumph. She went from five meals a day to seven and by 2007, she placed third at the California Pro Figure and won the Jan Tana Classic.

As a high schooler, Romero was proficient at softball, track and volleyball. Playing right field at ASU, the same school that produced Major League superstars such as Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando and Barry Bonds, the highlight of her softball career may have come prior to the 2004 Athens Summer Games.

Entering her freshman season with ASU (2000-01), the Sun Devils were ranked sixth in the NCAA. The squad had the opportunity to help train the Greek national women’s softball team. As the host country for the 2004 Games, the Greek squad required training on the fundamentals of the game and Romero had the honor of assisting in the sessions.

It was during her tenure at ASU that she started lifting weights. With the support of her boyfriend James Adams, the two opened a studio together and she became a certified fitness trainer. Her motivation to start competing in 2004 came at the glance of a poster for a fitness competition in her gym.

A novice at the sport, she emulated the style of models in numerous fitness magazines in order to learn how to pose. Since then, three consecutive Top Five finishes at the Arnold Figure Invitational (named after that Arnold) is testament to her ability to thrive as the competition continues to get only more fierce.

Of note, she also contributed a blog to Gaspari Nutrition. Her blogs were a source of inspiration, promoting self-esteem. One of her most emotional pieces was her experience at an event in Dallas where she was retaining water and despite winning, she felt it affected her appearance. The theme of her pieces are about reaching your unfulfilled potential and controlling what happens to you. Tapping into that philosophy, it has helped Romero become one of the premier figure models in the US.

Winter Games hopeful Katelyn Osmond does not deserve to be maligned

Based on the criticism of Canadian figure skater Katelyn Osmond’s performance at Skate Canada, it would have been easy to believe she had just become the Miley Cyrus of the sport. The 17 year-old performed to music from the Cy Coleman musical Sweet Charity (about the romantic ups and downs of a prostitute).

Performing to the music from Sweet Charity at Skate Canada. Photo credit: Andrew Vaughan, The Canadian Press

Performing to the music from Sweet Charity at Skate Canada. Photo credit: Andrew Vaughan, The Canadian Press

Despite the fact that she successfully landed four jumps, the choice of her music became a lightning rod for controversy. Wearing a black dress and white gloves, the criticism was that she was acting too sexy for her age. To add insult to injury, a reporter asked her if she thought the act was appropriate.

In a world that has been much more desensitized to sex appeal in society, it would appear that there is still a prudish approach in certain areas. If teenage girls can be models, what is the concern over Osmond? She has never been involved in any type of scandal during her career, therefore, the attention garnered over her program is unfair. Her coach, Ravi Walia was equally taken aback by the criticism.

Declaring herself as a mature skater, today’s youth are a lot more street smart and wiser than the previous generation. If she was in a bikini or exposing her midriff, there may have been cause for concern.

As Canada’s hopes for a figure skating medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games (she finished in sixth place at the 2013 World Championships), this unfair criticism has the potential to derail her momentum.

No one ever criticized Katarina Witt for being too sexy. A few weeks ago, Joanie Rochette appeared in a state of undress for Clin d’Oeil, a fashion magazine from Quebec. There was certainly no widespread criticism regarding the photo spread whatsoever.

Rather than criticize, the media (especially in Canada) should be working towards applauding her comeback from injury and the potential of competing for a medal at Sochi. After a stress-reaction injury from a summer training session, her problem was not correctly addresses until September. Rather than celebrate the fact that she is able to bounce back and perform, criticism which can hinder her confidence seems to be the treatment of choice.

Sporting sensation Sam Gordon a legend in the making

While her focus has shifted from football to soccer, Sam Gordon is a role model and an inspiration for women of all ages. Having captured the hearts and minds of sports fans the world over, Gordon is destined to continue making an impact for women in sport.

Football sensation Sam Gordon, WSF President Angela Ruggiero and Amanda Rivera, GoGirlGo! participant from the New York Junior Tennis League at the Women’s Sports Foundation Awards.  (Getty Images)

Football sensation Sam Gordon, WSF President Angela Ruggiero and Amanda Rivera, GoGirlGo! participant from the New York Junior Tennis League at the Women’s Sports Foundation Awards. (Getty Images)

In October 2013, she had the opportunity to be part of the 34th Annual Women’s Sport Foundation gala. With more than 50 female athletes in attendance, including living legends such as Billie Jean King, Annika Sorrenstam and Julie Foudy, it was one of many memorable moments during a year to remember for the 10 year-old Gordon.

Of note, she had the opportunity to appear on stage at the gala, along with Amanda Rivera, a participant from the New York Junior Tennis League. Both were joined by Angela Ruggiero, a four-time Winter Games medalist who talked about the life lessons she learned from playing ice hockey. It is a remarkable privilege to be able to share from the wisdom of Ruggiero. She also met Diana Nyad, who successfully swam from Cuba to Florida, showing that age knows no boundaries in sport.

Meeting swimmer Diana Nyad at the Women’s Sports Foundation Awards (Image obtained from Twitter:

Meeting swimmer Diana Nyad at the Women’s Sports Foundation Awards (Image obtained from Twitter:

Upon reflection, it seems hard to fathom that so much global acclaim could have emanated from just one online video posting. On November 5, 2012, her father Brent Gordon uploaded a video of gridiron highlights which resulted in over 2 million views. With her ponytail sticking out, the pint-sized Gordon cutting across the football field became an internet phenomenon.

Having compiled 35 touchdowns and 1,911 rushing yards in 2012, her first season of playing football, she would average 8.2 yards per carry, while also accumulating 65 tackles on defense. Hailing from South Jordan, Utah, Gordon competed in pee-wee football with the Herriman Mustangs (Gremlins age group of the Ute Conference). Nicknamed Sweet-Feet, she is only 28 kilograms but outran players twice her size.

Prior to playing pee-wee tackle football, Gordon played football with boys at recess, which actually created concern among one of the female teachers at her school. Through the encouragement of her father and the instruction provided to her from her older brother, Gordon did not quit football.

Quickly becoming a media darling, Gordon was interviewed by Katie Couric, appeared on Good Morning America and received an award at the Cartoon Network’s Hall of Game show. With her video having gone viral, the sports world also became intrigued with her highlight reel performances.

Photo credit: Kohjiro Kinno for Sports Illustrated Kids

Photo credit: Kohjiro Kinno for Sports Illustrated Kids

The National Football League would be the most influential member of the sports world to pay attention. In addition to tackling Marshall Faulk on the set of the NFL Network, she huddled up at a practice for the San Francisco 49ers. It would prove to not be the last time she had a connection to the 49ers.

As the invited guest of NFL commissioner Roger Goddell, Gordon and her family had the opportunity to attend Super Bowl XLVII, where the 49ers clashed with the Baltimore Ravens. Of note, she previously met the commissioner in December 2012 and attended a New York Giants game with him and his twin daughters. She even did a scripted segment with Alec Baldwin for an NFL awards show while the NFL made a $20,000 donation to charity in Gordon’s name.

Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment was the fact that she earned the special privilege of appearing on the cover of the Wheaties cereal box. It was such a newsworthy event that Gordon was interviewed about it on ESPN. A landmark moment in any athlete’s career, not only is Gordon one of the youngest athletes ever to appear on the box, she is also the first female football player to be honored.

Appearing on ESPN to discuss being featured on the famed Wheaties box

Appearing on ESPN to discuss being featured on the famed Wheaties box

With the transition to soccer, her sport of choice, she had the opportunity to meet the US National Women’s Team in Glendale, Arizona. The squad was there to compete in an exhibition match against Ireland, whom they defeated by a 2-1 tally. Prior to the game, she had the opportunity to kick soccer balls and throw footballs with members of the team.

Receiving one-on-one training from her idol, Abby Wambach, it was a dream come true for Gordon. After Gordon’s video went viral, Wambach was one of the first athletes to reach out to her on Twitter. Wambach gave her a tour of the stadium and even provided her with her own personalized US soccer jersey.

Perhaps one day she will wear a US soccer jersey with the Under-14 Development Team or at a World Cup, even possibly a Summer Games. While Gordon told Sports Illustrated Kids that she sometimes felt too much pressure in football because if she makes a mistake, it lets down the whole team, she also mentioned that she likes soccer because it is more fun with the other girls and others can help if she makes a mistake.

For now, sports fans can read about her remarkable journey in a book she has authored with family friend Ari Bruening. Titled Sweet Feet: Samantha Gordon’s Winning Season, it was published by Walker Books for Young Readers.

Signing copies of her book at The King’s English Book Store in Salt Lake City (Image obtained from Twitter:

Signing copies of her book at The King’s English Book Store in Salt Lake City (Image obtained from Twitter:

Released on October 15, 2013, the book features a foreword appropriately composed by Wambach. Including quotes from famous people she has met, there are also photos from her travels and celebrity encounters. The popularity of the book resulted in a book signing at The King’s English book store in Salt Lake City. Archiving and commemorating her journey through the printed word, it is more than just a keepsake but a resource of encouragement for any girl that wants to push the boundaries of what is expected of them and challenging the cultural norm.

Having emerged as a household name, she has maturity beyond her years. Competing as a midfielder in the beautiful game, it is the game she truly enjoys and in the end, the most important lesson learned from Gordon’s remarkable sporting journey is that one should compete in the sport that provides them with the most fun.

Missy Franklin headlines Annual Salute to Women in Sports as Sportswoman of the Year

Having captured the hearts and minds of sports fans during the 2012 London Summer Games, swimmer Missy Franklin earned the highest honor bestowed by the 34th Annual Salute to Women in Sports hosted by the Women’s Sports Foundation at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan. Former WSF President Aimee Mullins and freeskier Grete Eliassen presented Franklin with the 2013 Sportswoman of the Year, Individual Sport Award.

Missy Franklin recognized as the Individual Sports Woman of the Year (Photo by Michael Loccisano)

Missy Franklin recognized as the Individual Sports Woman of the Year (Photo by Michael Loccisano)

Following her remarkable performance at London that saw her capture four gold medals and a bronze, she staked her claim as the world’s greatest female swimmer two months ago. Competing at the world championships in Barcelona, Spain, Franklin claimed a record six gold medals. Entering her freshman year at the University of California, she beat out fellow nominees Serena Williams, figure skater Mao Asada and wheelchair athlete Tatyana McFadden.

Los Angeles Sparks superstar Candace Parker grabbed the award for the 2013 Sportswoman of the Year, Team Sport Award. Having helped the Sparks to a 21-10 record during the 2013 WNBA regular season, her season was complemented by claiming the league’s MVP award and posting a league-high 25.7 points per game.

Another highlights for the WNBA was the league being recognized with the Billie Jean King Contribution Award. Founded in 1997, the league has served as an inspiration for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the Women’s Football Alliance, proving that women have every right to compete as professional athletes.

Vivian Hao won the Annika Inspiration Award named after golf legend Annika Sorenstam, who was also in attendance. A student at famed Duke University, she has contributed to various social causes and is also an accomplished tennis player.

Tatyana McFadden, Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Tatyana McFadden, Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

One of the true highlights of the evening was the fact that many amputee athletes (including some that have competed in the Paralympics) were in attendance. From Alana Nichols to Scout Bassett, Mallory Weggeman and Tatyana McFadden, they were also joined by Melissa Stockwell, the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Winner. The criteria for the award is a female athlete that has displayed tremendous courage, having had the ability to overcome adversity and make significant contributions to sports

Stockwell is a true American hero. A former U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart winner, she lost her leg during service to her country in Iraq. Rather than feel sorry for herself, she took the opportunity to embrace a new endeavor. Becoming a Paralympic swimmer and accomplished triathlete, she put it best when she stated that she has accomplished more with one leg than she ever thought she could.

With McFadden having been nominated for the Sportswoman of the Year, Individual Sport Award, it shows the positive impact women are making to the significant growth of paralympic sports. These remarkable women are a true inspiration for disabled people the world over.

(L-R) Erika Lang, Sasha DiGiulian, Grete Eliassen, Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana, Jolene Van Vugt, Amber Wing, Elena Hight, Mary Osborne, Chanelle Sladics, Kristen Ulmer and Jamie Anderson. (Getty Images)

(L-R) Erika Lang, Sasha DiGiulian, Grete Eliassen, Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana, Jolene Van Vugt, Amber Wing, Elena Hight, Mary Osborne, Chanelle Sladics, Kristen Ulmer and Jamie Anderson.
(Getty Images)

Sponsored by espnW and Gatorade, the event is a remarkable celebration of women in sport. The awards presentation was only half of the fun during a glorious evening. A remarkable red carpet to the Grand March of Athletes represented a sterling celebration for the accomplishment of women in sport. Of note, Mary Carillo and Julie Foudy co-hosted the Grand March, featuring 50 athletes.

Several heartwarming events helped define the spirit of friendship and sisterhood at the gala. Diana Nyad, who swam successfully from Cuba to Florida received a thunderous roar of approval. The recipient of a special tribute award, her commitment to making her goals come true was an inspiration.

Those in attendance also had the opportunity to peek into the future. Two junior athletes, Sam Gordon, a 10 year-old football phenomenon and Amanda Rivera from the New York Junior Tennis League, graced the stage. They were joined by four-time Winter Games hockey participant Angela Ruggiero, who discussed life lessons learned from hockey. These two future stars could not have a better mentor in Ruggiero.

Amazing Angella Goran going green with Bike for Wildlife

One of the most amazing sporting stories of 2013 is Angella Goran’s cycling journey across Canada. Called Bike for Wildlife, her remarkable ride began in August 2013. Starting in Victoria, British Columbia, her goal is to reach Halifax, Nova Scotia as a means of gaining awareness for the Canadian Wildlife Federation and the need to preserve our ecological legacy for future generations.

Her story is reminiscent of another amazing woman who underwent her own cross-country expedition; Ashley Gilbank. In 2012, Gilbank skated across Canada in hopes of raising funds for mental health awareness. Known as Skate4Life, she skated westbound, reaching Victoria in October. The Do It for Daron fund based out of Ottawa was a key beneficiary of her remarkable efforts.

With an athletic background spanning 15 years in disciplines such as rowing, cycling and triathlon, Goran was prepared to undertake this trying yet rewarding endeavor. In addition, she is also a Certified Top Level indoor cycling instructor along with being a Strength and Conditioning Trainer. Her compassion can also be attributed to the fact that she is a Lifestyle Coach, who sincerely wants to see others reach their potential.

As a triathlete, Goran has earned a pair of first place finishes in the 2009 Somersault Triathlon Series. During the 2010 edition of the series, she would earn one third place finish and two second place nods. At the Worlds Long Course Triathlon in Immenstadt, Germany, she completed the demanding 4 km swim, 130 km bike ride and 30 km run in a time of 9:57:34.

Goran is more than just an athlete, but an entrepreneur, a pillar in her community and an inspiration for women who want to accomplish their dreams. Having started an apparel line called 4Life Lifestyle, she is also the founder of the Ottawa-based Cyclepathic Indoor Cycling Studio (in the Ottawa Sports Performance Centre). It was an interest of hers to create a business venture that shared the positive impact that sport can have.

Motivated to help preserve Canada’s ecological legacy by connecting nature to sport, Goran discovered a labor of love. With the objective to inspire those through values such as education and belief, she is a remarkable individual proving that one person truly can make a difference.

As the athletic ambassador for the Canadian Wildlife Federation (of note, world traveller Ken Beattie and ocean racer Damian Foxall are also CWF athlete ambassadors), her 6,000 km trek across Canada helps to celebrate the remarkable and captivating landscapes and the diversity of wildlife that call it home. Sponsors have included lead sponsor Burnbrae Farms, Johnson Insurance Inc., Just Green Lifestyle (ensuring a carbon neutral bike ride), ESKA Waters, Robert Bateman Centre, Sportstats and Primo Trailer Sales. Such support makes Goran’s journey a true team effort as she works tirelessly on her journey to have a positive impact on others and the land they live on.

Throughout the journey, Goran is making over 50 stops, as she will speak to camps, schools and various communities about Bike for Wildlife. Of note, once Goran reached Toronto on the leg of her trip, she even had the opportunity to appear on a Canadian talk show known as The Social. When her journey reached the Nation’s Capital on Thanksgiving Day, she had the opportunity to run into a pair of world class athletes that supported her worthy cause; world class kayaker Kristin Gauthier and hockey player Katie Weatherston, a gold medalist at the 2006 Torino Winter Games.

Kristin Gauthier (left) and Katie Weatherston (right) welcome Goran to Ottawa. (Image obtained from Twitter)

Kristin Gauthier (left) and Katie Weatherston (right) welcome Goran to Ottawa. (Image obtained from Twitter)

With the effort of the CWF, the message is to inspire those to conserve Canada’s natural legacy, while educating youth on getting outdoors and understanding the importance of the species and their spaces. Programs that the CWF has supported include Little Brown Bat, the North Atlantic Right Whale and the Woodland Caribou, to name a few.

As this heroic journey is scheduled to conclude on October 30, 2013, Goran is worthy of serious consideration for the Lou Marsh Award (awarded to Canada’s best athlete). Her journey encompasses the qualities that defines Canada; perseverance, love of nature, pride and friendship.