Hockey hero Cherie Hendrickson continues to inspire with sixth Boston Marathon

Although the 2014-15 season saw the absence of Cherie Hendrickson from elite women’s hockey competition, she did not stop being an influential member of the sporting community. An exceptionally well-conditioned athlete, Hendrickson has played hockey in the United States, Canada and Russia, simultaneously serving as an ambassador for the game, in addition to being a valued teammate.

Showing great physical and emotional endurance by successfully competing in the world-famous Boston Marathon, the 2015 edition resulted in Hendrickson’s participation for the sixth time. With many Bostonians still healing from the somber and sad tragedy that occurred in 2013, Hendrickson was among many whose efforts provided comfort, raising and strengthening many spirits.

While Hendrickson always runs with fund-raising in mind, a special gift was given to her. With the darkened skies releasing rains upon the courageous runners, a unique surprise resulted in which Hendrickson shared on social media. With a three-time champion standing by, providing encouragement and support, it helped Hendrickson dig a little deeper as she was looking to finish with a personal record time. Sharing her jubilation on social media, it garnered an empathy and support from friends and fans alike,

“This year as I passed through Kenmore Square and was half a mile from the finish line, I heard a female voice cheering for Dana Farber from the right side of the road. I looked and to my astonishment, there stood Uta Pippig, three-time women’s champion of the Boston Marathon, standing in the freezing rain and wind by the side of the road in a soaking wet black windbreaker.

Even though I was running a PR time (for me), I was still hours behind any of the elite runners…but she had stayed out in the cold rain to cheer on and give hugs to us slower runners. ‘You got this sweetie! It’s easy!!’ She told me as she gave me a big hug…I laughed. Easy, right. But in that moment she embodied everything that is great about running Boston and running for Dana Farber.”

Collage from experiences at the 2015 Boston Marathon (Image obtained from Facebook)

Collage from experiences at the 2015 Boston Marathon (Image obtained from Facebook)

For this purposeful young woman, she crossed the final line, approaching it with a heroic grace. Although she was not on the ice, the site of many memorable moments in her career, such as a 2013 Clarkson Cup win dedicated to her father, the talent and determination that she always brought to the ice was evident on this day.

Unlike hockey, the personal aspect of the marathon can be a lonely existence. The longing of participation and joy of competition resulted in a spiritual journey for Hendrickson, where the greatest reward was running to raise funds, looking to help others. She shared the names of those she ran for on social media, testament to her status as a charming personality with a heart of gold. In the aftermath of the marathon, Hendrickson is the type of individual that anyone would want on their team.

“This year I ran for a lot of special people, several of which I’m lucky to call friends. Clockwise from the top left: Eileen Wallace breast cancer survivor, Sandra Cohan Dubuc who lost her son Matty to liver cancer, Hilary Hall two-time cancer survivor (leukemia and breast cancer), and everyone I carried on my singlet this year. Thank you to all who have donated – together over the past six years we’ve raised over $25,000 for cancer research! The link is still open in case you procrastinated (or wanted to see if I’d run in the rain). Thank you!!!”

Whirlwind time culminates with heroic accolades for Charline Labonte

Despite the heartbreak of an overtime loss in the Clarkson Cup championship game against archrival Boston, All-World goaltender Charline Labonte earned the admiration of teammates and opponents alike. In the opening round of the Clarkson Cup playoffs, Labonte recorded back-to-back shutouts against a highly potent Calgary Inferno offensive unit.

Facing 27 shots from the Boston Blades in the Clarkson Cup championship game, her efforts were essential in providing the Stars with an opportunity to force overtime. With seven shutouts of postseason play, the Blades would eventually figure out Labonte.

Despite the overtime loss, Labonte allowed one of the most historic goals in CWHL history, as Janine Weber became the first European to score a Clarkson Cup winning goal. For her heroic efforts in a very strong postseason, Labonte was recognized as the Clarkson Cup’s MVP. Statistically, her postseason was the finest, having made a tournament best 87 saves and .967 save percentage, while also registering a Goals Against Average of just 0.99.

Momentum was certainly high for Labonte heading into the postseason. Of note, she was recognized as the recipient of the CWHL’s Goaltender of the Year Award. Her 1.89 GAA, 380 saves and .927 save percentage reprsented a great season that was outdone only by Boston’s Genevieve Lacasse, who clinched the regular season goaltending title with a 1.68 GAA.

All smiles at the Press Conference where the Montreal Canadiens announce their support of the CWHL's Montreal Stars (Photo credit: Jess Desjardins)

All smiles at the Press Conference where the Montreal Canadiens announce their support of the CWHL’s Montreal Stars (Photo credit: Jess Desjardins)

Emotions were definitely high for Labonte heading into the Clarkson Cup title game. Not only was it the final game of CWHL co-founder Lisa Marie Breton-Lebreux’s career, but Labonte had a chance at history. A Clarkson Cup win would have made her the 14th woman to earn Triple Gold Club for Women status (a prestige that includes IIHF World Gold and a Winter Games Gold Medal).

Although such an outcome eluded Labonte, the last 13 months has represented a series of many smaller victories that culminate in an impressive body of work, making her a role model in ways that extend beyond the game. In the aftermath of an emotional gold medal win at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Labonte went public, declaring a same-sex preference. It would prove to be a very proud moment, as her courage was met with praise.

Having engaged in a relationship with Canadian speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, it was an ideal rebuttal to the anti-gay legislation that caused controversy in Sochi. With so many other athletes upset about the legislation, it was only fitting that Labonte’s relationship strengthened in Sochi.

Since then, the two have supported each other in many ways. When Labonte made history by serving as a captain in the inaugural CWHL All-Star Game, Bucsis was in the stands showing her support. By season’s end, the CWHL experienced another milestone as the Montreal Canadiens announced a financial commitment to the Stars. Among the members of the Stars at the press conference, Labonte was on-hand, fielding questions from the media.

In March 2015, Bucsis and Labonte would speak at Cornell University. Two months later, Cornell hockey player would be among the architects of the university’s “We Don’t Say” campaign, certainly gaining inspiration from their visit. There is no question that as the seasons progress, many more Canadian athletes, plus young women from other walks of life, shall continue to draw inspiration from Bucsis and Labonte’s remarkable year.

Kelly Campbell back for a fifth fantastic season of football

A charter member of the Baltimore Charm, Kelly Campbell contributed three solid seasons with the club before relocating to Las Vegas. While the Sin football club are in a rebuilding mode, Campbell has provided a veteran presence which translated into a patient and dignified leadership.

Raised in Maryland, Campbell would graduate from Penn State University with a degree in Anthropology. Pulling double duty as a marketing manager for the Las Vegas Sin, she brings a strong business acumen to the franchise. Many of the Sin’s promotional appearances and efforts with non-profit organizations have been among Campbell’s efforts to reach out to the community.

Of note, she once served as the Director of Marketing the Legends Football League, helping expand the brand into regions such as Canada and Australia. She is among a group of empowering women proving that athletic women can have careers after the roar of the crowd.

Collage of Kelly Campbell through the years of her football career (Image obtained from Instagram)

Collage of Kelly Campbell through the years of her football career (Image obtained from Instagram)

Throughout her gridiron career, Campbell has enjoyed the luxury of playing alongside a pair of very popular and charismatic quarterbacks. From second-generation signal caller Angela Rypien in Baltimore to Sindy Cummings in Las Vegas, she has been surrounded by elite talent. Such talent has motivated her into becoming the leader she is today. From serving as a team captain with the Charm to gaining the league’s Most Improved Player of the Year Award in 2013, it constitutes an impressive body of work.

On statistics alone, Campbell may not appear on the leader board, but the reality is that such criteria cannot measure a player’s dedication or enthusiasm. Taking into account that Campbell is among a rare group of athletic women that have logged five seasons in the Legends Football League, her value to any team goes far beyond the numbers.

Having worked tirelessly to raise the profile of the sport from novelty to national obsession, the last five seasons have represented a labor of love for Campbell. Sharing her views on how the game has positively transformed her life on social media,

“What an incredible journey it has been, and still is. 5 years of memories: From the first tryout ever in 2010 for Baltimore, to Mexico, Canada and Australia, and of course LasVegas. Five years of wins and losses, amazing women and teammates, incredible coaches, fans and friends. So many people that will be in my life forever all because of the LFL.

Not to mention it brought me to my future. But football is so much more to me than I can express. It has helped me grow in numerous ways on and off the field. It has presented opportunities and when I look back on where I started, I am in disbelief of all that has happened for me personally, and as a league.

Seeing so many women come and go from the sport, not knowing the thousands of hours of practice, personal training, film study, painting bandanas (haha), promotional appearances, and on and on. You HAVE to be passionate to play. And to play at this level is a dream and I hope to continue to help pave the way for women in football.

Maybe one day my daughter will have options that are just wishes for me right now. Football has changed me for the better and I am grateful for the last 5 years.”

Rachel Grusse among fresh faces for US ice sledge hockey team in exhibition series

Having first risen to prominence as a swimmer, Rachel Grusse is emerging a two-sport star. A double amputee (bilateral below knee), she has adapted very well to ice sledge hockey, learning how to stay balanced in the sled and not fall over, while receiving (and giving) hits.

Among a growing group of female competitors in the Northeast Sled Hockey League, she skates for the Connecticut Wolfpack, joining the likes of Kelly Lavoie and Karen Smith. As a side note, other women competing in the league include Kristina Vaughn with New York, and Christy Gardner with the USA Warriors.

Such effort has culminated with the change to accomplish a dream of competing for the United States women’s ice sledge hockey team. In the background of the 2015 Men’s Ice Sledge Hockey championships, hosted in Buffalo, New York, a three-game exhibition series took place. With members of the Canadian and US national women’s teams renewing rivalries, they were also on-hand at the men’s championships to show their support.

During such exhibition series, both national teams take the opportunity to evaluate talent, allowing new faces an opportunity to take their sleds to the ice. For Rachel Grusse, the chance to don the US jersey was only eclipsed by the chance to call Karen Smith, one of the game’s elders, as a teammate. The elation of the event only served to motivate Grusse, who logged the game-winning tally in the second game.

At the tender age of 16 months old, Rachel needed to have both of her legs amputated below the knees (including the loss of her fingertips) due to an injury. With prosthetic limbs, Grusse would eventually attempt other sports such as biking, soccer and skiing. During her time as a student at Glastonbury High School, her first exposure to athletic competition came in the swimming pool.

Without the use of her prosthetic limbs, Grusse would actually compete in able-bodied events. Her athetlic sojourn into swimming would reach a truning point in 2004 when she met Jean Karpuk and became affiliated with the Hospital for Special Care WAVES swim team. Able to train and compete among other disabled athletes, she would close out 2004 by participating at the Junior National Disabled Swim Championships.

Duplicating the feat again in 2005, Grusse experienced another milestone that year. As the first adapted swimmer from Connecticut to compete in the short course Eastern Zone championship meet, an able-bodied swim meet. Building on such momentum, she qualified to compete at the US Paralympic Swimming nationals. Setting a new national record in the 200-meter backstroke (S8 classification), she was invited to compete at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports World Games.

Although Grusse would not qualify for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, she remained internationally ranked by the IPC in three events: the 400-meter freestyle, 100-meter backstroke and 100-meter breaststroke. Considering that women’s ice sledge hockey shall be a demonstration sport at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, it may offer Grusse with the opportunity to make her Paralympic goals a reality. Considering that sport has provided Grusse with health and enjoyment, it makes Grusse a winner regardless of the sport that she competes in.

I play tackle football because…

Candice Ward Photography

This year’s portrait project with the Calgary Rage Women’s Tackle Football team is a lot different then I have done in the past. This year, I wanted to capture this women a little more natural and realistic to how they look after they play. These photos were all shot right after their rainy home opener win over the Edmonton Storm on the May long weekend. When I say right after, I mean, still in their gear, sweaty and not made up. Many still had helmet hair, impressions of the helmet on their foreheads and swollen hands from making big plays. Each one of the these women exude an impressive level of confidence and it really shows through their photos. Each player was also asked to include the reason why they play tackle football. I play tackle football because… 3Esther4Shae-Lyn5Holly6Lindsay9Ferne14Ashley21Erin22Amanda23Kyla25Jenna28Lesley34Michelle51ConnieW55Venessa62Lauren65Robyn66Janet67Meghan88PamThank you to all 19 of you. I am extremely happy how these…

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UFC icon Ronda Rousey lands on the cover of Sports Illustrated

As the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey has not only risen to global superstar, but has emerged as the face of mixed martial arts. Landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the popular weekly dubbed her “the world’s most dominant athlete”

Receiving an outpouring of support on social media, it marked another remarkable milestone in her career. Of note, she became the first-ever female fighter from UFC to be featured on the cover. Roger Huerta was on the cover in 2007, but he was not the cover model as he was just in an action shot.

Rousey becomes the first female athlete in any sport this year to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. Earlier this year, Rousey was featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, working with photographer Walter Iooss, Jr.

Her appearance on said cover is akin to when wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan graced the cover in 1984. Hogan’s appearance signified the popular impact of professional wrestling, signifying a golden era to come. As such, Rousey creates the same impact, showing that UFC is here to stay, definitely a landmark moment in the history of Mixed Martial Arts.

Among the diverse number of topics discussed in the piece, including time spent with her dog, along with her status as a single person, Rousey speaks about how she felt guilty at first about defeating her friend, Cat Zingano in 14 seconds. A collage of frame-by-frame shots from the 14 second match adorn the top of one of the pages, re-telling the fastest match in UFC women’s bantamweight history.

Of note, Rousey received compensation of only $130,000 for the fight. In the article, she also mentioned how she tries to keep her fights short, reducing the wear and tear on her body, while hoping to benefit by extending her MMA career. Also showing some brashness, Rousey claims to have challenged adults to fights during her teenage years.

A future UFC Hall of Famer, Rousey’s next fight shall take place on August 1. Defending her title against the undefeated Bethe Correia, she is ranked seventh among bantamweights.

McKayla Maroney earns the baseball card treatment

For baseball card collectors opening packs of the 2015 edition of Topps Baseball (Series 1), they shall be presented with the opportunity to randomly find McKayla Maroney gracing one of their cardboard treasures. Part of the US women’s gymnastics team that captured the gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Games, she is among a rare group of women that can boast of being featured in a baseball card set.

Maroney is featured in a randomly inserted series of cards titled “First Pitch”. As the title indicates, Topps has chosen to feature cards with a combination of celebrities and sporting heroes that have participated in first pitch ceremonies during the 2014 Major League Baseball Season.

fpmaroney1

Among three women featured in the First Pitch insert set (the others being centenarian Agnes McKee and Asian reality TV star Suzy), Maroney was part of the first pitch ceremony at Chicago’s US Cellular Field on August 1, 2014. With her card numbered FP-03, she is pictured on the front of the card in a Chicago White Sox jersey.

For the fans in attendance that day at US Cellular Field, they were on-hand for an impressive display of athletic ability. Maroney began with a leg kick, followed by a cartwheel and a front handspring. Afterwards, she released the pitch to a roar of approval from the thrilled spectators.

Of note, this was not the first time that Maroney was part of a first pitch ceremony, let alone having her image depicted on a baseball card. In 2013, Maroney (who became the first American female gymnast to successfully defend a World Championship vault title) was among a group of gymnasts who visited world famous Dodger Stadium to participate in a first pitch ceremony. During that same year, Maroney was featured in Topps’ annual Allen and Ginter baseball card set, which traditionally features athletes from other sports, along with celebrities.

Female soccer stars immortalized on commemorative Canadian postage stamp

As the 2015 FIFA Womens’ World Cup approaches quickly, host country Canada is immortalizing several of its soccer heroes. Canada Post is issuing a commemorative postage stamp featuring Christina Sinclair and Kadeisha Buchanan. In recognition of Japan’s status as defending World Cup champion, goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori also graces the image of said stamp.

Released on May 6, 2015, it pays homage to the superstar (Sinclair) that paved the way for soccer in Canada while recognizing the new generation (Buchanan) of Canadian women helping to build on such momentum. Among the Canadian dignitaries at the release of said stamp included the Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport and responsible for Canada Post. She was joined by the Honourable Bal Gosal, Minister of State (Sport), along with Deepak Chopra, President and CEO, Canada Post.

Image obtained from http://www.canadapost.ca

Image obtained from http://www.canadapost.ca

Designed by Debbie Adams of Toronto, the stamps were printed on Tullis Russell paper with lithography of eight colors. In addition, the stamp depicts the name of every host city (and its respective province) during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which shall culminate with the championship game contested on July 5 at BC Place in Vancouver.

Of note, the stamps are available in booklets of ten, while the Official First Day Cover will be cancelled in Edmonton, site of the opening game between Canada and China on June 6, 2015. In addition, a collectible plaque featuring the image of the stamp is available and limited to only 1,000 units.

Since the London 2012 Summer Games, women’s soccer has become an integral part of Canada’s sporting conversation, elevating Sinclair to an iconic status once reserved for hockey heroes. Having played in more than 150 games for the Canadian national team, Sinclair is the only competitor to have scored a hat trick against US goaltender Hope Solo. Heading into the 2015 World Cup, this shall be Sinclair’s fourth consecutive appearance. Having also played at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games, she earned a bronze in 2012, while being honored as the flag bearer at the Closing Ceremonies.

Buchanan is one of the rising stars on Canada’s defensive unit, praised by head coach John Herdman as the “Christine Sinclair of defenders”. Currently competing at the NCAA level with the University of West Virginia Mountaineers, she is ranked number 6 in the US among collegiate and non-professional female competitors.

Diana Taurasi’s million dollar decision changes landscape of WNBA

In an unprecedented move, superstar Diana Taurasi has announced that she will forego the 2015 WNBA season. Honoring the request of her Russian Premier League team, financial reasons were the key factor in such a visceral decision. UMMC Ekaterinburg actually offered Taurasi more than her WNBA salary in order to sit out the season. Of note, this request was made in order to prevent injury to their prized player.

While Taurasi has issued an open letter to fans of the Phoenix Mercury, her WNBA club team, advising that she will be returning in 2016, the 11-year WNBA veteran (and three-time league champion) has altered the landscape of the league. Taking into account that many of the league’s superstars play overseas to supplement their income, Taurasi could be among the first of many more to undergo such a decision. As a side note, many other European clubs have offered their American star players financial incentives to sit out a WNBA season.

An additional factor to consider is how this will affect the Mercury, who enter the season as the defending league champions. Taking into account that star centre Brittany Griner was arrested on domestic disturbance charges, an ominous feeling defines the upcoming season for a possibly beleaguered club. Despite returning veterans including the likes of DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree, complemented by the WNBA Coach of the Year Sandy Brondello, it may not be enough to salvage the Mercury’s season. Opening their season on June 5 at the Talking Stick Resort Arena against the San Antonio Stars, the outcome of the match may possibly set the tone for the remainder of the season.

Considering that Taurasi has played practically year round since 2004 (not to mention her three Summer Games gold medals), she has given so much of herself to the game, that she has earned the right to sit out the season if she chooses too. While some in basketball circles may feel disappointment over this, the reality is that she has nothing to apologize for.

Sadly, such position not only augments conversation and stirs debate, but it places Taurasi in a lose-lose situation. If she suits up for the Mercury, she may draw the ire of her Russian team. Yet, if she sits out the WNBA season, some may view it as a betrayal to the league. If the money from her Russian team allows her to put together a nest egg for the future, placing her and her family in a possible position of comfort for the long-term, sitting out was the best possible move. Although Taurasi has plans to compete for the United States at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, the reality is that Taurasi has nothing left to prove.

Such a move is certainly a wake-up call for the WNBA and its salary structure. During the 2014 campaign, Taurasi was earning the league maximum of $107,000. As a side note, there were 36 other players in the WNBA making as much as Taurasi, who is the second all-time leading scorer in league history. Overseas, she was earning approximately $1.5 million. As the WNBA is regarded as the world’s most talented female basketball league, how can their players not be the best compensated? Taking into account that some WNBA coaches earn close to $300,000, its star players must work as a unified front to demand better salaries.

While the thought of a player strike would be a first in professional women’s sport in North America, it must be considered in the aftermath of Taurasi’s decision. Although many players opt to play in the WNBA out of loyalty (considering that the majority of players are American), it does not change the fact that compensation will only continue to be a growing source of discussion, and possibly tension.

Such players may be loyal in terms of helping the game grow, but have overlooked the growth of their own finances. Should more stars, such as Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Candace Parker exercise such options, it would open the floodgates, a possible harbinger of things to come. With the 2016 WNBA season also signifying its 20th Anniversary, a change in salary structure would be a strong building block towards gaining the confidence of future players.

Atlanta Steam heartbreakers in record setting 79-0 win over Omaha

Considering that the defending two-time champion Chicago Bliss have moved into the same conference as the Atlanta Steam, a significant statement was made by the club in a convincing win. Going on the road against the Omaha Heart, the Steam not only dominated, but they managed to make history.

In a league record 79-0 win, a very talented Steam lineup dismantled a Heart franchise still looking for their first win of the 2015 indoor women’s football season. As a side note, the original score was 85-0, but a touchdown was revoked by the league office two days later.

Taking into account that the Heart have only three returning players from their 2014 season (which saw them qualify for the postseason), a winless season appears ominously possible. The vast majority of their offensive plays resulted in negative yardage.

Leanne Hardin, one of the team captains, anchored the Steam defensive unit, returning an interception for a touchdown. She would also record a game-high 8.5 tackles and gain recognition as the Steam’s Defensive Player of the Game. Of note, the defense would also record a safety, contributing eight points. In addition, a fumble was recovered a fumble on a night filled with forgettable turnovers for the Heart.

On offense, the Steam benefitted greatly from prized free agent acquisition Dina Wojowski. Equally proficient at the linebacker position, she is the crown jewel for the Steam’s offensive line, enabling sophomore Dakota Hughes to build on the momentum of her impressive 2014 season, which saw her gain 2014 Rookie of the Year honors.

Head coach Dane Robinson recognized Wojowski as the Steam’s Relentless Player of the Game. The other game honor went to Lauran Ziegler, who earned the nod as the Offensive Player of the Game. She would accumulate 59 combined yards from scrimmage (16 yards rushing, 43 yards receiving) while scoring four touchdowns (1 rushing, 3 receiving).

Running back Nas Johnson pounded the Heart defense with a 51-yard effort, including a game-high four rushing touchdowns. Rookie Jessie Locklear would contribute 19 points on the night, via a pair of touchdown returns and successfully converting on seven extra-point attempts.

While the Chicago Bliss currently sit at first overall in the conference (they would beat Omaha by a 49-0 score one week after Atlanta’s record breaking win), the Steam have shown that they are not a team to be taken lightly. As both clubs look towards a championship run, a postseason collision between the two will likely result.

References: Mike Del Rio