Stanford freshman cyclist continues proud school tradition of elite athletic performance

With a school that has produced the likes of Tiger Woods, Andrew Luck and Sami Jo Small; Kate Courtney can now add her name to the proud athletic legacy of Stanford University. As a freshman, she grabbed two Division I titles in mountain biking.

Considering the 2013 collegiate mountain bike nationals were held across the country in Beech Mountain, North Carolina, the native of Kentfield, California made an impression. The fresh-faced teen grabbed titles in the cross-country and short track segments.

Perhaps more impressive was that she won the same events in July 2013 at age group nationals. The event was held in Macungie, Pennsylvania and her double win would foreshadow the greatness to come.

Having already competed for the United States at the international level, she would grab first place at the Pan American championships in Argentina. Of note, she would compete at the UCI world championships in South Africa. Competing in the junior cross-country race, she would earn a sixth place finish.

One year prior, the phenom established herself on the World Cup circuit. A pair of top ten finishes in the Czech Republic and Quebec, Canada was complemented by a first-place in Windham, New York. Being able to compete at a world class field at such a young age is testament to her talent. A member of the Whole Athlete racing team since she was 14, biking became a way to bond with her father.

Definitely on the radar of USA Cylcing, she would win their 2010 Mountain Bike Cross-Country Nationals, the technical and travel aspects of competing will be refined with the guidance of quality coaches such as Marc Gullickson. Perhaps the most admirable quality of this prodigious cyclist is the fact that she also conducts volunteer work in a mentoring role with younger riders.

Having added weight training as a means to improve in the sprints which begin the races, collegiate cycling should provide her with ample training partners. After the tragic controversies that tarnished the legendary Lance Armstrong’s cycling career, Courtney is helping to add a bright light to a sport on the rise in America.

With the opportunity to hone her already impressive skills at Stanford, she has the potential to be one of the most talented and accomplished female student-athletes the school has produced. Before she graduates, the possibility of seeing Courtney competing in mountain bike events at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio is highly possible.

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Elena Delle Donne passes her rookie season with flying colors

Traditionally, being the second overall pick in any sporting draft tends to be a one-way ticket towards a career spent in infamy and unfulfilled expectation. Having graduated from the University of Delaware (the alma mater of Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco), the 6’5” Elena Delle Donne shattered those negative perceptions to become the unanimous selection as the 2013 WNBA Rookie of the Year.

Selected second overall by the Chicago Sky, Delle Donne had some big shoes to fill. Considering Baylor’s Brittney Griner was nearly selected in the NBA Draft, she was the consensus choice to go first overall to the Phoenix Mercury. Delle Donne found herself sandwiched in between Griner and the highly touted Skylar Diggins, who went third to the Tulsa Shock.

Courtesy of WNBA Images

Courtesy of WNBA Images

While it was a remarkable draft class, Delle Donne would undergo a baptism of fire in her WNBA debut. Competing against Griner and the Phoenix Mercury in the May 27 season opener, Delle Donne would thrive under such pressure. Accumulating a respectable 22 points complemented by eight rebounds and four blocks, the Sky would prevail in a 102-80 victory.

Such a solid debut would pale in comparison to the fact that Delle Donne became the first rookie to lead all players in votes for the All-Star Game. Sadly, she missed the event due to concussion woes. Upon her return, she would continue to help the Sky reach new levels of success. Truly proving that the sky is not the limit, Delle Donne not only helped the club earn a berth in the postseason, but its first division title as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Courtesy of Delaware Athletics

Courtesy of Delaware Athletics

Statistically, she would lead all WNBA rookies in points, free throw percentage, three-point percentage and minutes. Perhaps more impressive was the fact that she was recognized as the WNBA Rookie of the Month during every month of the season, an unprecedented accomplishment. This was complemented by averages of double digit scoring in every month. Of note, her .929 free throw percentage would also rank first among all competitors in the WNBA.

Her greatest accomplishment may have come in an August 11 contest against the eventual WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx. A career-best 32 point output would contribute to a 94-86 overtime triumph, one of the most relevant in franchise history. Of note, she would force overtime in that contest by hitting a three pointer with 4.5 seconds left in regulation. A September 11 match against the Mercury resulted in a buzzer beater from Delle Donne that provided the Sky with a pulse pounding 70-68 triumph.
Despite the postseason disappointment, Delle Donne is the feel good story of the basketball season. Devoted to her family and dedicated in the classroom, she is the true embodiment of a student-athlete.

With an older sister that suffers from blindness and cerebral palsy, she abandoned her scholarship with the University of Connecticut in the summer of 2008 in order to stay close to her and family. Her personal break resulted in a sabbatical from the hardcourt that saw her enroll at Delaware and became a walk-on with the volleyball team, leading them to the NCAA tournament.

Returning to basketball in 2009 as a red shirt freshman at Delaware, she would endure struggles with Lyme Disease as a sophomore. Despite such setbacks, a gold medal at the World University Games in 2011 solidified her status as an elite competitor. Her senior season in 2012-13 resulted in many great milestones. From the highest attendance in Delaware history to a 27-3 regular season record, Delle Donne was recognized as the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year, the Capital One Academic All-America of the Year winner and the 2013 Senior CLASS Award winner.

After an outstanding senior season filled with many awards and honors as a member of the Delaware Blue Hens, being the unanimous choice as WNBA Rookie of the Year bookends the two periods in her career. Having displayed a remarkable tenacity, maturity and character in her young life, Delle Donne is more than just a winner in basketball, but a winner in life.

Kelly Svoboda rewrites Division I volleyball record books

Heading into her senior season with the University of Buffalo Bulls volleyball program, libero Kelly Svoboda was ready for a big season. Entering the season with ambitions to set the UB school record for digs, she would manage to make it happen. Although she may not have imagined her efforts would be recognized in Sports Illustrated’s famous Faces in the Crowd segment.

Prior to joining UB, the Cleveland, Ohio native was recruited by the likes of Ohio State, Akron, Cleveland State, Coastal Carolina and Eastern Kentucky. Her greatest accomplishment may have been winning nationals in 2009 with a club team called the Cleveland Volleyball Company 17 Black. Having committed to UB, her efforts would pay remarkable dividends. As a freshman in 2010, she would lead all MAC competitors with 468 digs.

For the week of November 4, 2013, Svoboda was recognized as the MAC Defensive Player of the Week. It would set the tone for a month to remember. Averaging 8.0 digs a set against the Ohio Bobcats, she would also record two service aces and three assists. With a five-set match at Kent State, she would record another 28 digs, putting her at over 500 for the season.

The month of November 2013 would mark the record breaking events in Svoboda’s tenure with the Bulls program. She broke three digging marks with 43. The five-set loss to the Toledo Rockets on November 9 found Svoboda also breaking the Division I single match record.

Of note, her previous best had been a 31 dig effort against Bowling Green on September 29, 2012. That season was defined early on by two lost weeks due to injury. Despite the setback, she would manage to log double digit digs in 18 of the 22 matches she participated in. Her season would end on a good note with a season-high three aces against Kent State on November 10, 2012.

Her epic performance against Toledo also set new Bulls program marks for season and career digs. Those marks now reach totals of 626 and 1,935. With an average of 5.74 digs per strike, Svoboda sits atop as the conference leader. Trailing behind her in second with 5.34 is Corynne Smith of Eastern Michigan.

Despite the loss to Toledo, she would log 25 digs in a 3-2 win against Bowling Green on November 16, the defending Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MAC) champions. Of note, both matches in which she rewrote the Bulls record books both happened on home turf at Buffalo’s Alumni Arena. The Bulls now improve to 16-11 with a 4-10 mark in MAC Conference play. In a city that is known for its fanatical followings in football and hockey, Svoboda has established herself as a sporting legend.

2013 a landmark year for female football hero Dr. Jen Welter

As women’s football continues to work its way into the sporting conversation, there are a number of remarkable women helping to shatter barriers and challenge convention. At 5’3”, no one understands that role better than Dr. Jen Welter. Despite being undersized, she would craft a superb legacy in the sport as she was part of the US contingent that captured consecutive gold medals at the IFAF Women’s World Football Championships.

Having honed her athletic skills as a tennis player in her home state of Florida, she would eventually shine as a rugby star with the Boston College Eagles. It would serve as a springboard for a storied career on the gridiron that has consisted of four championships and eight All-Pro selections.

The opportunity to compete with the US at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships has brought Welter a lifetime of new memories to treasure in a year to remember. She would finish as the third leading tackler for the US, her finest performance coming in the opening game versus Sweden. Part of the starting lineup for the game, she would also register two tackles for a loss. Only one of five women for the US contingent to record a sack, it would come against Sweden.

Image by Rashard D. Photography

Image by Rashard D. Photography

During the 2013 Dallas Diamonds season, Welter not only celebrated her tenth season with the club but continued to establish herself as a mainstay on the defense. Competing at the linebacker position (she has also played safety in the past), her 26 tackles tied for third on team with Alex Harvey.

Among those tackles, seven would be for a loss, tying her for fourth with Hanna Saari. Of note, Welter would also register one sack and one touchdown on the season. With one of the finest rosters in the Women’s Football Alliance, it came as no surprise that the Diamonds would qualify for the 2013 WFA National Title Game in San Diego against the Chicago Force. While the outcome did not present Welter with her fifth championship, the event helped to celebrate the women’s game. Considering so many members of the US team were with the Force, the entire contest had a feeling of friendship and admiration.

Her popularity has even reached into other exciting aspects of popular culture. Having helped film the teaser for the new reality show SWAT School, she would even assist with the Emergency Location Scout two days prior to the shoot. That is part of what makes Welter such a remarkable person; always willing to go the extra mile for the greater good.

While Dr. Welter’s future still consists of playing football, there is no question that she is more than able to tackle the world of men’s football. Whether it is at the collegiate or professional level, Welter is a tremendous hero who challenged the odds and overcame obstacles to be one of the finest at her position. The thought of Welter employed as a team counselor or even bringing her acumen to a front office position is one that would complement her intelligence, enthusiasm and love of the game.

Jana Webb optimizes body and mind as she revolutionizes fitness with Joga

Having been raised on a farm in Western Canada, Jana Webb may seem like the unlikeliest choice to revolutionize the fitness world. Coming from humble beginnings, Webb is a remarkable success story. Understanding the business values of goal setting, networking and persistence along with sporting philosophies such as discipline, teamwork and determination, she would incorporate all these attributes into helping people become their best selves.

Photo credit: Reem Photography, Obtained from: http://www.reemphotography.com/2012/07/04/a-day-with-jana-webb/

Photo credit: Reem Photography, Obtained from: http://www.reemphotography.com/2012/07/04/a-day-with-jana-webb/


As a child, she would watch as her older sister stood in front of the television performing the exercises seen on various workout programs. Emulating her older sister, Webb would also participate in the numerous routines.

While her youth would be surrounded by a love and participation of sport, including membership in the 4H Club, the real world would rear its ugly head when an automobile accident sidelined Webb. Employing yoga as a method for the rehabilitation of a shoulder injury, it would become a life-changing event. Having traveled across the world to Japan for teacher training, she would return to North America with a fresh perspective.

Introducing Joga, Webb would revolutionize fitness by employing the concept of yoga tailored specifically to athletes. While her methods accentuated the features of yoga such as flexibility and strength-training, breath work and relaxation techniques redefined the package. Said package would help bring a new approach to athletes dealing with strenuous and extreme conditions in their respective sports.

While Joga provides athletes with the physical and mental edge to become elite competitors, the mechanics of the exercise provides the participant with more strength while working within their limits. Working on the premise that every body is unique, every movement also works on that premise, educating the body on how to move intelligently with purpose.

Of note, yoga has always been seen as more of a feminine exercise. Through her acumen, Webb is breaking barriers and redefining the cultural norm of what exercises are suitable for men. More than a decade ago, Tennessee Titans football player Eddie George shocked fans by disclosing that he used yoga as a means of preventing injuries. While her first programs were designed with golfers and runners in mind, many athletes in the NHL have embraced her concepts.

Although there is no denying that Webb is beautiful, she is of the firm belief that aesthetics is the wrong motivation for wanting to begin an exercise. Motivated by the need to feel better, stronger and more energized, her philosophy is one of an individual obtaining more clarity.

For Webb, the ability to handle life comes from being able to properly take care of one’s self first. Such ability is testament to her ability of tackling two other remarkable roles in her life. From motherhood to public speaking, her life story and the motivation to bring about positive change exemplifies the achievement of women becoming more empowered. With Joga as an amalgam of unique postures, which complements strength and flexibility, along with breath control and relaxation tools, she is helping to redefine self-improvement.

Teenage runner Winter Venecki covers the world to honor her father

At the tender age of nine, Winter Venecki started to compete in Olympic-distance triathlons. The motivation was spurred by the loss of her father to prostate cancer in 2009. In an effort to help generate awareness about the disease, it has brought her to all four corners of the globe.

Her mark on women’s sporting history was made at the age of 14. As the youngest person, male or female, to complete a marathon on all seven continents, she has garnered significant media attention for her athletic efforts. Perhaps more significant was the fact that her mother joined her throughout the journey.

Currently a sophomore in high school, the journey towards immortality began in the summer of 2012. With the participation of her mother, Dawn, the two completed their first race in a 26.2 mile trek in Eugene, Oregon.

It would serve as the launching pad for a global journey that brought both mother and daughter to locations as exotic as Kenya, Peru, New Zealand and Greece, to remote places such as Mongolia and Antarctica.

Having established a nonprofit organization, Team Winter, proceeds of $400,000 have been raised. It is another remarkable example of women challenging themselves and pushing their limits in outstanding efforts to raise funds for causes close to their hearts. In 2012, Ashley Gilbank rollerbladed across Canada for mental health research. One year later, Angella Goran also crossed the Canadian landscape in an effort to raise funds for the environment.

Kim McCullough inspiring an entire generation of young women to play hockey

For a generation of young female hockey players, the biggest influence on their career is Kim McCullough. Having coached thousands of girls, she might possibly be the premier coach/mentor in the growing game.

Of note, her sterling reputation even brought her into contact with the Czech Republic national women’s team. Serving as a consultant, it certainly was a key factor in the improving nation earning the opportunity to compete at the IIHF Women’s Worlds for the first time in 2013.

KimCzech

A former competitor with the Dartmouth Big Green, her storied career was sidelined by concussion woes. Despite the setback, McCullough used it as an opportunity to share her story rather than engage in self-pity. This sort of occupational recovery provided inspiration and support for a whole group of players that were suffering from similar problems.
Eventually, it would lead her towards a new role as a builder in women’s hockey. As a co-founder of CWHL, it would serve as the launching pad to provide women with an opportunity to compete at a high level of play.

As the Girls Hockey Director for the PEAC School for Elite Athletes in Toronto, she also takes her students on annual road trips to various college campuses in the United States. From watching practices, taking campus tours and having the opportunity to speak to coaches, McCullough helps to introduce them to a larger world.

Pulling double duty as the president of Total Female Hockey, McCullough is devoted to seeing young women succeed at making their hockey dreams come true. Her greatest legacy may be the Total Female Hockey Scholarship Project. A project that took several years in the making, she provides details on all 113 programs in postsecondary hockey throughout North America, including comparisons, a breakdown of every program and the different options available on both sides of the border.

TotalFemaleHockey

Providing the comprehension that the road to a scholarship includes the player needing to be proactive also, she provides advice on an introductory e-mail, the importance of videos, academic rules and effective communication.

In addition, a 30 minute phone call with McCullough herself provides the hopeful collegiate hockey player to gain her wisdom and obtain any other critical advice. As the first to go to the assiduous effort of providing such in-depth information, it is a learning tool that can make the difference between getting the scholarship that players are aspiring for.

Having devoted her coaching career to ensuring the next generation of players are more than just fundamentally sound athletes but remarkable people, she has had the opportunity to coach at the national level. With a stint in autumn 2012 as an assistant coach on the prestigious Team Ontario Red program representing the OWHA, it was an opportunity to showcase her strong coaching skills at the national level.

The following year, she would be the coach of Team Ontario Blue with budding stars such as Kirsten Miller, Josiane Pozzebon, Shea Tiley and Kirsten Welsh. Ironically, she would play Team Ontario Red in the gold medal game of the 2013 Canadian Under-18 Nationals. Adding to the irony was the fact that Team Ontario Red’s head coach Bradi Cochrane coached Ontario Blue in 2012.

One of the most likeable aspects of McCullough’s remarkable impact is her heartwarming yet inspiring contributions online. Ending every one of her posts with Work Hard, Dream Big, Your Friend and Coach adds a very human touch to her messages of encouragement. The beauty of her works is the ability to simplify things yet provide meaningful advice.

KimMcCullough

Whether it be Four Essential Hockey Habits (1: Always Know Where the Puck Is, 2: Stick on the Ice, 3: Giving a Good Target, 4: Talk) or the Five Deal Breakers for Scouts (1: Does Not Stop on Pucks, 2: Disappears as Game Goes On, 3: No Second Effort, 4: Lazy Changes, 5: Bad Body Language), it serves as fundamental reading for any player. Such advice helps to make McCullough’s encyclopedic knowledge of the game accessible to even the most remote of players.

Covering a range of interesting topics online, one of the most riveting was the Confidence Hat Trick. An endearing yet eye opening insight into the developing stages of a player’s game, the subject concerns a preteen player who had never scored a goal. A few days later, this player would do more than just score her first goal, but log another two for a hat trick. Despite the accomplishment, she was down on herself because she accidentally passed to the other team and they capitalized with a power play tally. McCullough refers to this as players downplaying their accomplishments and needing to develop the confidence in order to take risk and be able to face the possibility of receiving judgment.

Ivy League educated, McCullough is more than just a mentor and an educator, but a strong woman and a positive role model for the next generation who choose to embark upon the frozen perimeter of rinks throughout. Having built a strong career in devotion to helping the next generation of girls succeed at hockey, it is one that will hopefully culminate with the Order of Hockey in Canada.