Presidential visit tremendous point of pride for Dr. Jen Welter

One of the great milestones for any American-raised athlete is the privilege of being invited to the White House. A celebration of one’s glories on the intense field of play, simultaneously a tremendous moment of patriotic national pride, and such a visit is commemorated by an opportunity to rub shoulders with the President of the United States. Undoubtedly, for an athlete to gain an audience with the President signifies that one has truly arrived as a sporting icon, symbolizing a remarkable achievement and quite possibly, a great personal milestone.

In March 2015, Dr. Jen Welter was among a proud group of invited guests at the White House for Women’s History Month, a celebration that recognized the accomplishments of women in all facets of society. Having spoken to the White House Council on Women and Girls in the past, a group founded by President Barack Obama, Welter became a global celebrity after a preseason spent serving as the linebackers coach for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, an unprecedented first.

While medalists from the Summer and Winter Games, along with championships from all NCAA women’s sports gain the opportunity to visit the White House, such gatherings tend to be very large and do not allow much time for socializing. Welter would gain the opportunity to enjoy a chat with Obama, definitely an indication of her impact on the American sporting and social scene.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was reserved for Obama, who respectfully commented that he thought Welter would be much taller, as she was continuously handling up on the giants who grace the gridirons of the NFL. As Welter told ESPN, she laughed and replied that if she were taller, she would likely be playing basketball, which is also the President’s favorite sport. Shaking her hand, he was quoted as saying, “I love everything that you’re doing.”

Having taken a photo with Obama, a jubilant Welter finally received said photo in early May, immediately posting it with pride on her Instagram account. Perhaps even more cherished is the fact that he mentioned Welter twice in his speech, acknowledging her achievements and proclaiming her as a role model, mentioning that the glass ceiling does not exist anymore.

During Obama’s presidency, a unique parallel is the rising impact of women in sport, which has grown by a quantum leap in a very remarkable time. Among such achievements, the United States captured the FIFA Women’s World Cup, women have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, there have been two Women’s World Tackle Football Championships, baseball was contested as a medal sport at the Pan American Games, the first world women’s ice sledge hockey championships were played, professional leagues for hockey and lacrosse have started. The 2015 NFL season not only featured the presence of women such as Dr. Jen Welter and Sarah Thomas making their mark on history, with Welter coaching and Thomas officiating, there was also a Women in Football summit during the events leading up to the 50th Super Bowl.

Adding to such jubilation is the fact that Welter will be returning to the White House on June 14 for the United States of Women summit, where she will be speaking. As a side note, Welter’s visit represented another great chapter in the growing history of female athletes visiting the White House. Just a few months earlier, the victorious United States squad from the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup gained a photo of with President Obama that would have once been reserved for World Series champions. Undoubtedly, the respect for women and their prominence in society shall definitely stand as one of Obama’s greatest benchmarks as President, highlighted by their ability to make their mark as sporting icons.

Rousey, Ledecky and Mirza named to Time’s Most 100 Influential in 2016

Having released its list of the top 100 most influential people, three female athletes were among the honored list. Featuring seven athletes overall, the likes of swimming sensation Katie Ledecky, tennis champion Sania Mirza and mixed martial arts pioneer Ronda Rousey were bestowed such an honor.

Compared to 2015, when Abby Wambach was the only female athlete on the list, the increase in 2016 may hopefully lead to an even stronger showing in 2017. Surprisingly, Serena Williams, who was recognized by Time’s sister publication Sports Illustrated as the Sportsperson of the Year for 2015, and Dr. Jen Welter, who made history as the first female assistant coach in NFL history were not part of the 2016 list.

Among the criterion employed by Time to shape its list included those that embody a breakthrough and/or have the power to make one think. In addition, each honored member of the top 100 was featured in a profile composed by a guest writer, either a fellow peer or a celebrity.

Of the three honored women, it may have come as the biggest surprise to see Tina Fey honor Rousey with her words. Although Fey is not famous for sport, she is currently part of Rousey’s ambitions to branch out into acting. Both are starring in a Paula Pell produced film titled “Do Nothing Bitches,” to be distributed by Universal.

Rousey has made an impression on both the big and small screen. From hosting ‘Saturday Night Live’ in January 2016, to roles in big budget films such as “The Expendables 3”, “Entourage: The Movie” and “Furious 7”, she is also pegged to be in the remake of “Road House” while a biopic about her career is in the works. It may be highly possible that Rousey will do like football legend Jim Brown, walking away from sport in their prime to pursue acting full-time.

Based on rumors circulating online, the plot of the film centers around rich wives who attend a camp in which Rousey is a military-like instructor. Considering that Pell and Rousey are both represented by WME, the film was actually based on an interview where Rousey spoke about female empowerment.

As Fey recalls her first fascination with Rousey, courtesy of the interview which gathered three million views on YouTube, it becomes clear that she is becoming her biggest fan. Encouraging Rousey’s candor, Fey hopes that her powerful message can serve as the catalyst to help women become comfortable with their body image and self-esteem.

Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar takes pen to paper to express his views on Sania Mirza. Both hailing from growing global power India, each has made an invaluable contribution to sport, subsequently becoming legends. Like so many, Tendulkar first heard of Mirza in 2005, when she made history as the first player from India to capture a Women’s Tennis Association event. Admiring her ability to bounce back from a serious injury, Tendulkar is quick to point out in his commentary that Sania means brilliant.

From a tennis perspective, Sania is living up to such billing. Teaming up with Martina Hingis, who was a promising phenom in the late 1990s as a teenager, the two have become an unlikely duo, rising to become the top-ranked doubles team in the world.

After a singles career that quickly fizzled for Hingis, unable to live up to a combination of expectation and image as a sex symbol, continuously placing her in comparison to Anna Kournikova (the two were once doubles partners), the Swiss Miss seemed doomed to be another tennis prodigy poised to burn out. Instead, Mirza has helped Hingis rediscover her greatness, simultaneously reinventing herself as an elite doubles competitor, with the last three Grand Slam titles to show for it.

The presence of Hingis has certainly been reciprocated, as Sania bounced back from a potentially career threatening wrist injury, forcing her to abandon singles competition. From Tendulkar’s perspective, her confidence, strength and resilience are remarkable qualities, which he believes shall help inspire a new generation of promising athletes in India to pursue their own sporting dreams.

Recognizing the growing greatness of Katie Ledecky, swimming legend Janet Evans emphasizes that she is in a class of her own, oblivious to the seven other swimmers occupying the other lanes. Having captured four gold medals in the Summer Games, Evans carved a legacy that Ledecky not only emulated, but managed to exceed.

At one point, Evans held the world records in the 400-m, 800-m and 1,500-m freestyle events. Ledecky would eclipse all three records and make waves by capturing five gold medals at the 2015 World Championships. Perhaps the most impressive aspect is the fact that she was only 18 years old when these records fell.

Having first met Ledecky in November 2015, when Ledecky captured the Golden Goggles award for Female Athlete of the Year, Evans is definitely in awe. She points out how Ledecky became the first female swimmer to earn a first place finish in the 200-m, 400-m, 800-m and 1,500-m freestyle in the same World Championships. Yet, the quality that Evans admires the most is Ledecky’s maturity, a focus that results in resetting what she can achieve.

Coincidentally, Evans and Ledecky once swam in the same meet. The two would take the plunge in 2012 for the US Summer Games Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. It was actually Evans first Trials since 1996, before Ledecky was even born.
While Ledecky enjoyed a first place finish in the 800-m freestyles at the Trials, it was a moment of redemption. Evans had noticed that the product of Bethesda, Maryland experienced heartbreak earlier at the Trials, placing third in the 400-m freestyle. As a side note, Evans held the world record in the 400-m from 1987 to 2006. Considering that only the winner qualifies for the Summer Games in an individual event, such frustration was compounded as the 400-m came before the 800-m.

Heading into the 2016 Rio Summer Games, Ledecky is poised to build on the momentum of her world record haul and become the next swimming superstar from the United States, possibly capturing the imagination of fans the way Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps once did. Having won a gold medal in the 800-m freestyle at the 2012 London Summer Games at the tender age of 15, she looks destined to win much more in Rio. Undoubtedly, the first gold in London definitely brought back memories of when Amanda Beard won her first Summer Games gold as a teen phenom at Atlanta 1996. Of note, 15 was also the age that Evans set her first world record.

Stuntwoman Jacqueline Legere captures Red Bull Crashed Ice world championship

With the most exciting season of Red Bull Crashed Ice having wrapped up, the final outcome saw an inspiring and energizing woman combine a great love of athleticism and competition into a memorable run towards Jacqueline Legere’s first world championship. While her time off the Crashed Ice course is spent in the courageous profession of stunt woman, her championship contributes to a proud Canadian legacy of champions, which has included Fannie Desforges (2012) and Dominique Thibault (2013) grace the top of the podium.

LegereRedBull

A unique coincidence between all three is that each possesses a hockey background. Legere, who hails from St. George, Ontario, has competed at the PWHL level with the Hamilton Hawks from 2009-11. Prior to that, Legere was a member of the Cambridge Roadrunners in the LLFHL, complemented by a Brant County high school championship. Desforges served as captain for the Ottawa Gee-Gees in CIS play and Thibault spent several seasons as a member of the Connecticut Huskies at the NCAA level. In addition, Desforges and Thibault would be teammates for one season with the CWHL’s Montreal Stars. The hockey connection was also prevalent for the 2015-16 season as Myriam Trepanier, who would rank third overall in the Crashed Ice standings once played hockey at the NCAA level for the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.

In the aftermath of the 2015-16 Red Bull Crashed Ice season, which was the fifth for Legere, her 2800 points finished 500 ahead of second place Alexis Jackson and Trepanier. Of note, Legere was joined by four other Canadians in the top 10 rankings. Along with the aforementioned Trepanier, the proud Canadian content included fourth place Elaine Topolnisky. Maxie Plante would grab sixth place while Tamara Kajah, who hails from nearby Brantford, Ontario, finished the season with a respectable seventh place finish. As a side note, Kajah would gain a third place finish at the final race of the season in St. Paul, Minnesota. The men’s category also saw a prominent Canadian influence as Scott Croxall ranked second and Dean Moriarty enjoyed a third place standing.

Legere’s run to the women’s Ice Cross Downhill World Champion involved a pair of victories during a season filled with five races in both North America and Europe. First place finishes at a Riders Cup win in Bathurst, New Brunswick and a Red Bull Crashed Ice race win to close out the season in Saint Paul, Minnesota proved to be significant victories after a fifth place finish in a Quebec City competition. Other results included a second place finish in Jyväskylä-Laajis, Finland, along with another podium finish in Europe, grabbing first at a race in Munich, Germany.

Considering that she will only turn 25 when next season begins, the potential to remain in the championship picture for seasons to come is strong. Finishing her fifth season as world champion is crucial to her confidence heading into next season.

Poker player Anna Khait played to win on Survivor

Making her mark as a female professional poker player, an appearance on Survivor Kaoh Rong should have brought with it better results for an ambitious and energetic Anna Khait. Instead, the 26-year-old (originally from St. Petersburg, Russia) saw her status as one of the favorites evaporate as the odds were no longer in her favor. Calling Brigantine Beach, New Jersey her home, the member of the Beauty tribe saw her chances to continue and thrive take an unforeseen turn for the worst as a swap contributed to her ousting.

Voted out of the Gondol tribe on Day 14, her arrival in the new tribe saw her at odds with former Beauty-tribe member Tai Trang. Throughout the first four episodes, rantings online had some favoring her to emerge as the eventual winner. As the game of Survivor is one filled with elements of the unpredictable, host Jeff Probst announcing “Drop your buffs” brought a new dimension.

No longer able to rely on her all-girls alliance, Khait faced very difficult odds of surviving in her new tribe. Despite her best efforts at trying to survive the immunity challenge, the game took an even more ironic twist as the ousted player would be replaced by Julia Sokolowski. Of note, Sokolowski had been sent to exile island for three days. Had Khait won immunity and Sokolowski replaced another player, the reality is that Khait would have been able to build a new alliance.

With an alluring sex appeal which is without dispute, Khait felt that she was most like infamous (and perhaps strategically manipulative) contestant Parvati, able to display charm and reveal an innocent side while seducing the male competitors. Having declared on the official site of Survivor that she felt she could survive the game because she is not lazy and has the physical capability along with tons of energy, while helping procure food for the tribe, there was also a heartwarming side to her.

Despite a heartbreaking finish to her run on Survivor, the chance to compete was the culmination of a dream come true for Khait. Such a run is still poised to propel her into celebrity status on the poker tour. Currently a correspondent on Poker Tube, she has already captured the imagination of poker aficionados as she was dubbed one of the “Iron Princesses of Poker” by the World Poker Tour. Having enjoyed five career cashes, she competed in her first World Series of Poker Main Events in 2014.

Highly emotional weekend for bobsledding legend Kailie Humphries

In a career filled with milestones, the weekend of January 8-10, 2016 may represent the most meaningful for two-time Winter Games gold medalist Kailie Humphries. Competing in Lake Placid, Humphries was part of a pair of events, including a historic race against a field composed of men in a four-person World Cup bobsled event.

On Friday, January 8, Kailie Humphries and Melissa Lotholz achieved a second place finish behind Americans Jamie Greubel and Cherrell Gareett in a women’s World Cup bobsled event. The margin of victory was separated by just 43 seconds as the American team finished with a time of 1:53.48. Of note, it was the second win of the season for Greubel, trailing Humphries by just 10 points for the overall World Cup title.

Humphries was racing with a heavy heart as the race represented the first since the passing of coach Malcolm “Gomer” Lloyd on January 3. As the coach who taught Humphries how to drive the sled, he was one of the key architects in her world-class career.

Coincidentally, Gomer trained Humphries in Lake Placid and was a supporter of women getting the opportunity to compete in bobsleighs. Quite possibly the most influential person in her career, it was so unfortunate that he was not on-hand to witness the second race to follow for Humphries.

Despite a last place finish, Humphries and her crew emerged as empowering winners, one that would have made Gomer proud. The native of Calgary was part of an all-female team that included Cynthia Appiah of Toronto, Quebec City’s Genevieve Thibault of Quebec City and Barrhead, Alberta native Melissa Lotholz. Of note, Thibault, a former track star at Laval University and former competitor with Canada’s national rugby sevens team, and Appiah were making their bobsled debuts.

Enduring a difficult 17th place finish out of 17 teams at Mount Van Hoevenberg, such an outcome was attributed to physics. Of note, Humphries’ crew, whose time was 4.77, were over 200 lighter than their male competitors, meaning that achieving the same level of speed was not possible. The winning time was 1:49.70, achieved by Maximilian Arndt of Germany.

There was more Canadian content in the race as Justin Kripps led his team to a third place finish in 1:50.07. As a side note, John James Jackson of Britain finished in 16th place ahead of Humphries team, finishing ahead by 2.67 seconds.

For Humphries, the real victory was the proud statement made about eventually adding a four-woman division to World Cup racing. With the words “girl power” adorned on her socks, it is part of Humphries’ goal to see a four-woman division before retiring from active competition. Next month in Igls, Austria, there shall be another exhibition race featuring a four-woman bobsled team, with the continued push to see the event become part of the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

Another vocal athlete about such a worthy cause is American-born Elana Meyers Taylor. Last season, both Humphries and Meyers Taylor were approved to race with men’s teams, with Meyers Taylor piloting a sled with three male teammates. Traditionally, all women’s races have consisted of just teams composed of two competitors, while men’s races include both two- and four-man teams.

Personal best provides Amber Bowman with memorable victory

Having already won four consecutive national championships in the Firefighter Combat Challenge, Amber Bowman is one of the competition’s shining stars. One of the most underrated stars in sports, Bowman is a highly deserving sporting icon worthy of a bigger audience.

Extending her remarkable legacy beyond national championships, Bowman has enjoyed multiple world championships, establishing herself as more than a legend, but a hero and role model as well. A competition in which fire fighters battle the clock in a series of simulated emergency situations, the demanding event is testament to the hard work and sacrifice required to take part in such an occupation.

Taking into account that fire fighting has traditionally been a male-dominated occupation, remarkable women such as Bowman are helping to break barriers. For young women in the communities of Aurora and Newmarket, where Bowman proudly serves, she may inspire them to take on such a career.

Bowman’s first foray into sport involved a memorable run as an ice hockey player with the Ohio State Buckeyes, where she also served as captain. In addition, Bowman also spent several seasons in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and won an OWHA Senior title with the Aurora Panthers. As a side note, former Burlington Barracudas teammate Amanda Shaw is another female hockey hero that has entered firefighting as a post-playing career.

Image obtained from: http://www.fitbyfire.com/

Image obtained from: http://www.fitbyfire.com/

Despite accomplishing so much, one goal had eluded Bowman. Entering the 2015 edition of the FireFit National Championships in Kitchener, Ontario, this would prove to be a key motivational factor for the member of Central York Firefighting Services. In the four years prior, Bowman had never broken the two minute barrier. During the 2014 season, she had mentioned it on social media as a target she was aiming for.

Although it was five years in the making, Bowman set a personal best and a new event (and world) record as the first female to
break the elusive two-minute barrier in the Firefighter Combat Challenge. The fans on-hand in Kitchener were witnessing history, observing the presence of a legend, whose record time will inspire future generations of female competitors to reach Bowman’s hallowed benchmark.

Setting the new gold standard with a time of 1:58, it stands as one of the finest sporting achievements of 2015. The element that made Bowman’s performance so much more heroic was the fact that she suffered from a concussion in May. Medically cleared in early August, her Amazonian-like commitment to training paid remarkable dividends. Finishing in second was Swift Current’s Karla Cairns, while North Vancouver’s Carla King Penman finished third. Of note, Bowman and Penman hold the world record for in the women’s tandem, set in 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Suddenly, five years of hard work, the culmination of sweat, tears and the remarkable endurance through pain vanished, as all that remained was glory and jubilation. Assembling one of the great female sporting dynasties in modern Canadian history, Bowman proudly proclaimed on social media, “Dream It, Believe It, ACHIEVED IT!”

‪#‎StrongHER‬

Highly decorated Michele Stilwell succeeds in sporting and political life

Among the great stories that defined Canada’s memorable experience as host country of the 2015 Parapan American Games, British Columbia’s Michelle Stilwell captured the gold medal in the women’s 100M T52 at CIBC Athletics Stadium. The T52 classification signifies a category for quadriplegics based on their functioning level. Athletes that are categorized in T51 possess less trunk control and reduced ability in their biceps and triceps.

Recording a time of 19.58 seconds, the 41-year old Stilwell finished one second behind the world record that she previously set in 2012. American competitors Kerry Morgan and Cassie Mitchell finished second and third, while fourth place belonged to Becky Richter of Saskatoon.

Having also raced in the finals of the Women’s 800M T53 event, Stilwell finished with a personal record of 2.22:90. Such admirable performances at the Parapan American Games solidified Stilwells legacy as Canada’s most decorated female paralympic athlete.

The greater victory for the University of Calgary-educated Stilwell was a gold medal victory on home soil. Complementing such an achievement is the fact that Stilwell captured a gold medal in women’s wheelchair basketball at the 2000 Paralympic Summer Games in Sydney, Australia. With both gold medals, Stilwell (who first become a quadriplegic at the age of 17) is the first Canadian female paralympic athlete to capture gold medals in two different summer sporting events.

Stilwell also enjoyed gold medal performances at the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Summer Games. At Beijing 2008, Stilwell enjoyed gold in the 100- and 200-meter wheelchair races. She would enjoy a p air of podium of finished in London 2012, gold in the 200-meter and silver in the 100-meter. Having also enjoyed gold medal triumphs at the 2006, 2011 and 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships, her greatest performance came in 2013, capturing gold in the 100-, 200- and 800-meter races, respectively.

In addition to her remarkable athletic career, Stilwell is also a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the riding of Parksville-Qualicum in the British Columbia provincial government. Elected on May 14, 2013, one of her first political duties included a stint as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health of Seniors.

Appointed to her own position as a Minister in BC Premier’s Christy Clark’s cabinet on February 2, 2015, she is responsible for the portfolio of Social Development and Social Innovation. Taking into account that she once worked on the BC Government’s 10 by 10 Challenge, an initiative to help provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities, Stilwell is an ideal and highly qualified individual to handle such a key position in the Cabinet. As a side note, her devotion to public service is boundless, as she also serves on the Treasury Board.

Prior to politics, Stilwell was a proud advocate for people with disabilities, while also performing duties as a motivational speaker. An ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation, another notable disabled athlete from British Columbia, her hard work culminated with an unprecedented honor in 2012. Stilwell made local history as the first person to receive Parksville’s Key to the City. In addition, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, a highly fitting honor. Whether it be debate, legislation, serving on committees or discussion with consultants, Stilwell’s work ethic is just as evident, resulting in a win-win situation for her constituents.