Julia Mancuso earns three magazine covers as she prepares to defend gold at Sochi

Featured on three magazine covers – Health, Outside, Women- Julia Mancuso is emerging as one of the more prominent American female athletes heading to the Sochi Winter Games. Each magazine celebrates her career with an emphasis on her various workout routines and approach to living a rich and full life.

Employing yoga and stretching as part of her daily regimen, a foam roller has also served as a practical method for Mancuso to work on her core and balance. After chronic knee pain resulted in hip dysplasia in 2006, it was a key boon in toughening her mental strength and learning to stay positive.

An avid fan of the Nike Training Club app, her off-snow training also involves pilates. On race day, stretching and Qigong, which helps raise her body temperature tend to be part of her pre-race rituals.

Gracing the cover of Health Magazine, cover date February 2014

Gracing the cover of Health Magazine, cover date February 2014

From a nutrition perspective, a breakfast smoothie consisting of powdered greens, whey protein and coconut water provides the jump start she requires in order to conquer the slope. It also serves as a key element in boosting her immunity when she travels. As a side note, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is also a favorite snack.

One of the most endearing aspects of the various magazine profiles involves a question on rituals and lucky charms. While she states she is not like several athletes that may be superstitious, she employs a sense of humor in wearing lucky underwear. The joke has caught on with friends and family, who have underwear that featured her nickname, Super Jules, on it. As a side note, she also launched her own lingerie line in 2010 called “Kiss My Tiara”, (her coach gave her a tiara as a good-luck charm in 2005).

The February 2014 edition of Outside Magazine with Mancuso gracing the cover

The February 2014 edition of Outside Magazine with Mancuso gracing the cover

Raised in Squaw Valley, California, skiing has remained a constant in her life. Whether it was skiing on the snow in winter or the water in summer, it would complement a lifestyle which included surfing and paddle boarding. For Mancuso, while activity in water (such as in her happy place of Maui) welcomes a chance of pace, it is also essential in building and maintaining fitness.

As one of the most accomplished racers in American history, Mancuso is one of the favorites to capture a gold medal. Making an impression at Torino 2006, she captured a gold medal in the giant slalom. Four years later at Vancouver, she followed it up with two silver medals. After the win, a ski run at Squaw Valley was renamed Julia’s Gold.

While Sochi represents her fourth sojourn on the world’s biggest sporting stage, she shoulders a significant pressure due to the injury sustained by rival and friend Lindsey Vonn. Ironically, the two share the same coach. Despite the pressure, her confidence increased at Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy. In mid-January, she led the downhill training against the likes of Johanna Schnarf and Maria Hoefl-Riesch.

Featured on the cover of Women Magazine, Mancuso shares her stories of inspiration.

Featured on the cover of Women Magazine, Mancuso shares her stories of inspiration.

Her laid-back approach does not mirror her ambition as she shows no signs of retiring after Sochi. While the presence of Mikaela Shiffrin, an 18-year-old American skier who is poised to be part of the next generation of star US skiers, may be seen as competition, it is also a tremendous source of motivation. Despite the fact that no woman has won a World Cup race after the age of 32, Mancuso is determined to challenge convention.

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Speedskater Marianne St. Gelais part of Coca-Cola Canada campaign for Sochi

As a proud Olympic sponsor since 1928, Coca-Cola is featuring three prominent athletes on the cans of its Canadian product. Figure skater Patrick Chan and hockey player Steven Stamkos are joined by short track speed skater Marianne St-Gelais. Introduced on store shelves in January, their silhouettes and signatures adorn the red cans of Coca-Cola, making for a unique collectible.

The silhouette and signature of St-Gelais appears in the collectible can to the right.

The silhouette and signature of St-Gelais appears in the collectible can to the right.

Celebrating their determination and achievements, St-Gelais and her male counterparts shall be part of Coca-Cola’s marketing campaign leading into Sochi. Coca-Cola’s Olympic digital hub will feature their stories while sharing personal tips on why everday activity is essential in family life. She will also be part of their digital marketing campaigns, along with Cinema and TV advertising.

This is a remarkable opportunity for St-Gelais, who will not only gain more momentum heading into Sochi, but introduce herself to a new generation of young Canadian females in sport. Reputed as a spontaneous and flamboyant personality, she is also mature enough to understand the pressure of living up to expectations in Sochi. While she was a rookie in Vancouver, she can no longer fly under the radar. Having already competed at Sochi’s Iceberg Rink in a previous competition, she is familiar with the ice surface and prepared to give it her best.

As an ambassador for Coca-Cola, she appeared at a Montreal ParticipAction event on December 10, 2013. Image obtained from: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20131211_C9357_PHOTO_EN_34842.jpg

As an ambassador for Coca-Cola, she appeared at a Montreal ParticipAction event on December 10, 2013. Image obtained from: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20131211_C9357_PHOTO_EN_34842.jpg

Hailing from St. Felicien, Quebec, she would grab silver medals at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games in the 500 meter and 3,000 meter relay. Of note, she was one of only four Canadian athletes to earn multiple medals in Vancouver, while the 500 meter silver was earned on her 20th birthday, respectively. She would further enhance her newfound celebrity status at Vancouver when she kissed her boyfriend, fellow speed skater Charles Hamelin, after his gold medal effort in Vancouver.

Complemented by four World Championship (two silver and two bronze) medals and the 2011 World Cup title, she was also bestowed the honor of Speed Skating Canada’s Female Short Track Skater of the Year in 2010 and 2011. This was preceded by a pair of remarkable performances in 2007 and 2009. At the 2007 Canada Winter Games, she would garner four gold medals and one silver. A gold medal performance occurred at the 2009 world junior championships, earning her Speed Skate Canada’s Rising Star honor.

Clara Hughes remarkable effort in the fight against mental health to include cross-country ride

One of the first Canadian female athletes to openly talk about mental health, two-sport star Clara Hughes is a tremendous and positive inspiration. As a spokesperson for Bell and their annual Let’s Talk campaign (launched in 2011), she is spreading an empowering message in a remarkable cross-country effort.

The fourth annual campaign, held on January 28, 2014, was highlighted by a special skate hosted by the Canadian Mental Health Association at Clara Hughes Recreational Park in Winnipeg. As the campaign involves Bell making a five cent donation towards mental health initiatives for every text, phone call and Facebook share on January 28, 2014, Hughes impact has been integral towards its success. In 2013, a total of 92 million tweets, calls and texts were generated.

Appearing on the set of CTV News (Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/ClaraHughes_)

Appearing on the set of CTV News (Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/ClaraHughes_)

Following in the footsteps of other remarkable women such as Ashley Gilbank (who rollerbladed for mental health) and Angella Goran (who cycled for the environment), who ventured cross country, Hughes shall participate in a cross-country big ride across Canada. Promoted as Clara’s Big Ride, the heroic campaign begins on March 14, 2014 in Toronto. Having trained for the last six months, she shall be joined by her husband Peter Guzman on the trip.

The native of Winnipeg was one of those rare and special athletes that had the unique distinction of being the only Canadian athlete to win medals in both the Summer and Winter Games for Canada. As a cyclist and a speed skater, she has cemented as one of Canada’s greatest athletes.

Despite such heroic accomplishments, Hughes had her own battles with depression as a younger athlete. Since the London 2012 Summer Games was her swan song, she has focused on helping to eradicate existing stigmas surrounding mental health. It was the inspiration of a doctor at the London 2012 games that provided her with the inspiration to start getting better. Coach Eric Van den Eynde was another positive influence.

With one of four Canadians suffering from some type of mental illness, she is also working with youngsters and teenagers, sharing her story, hoping that they shall be the generation to bring about positive change.

January 28, 2014: Taking part in the ceremonial face-off at Air Canada Centre prior to the Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning match. Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and Lightning captain Martin St. Louis join Hughes at centre ice (Photo credit: Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

January 28, 2014: Taking part in the ceremonial face-off at Air Canada Centre prior to the Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning match. Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and Lightning captain Martin St. Louis join Hughes at centre ice (Photo credit: Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Scheduled to take 110 days, there will also be 82 community champions. These champions shall help organize welcoming committees for Hughes when she makes stops in the designated areas on the ride. With the goal of helping to raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental illness, there is no question that Hughes shall receive a warm welcome throught the vast Canadian landscape.

Map of Clara Hughes journey (Map route obtained from: http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/claras-big-ride/ )

Map of Clara Hughes journey (Map route obtained from: http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/claras-big-ride/ )

Venturing eastbound into sections of Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada, the next leg of her journey takes her through Northern Quebec and northwest across Canada’s three territories: Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon.

An ambitious part of the trek shall include crossing the Arctic Circle on the legendary Dempster Highway. From there, she will head towards Vancouver Island and travel the roads of the Prairies, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The final leg of the journey comes through Northern Ontario before the epic cross-country ride for mental health awareness reaches its magical ending on Canada Day, July 1, 2014, in the nation’s capital of Ottawa.

Speaking with Order of Hockey in Canada recipient on Hockey Night in Canada while donning the Do It for Daron jersey (Still obtained from: YouTube)

Speaking with Order of Hockey in Canada recipient on Hockey Night in Canada while donning the Do It for Daron jersey (Still obtained from: YouTube)

It is only fitting that Hughes courageous journey reaches its end in Ottawa. Ironically, Goran and Gilbank currently reside in Ottawa. Another strong connection to Ottawa is with the noble Do It for Daron fund. Honoring the life of the late Daron Richardson, DIFD works towards mental health research while also participating in fund raising events. Gilbank’s cross-country cause (called Skate4Life) named DIFD as its beneficiary.

Of note, Hughes had the opportunity to participate in the Ottawa Senators’ contest in 2011 which helped raise funds for DIFD. Not only did she participate in the ceremonial puck drop, she got to meet Daron’s mother, Stephanie, who is highly active in the cause. When Hughes won the 2011 Chrono Gatineau bike race (located across the river from Ottawa), not only did she wear purple (the official color of DIFD), but she dedicated the win to Daron’s memory.

With DIFD having touched the hearts of so many in Ottawa, it has certainly endeared Hughes and her humanitarian efforts to many of the capital’s residents. The courage of Hughes has not only made her a role model to Canadians but a positive influence in those struggling with mental health. For every life that her message of hope has inspired, it sets a positive example which can help to do more than potentially save a life, but inspire and empower it to excel and engage.

Kaya Turski continues remarkable comeback with gold at X-Games

One of the most remarkable comebacks in recent Canadian sporting history belongs to Kaya Turski. Experimental surgery on her torn anterior cruciate ligament in August resulted in a recovery that found her back on the slopes less than five months afterwards. Having suffered the injury in August 2013, during an attempt to practice a new move in Mount Hood, Oregon, her left knee is part of a unique medical innovation. Of note, her left knee now has a synthtetic ligament wrapped inside a cadaver graft.

Considering that she has once endured having torn ACLs in both legs, it resulted in a year-long recovery for Turski. As the native from Montreal was looking towards making her Winter Games true, the experimental surgery was the only option. With ligaments from both her hamstrings having been used in the first two ACL reconstructions, that option could not be attempted again.

Dr. Robert Litchfield employed a hybrid option with the use of the synthetic ligament and cadaver graft. While the long-term stability of the knee is unknown, she is healthy enough to compete. For Dr. Litchfield, this innovation may be as impactful for skiers as Tommy John surgery was for baseball players. As he will be in Sochi as the doctor for Canada’s alpine ski team, he will be on-hand for support.

Archiving the recovery on video tape, it would prove to be a therapeutic release for Turski, who never gave up on a quick recovery. Providing the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation with the footage, it certainly helped put into perspective the remarkable sacrifices that athletes can make in order to pursue their dreams.

Her heroic efforts culminated with a gold medal in Aspen, Colorado at the 2014 X-Games in the women’s ski slopestyle, finishing ahead of American Maggie Voisin and Canadian Kim Lamarre. Of note, Dara Howell from Huntsville, Ontario finished in fourth place. Travelling with a physical therapist, it provided a feeling of confidence as she looks to duplicate her success at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

After the injury she sustained in August, it was doubtful if she would even be part of the conversation at Sochi. Considering that she made history in the ski slopestyle by perfectly executing a 1080 in past competition, the thought of her not being part of the sports’ historic debut at Sochi was not in her lexicon.

As the slopestyle events (which feature skiing and snowboarding) were introduced into the Winter Games as a means of attracting younger viewers and traditional X-Games fans, fans are relieved that one of its most successful stars shall be part of its launch. The proud owner of eight X-Games gold medals, the native of Montreal is also the 2013 World Skislope Champion. Her resolve and ability to overcome such a potentially disheartening setback makes her a sentimental favorite heading into the world’s biggest sporting stage.

Hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser named Canada’s flag bearer for Sochi Games

In reflecting on the choice of female hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser as Canada’s flag bearer, it celebrates the career of a great athlete that very few can compare to. On a larger scale, it is symbolic of how Canada has allowed many new opportunities for women to compete in sport over the last few years.

The Olympic movement speaks of celebrating humankind without prejudice and fighting ignorance and the impact and growing popularity of women in sport is testament to such an ideology. Like so many other female athletes, Wickenheiser believes in giving back to the community. She is also a tremendous hockey humanitarian, having donated her time to causes such as Right To Play, Clean Air Champions, KidsSport, Spread The Net, Plan Canada’s Because I Am A Girl and Classroom Champions.

Wickenheiser proudly displays the Canadian flag (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Wickenheiser proudly displays the Canadian flag (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

As the 2014 Winter Games marks her fifth appearance with the Canadian national women’s team, she is one of only two women (along with Canadian Jayna Hefford) to take part in five women’s hockey tournaments at the Games. Having battled injuries the last few years, there is concern that Sochi may be her swan song. Should Canada emerge with gold, Hefford, Wickenheiser and Caroline Ouellette would become the first women to win four gold medals in women’s hockey at the Winter Games.

With the announcement made by Steve Podborski, Canada’s chef de mission for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, it is an ideal way to pay tribute to the 35 year-old from Shaunuvon, Saskatchewan, who emerged as the finest women’s hockey player of her generation. Marcel Aubut, the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, and former owner of the Quebec Nordiques hockey club, acknowledged the appointment by announcing that Wickenheiser was one of Canada’s greatest ambassadors.

Other names that were discussed included Sidney Crosby, whose gold medal winning goal in Vancouver fulfilled his destiny as a hockey star. Kallie Humphries, one of Canada’s most successful bobsled performers, Larisa Yurkiw, who gained tremendous support via social media, speed skating champion Charles Hamelin and figure skating pair Tessa Virtue and Soctt Moir.

Perhaps the most impressive fact about her athletic career is that she was also a two-sport star. At the 2000 Sydney Summer Games, she was a member of Canada’s softball team. Ironically, Sommer West, who had played on the Canadian national women’s hockey team in 2000 was also her teammate on the softball team at Sydney.

She proudly follows in the footsteps of two other female sports stars that were flag bearers at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. Clara Hughes (who has also competed in the Summer Games) carried the flag for Canada in the opening ceremonies, while Joanie Rochette was the flag bearer at Vancouver’s closing ceremonies.

As a side note, Wickenheiser had the honor of reading the athlete’s oath at Vancouver’s opening ceremonies. To follow it up with the chance to be the flag bearer for 2014 is testament to her impact as an athlete. At Sochi, she shall also be running for election to the International Olympic Committee’s athletes’ commission. Angela Ruggiero, an American hockey player, was successfully elected in 2010.

Despite all these accomplishments, there is a trace of irony as Wickenheiser is not the first women’s hockey player to serve as Canada’s flag bearer. That honor goes to Danielle Goyette, who served as the flag bearer at the 2006 Torino Winter Games.

While some athletes consider serving as flag bearer bad luck (Alexandre Despatie refused at London 2012, while Adam von Koeverden carried the flag in 2008 and won a silver medal), Goyette helped Canada to a gold medal. Canadian fans can only hope history repeats itself. Fans can expect to see her emerge from the tunnel into Fischt Stadium on February 7.

Phoenix Mercury to host 2014 WNBA All-Star Game with Griner and Taurasi likely starters

For the second time in franchise history, the Phoenix Mercury shall host the 2014 WNBA All-Star Game. Scheduled for July 19 at the US Airways Center, the game shall be broadcast on ESPN in the United States and televised globally in more than 200 countries. Sponsored by Boost Mobile, the WNBA’s leaguewide marquee partner, the game should prove to be an exciting one for fans. Of note, the Mercury, one of the WNBA’s charter franchises, shall donate one dollar from all tickets sold to the Stars and Stripes charitable fund.

With Mercury center Brittany Griner entering her second year in the WNBA; it is highly likely that a strong support of voting from the hometown fans shall propel her into the starting lineup for the game. Voted as a starter for the 2013 edition, she was unable to play due to injury. Franchise legend Diana Taurasi, a six-time All-Star should also find herself voted into the starting lineup. Other Mercury players with All-Star experience include Candice Dupree and Penny Taylor, who have each played in three All-Star contests.

Mercury stars Brittney Griner (left) and Diana Taurasi part of early publicity for 2014 WNBA All-Star Game to be played in Phoenix

Mercury stars Brittney Griner (left) and Diana Taurasi part of early publicity for 2014 WNBA All-Star Game to be played in Phoenix

As the Western Conference has only hosted an All-Star Game twice (Phoenix – 2000, San Antonio – 2011), the return of the league’s annual showcase to Phoenix displays a commitment towards maintaining the strong fan base that exists in the West. Of note, the Western Conference have won eight All-Star Games, compared to three for the East.

Boasting an attendance of 17,717 fans, the Western Conference emerged with a victory. Lisa Leslie contributed 16 points, while Tina Thompson garnered Game MVP honors. Thompson would score 13 points while contributing a game-best 11 rebounds.

Mercury mascot points to pair of WNBA titles that franchise has won during All-Star Game press conference

Mercury mascot points to pair of WNBA titles that franchise has won during All-Star Game press conference

The opportunity to possibly become Game MVP on her homecourt is one that must surely be compelling for Taurasi. Competing in the 2013 WNBA All-Star Game, it held high emotion for Taurasi, who would log three points in the contest. With the 2013 edition being hosted at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, it was a homecoming of sorts. Having played her collegiate basketball with the University of Connecticut Huskies, she led them to three consecutive NCAA titles. The outpouring of support from fans in attendance was a feel-good moment.

Barring injury, the opportunity to compete in one of the WNBA’s showcase games in front of her home fans at Phoenix, known affectionately as the X-Factor, shall be a tremendous highlight in her remarkable career. Expect a long standing ovation for the superstar that helped bring a WNBA championship to Phoenix.

One of the WNBA’s rising stars, Brittney Griner will be poised to provide fans with an electrifying performance. While she has already made an impact in the WNBA as the first player to make two slam dunks in her league debut, the 2014 All-Star Game should be her coming-out party. The opportunity to compete against the league’s elite on her homecourt should serve as high motivation for an outstanding performance.

In the same case as Taurasi, injuries would be the only obstacle preventing Griner from participating in the league’s annual showcase. With Phoenix serving as one of the league’s most loyal fan bases, there will likely be a roar of approval should Griner manage to accomplish a slam dunk in the contest.

Coming off a season where the Mercury returned to the postseason, fans are excited about the possibilities for 2014. Should Griner continue to reach her potential as a promising superstar, the All-Star game may be the launching pad towards a strong postseason push that may culminate in another title by season’s end.

Images obtained from: http://www.wnba.com/mercury/photogallery/allstar_announcement_2014_15.html

Hockey legend Caitlin Cahow a courageous symbol of empowerment

A member of the US squad that captured a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, Caitlin Cahow will be returning to the world’s biggest stage. With the 2014 Games being hosted in Sochi, Russia, Cahow shall be serving on US President Barack Obama’s delegation that shall represent the US at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Having retired from ice hockey after leading the Boston Blades to the 2013 Clarkson Cup championship, Cahow has managed to remain involved in the sport. In addition to attending law school at Boston College, she appeared at the Boston Blades’ first-ever “Women in Sports” series, recognizing Meghan Duggan.

Appearing on NBC's Today Show

Appearing on NBC’s Today Show

Introducing Duggan at the event, Cahow also spoke about being an openly gay athlete and the struggle for equality. As Cahow is part of a modern-day group of accomplished female athletes challenging cultural norms about the role of women in sport and society, she is a champion for the cause of acceptance.

Ivy League educated and articulate, Cahow is also a proud member of the Board of Directors for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. With the CWHL a proud partner with the You Can Play! Foundation, looking to remove bullying and homophobic behavior, Cahow also reinforces a courageous message that athletes have the right to not feel shame or stereotyping based on the way they identify themselves.

In travelling to Sochi, Cahow brings a powerful message about values such as equality and empowerment. An openly gay athlete, her presence is a direct rebuttal to the law that the Russian government passed in June 2013 prohibiting the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations. In addition, she will be joined on the US delegation by tennis legend and champion for women in sport Billie Jean King, another gay athlete.

King shall be part of the delegation that will appear at the opening ceremonies. Joining her are University of California president Janet Napolitano, the first female secretary of Homeland Security, Michael McFaul, the United States ambassador to Russia, deputy chief of staff for policy Robert Nabors and Brian Boitano, a gold medalist in figure skating at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games.

Of note, McFaul shall also participate in the delegation for the closing ceremonies. Cahow shall be part of said delegation, joined by speed skating legend Bonnie Blair, Dr. Eric Heiden and William Burns, the deputy secretary of state.

Having been interviewed for CBS News, along with making an appearance on NBC’s Today Show, Cahow is truly paying it forward. As the Modern Olympic Movement preaches the removal of ignorance and working towards social progress, Cahow is part of a diverse yet inspiring group of delegates that prove the US is dedicated to preserving and reinforcing civil and human rights.

Also serving as an advocate for concussion research, an injury which sidelined her for most of 2012, Cahow is symbolic of today’s intelligent, strong and ambitious women. For all the LGBT athletes that have endured fear or lived in silence, Cahow and King are part of a bold statement that encourages freedom. Their mission is also one of a humanitarian nature, extending sport, where the hopeful outcome is one where ignorance can be eradicated and a greater understanding of celebrating the human spirit.