10 Female Athletes that made an inspiring impact in 2013

In alphabetical order, please find ten female athletes that helped to make a tremendous impact in 2013, while advancing the already amazing world of female sport.

Angella Goran, Cycling

Cycling across Canada in hopes of raising funds for wildlife research, she channeled the spirit of other Canadians who have ventured on the road in similar efforts; Terry Fox, Rick Hansen and Ashley Gilbank. Looking to preserve Canada’s natural legacy while looking to educate and provide various education activities on her stops, Goran is a role model to both men and women who have undertaken environmental causes.

Emma Green-Tregaro, Track and Field

While the 2013 IAAF World Track and Field Championships were a lightning rod for controversy due to issues of gay rights, Emma Green-Tregaro made a remarkable statement. Painting her fingernails in the colors of the rainbow as a gesture of support, it made worldwide news. While she was inititally warned it could be in violation of the code of conduct of the world championships, she stood her ground, inspiring men and women of any sexual preference to stand up for their beliefs.

Brittany Griner, Basketball

From the NCAA to NBA Draft speculation to the WNBA, Brittany Griner made national news on numerous stages. While her NCAA career at Baylor did not end on with a Final Four, she graduated as the all-time leading blocker among both male and female basketball players.

Speculation about the NBA Draft sparked rumors that she would become the first female selected. Although it never materialized, she would go first overall to the Phoenix Mercury in the 2013 WNBA Draft. Her debut against the Chicago Sky (which featured second pick overall Elena Delle Donne) featured two slam dunks, the first player to do so in their WNBA debut.

Sami Grisafe, Football

One of the most inspiring sporting stories of 2013 (among men and women), football quarterback Sami Grisafe finished her storied football career in grand style. Having led the United States to a gold medal at the inaugural 2010 IFAF Women’s World Football Championships, she followed it up as the field general for the US in 2013.

Her world gold would be followed up by a remarkable performance with the Chicago Force in the 2013 WFA postseason. Leading her club to their first-ever WFA National Championship, it was a fitting finish to Grisafe’s stellar career. Tackling the next role in her life, a promising musical career, her performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at the IFAF Worlds and at Wrigley Field are pulse-pounding.

Brooke Henderson, Golf

Only 16 years old, Brooke Henderson may become the Tiger Woods of women’s golf. A teen phenom who was recognized as Canada’s amateur golfer of the year for 2013, she was also featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd segment. Ranked number nine in the world among amateur female golfers, she would place third at the professional Canadian Women’s Open while placing 35 at the LPGA’s Manulife Classic.

Nikki Johnson, Football

One of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of women’s indoor football, Nikki Johnson used her star power to try and improve working conditions in her league. A former intern with NFL Films and a high school sporting legend in Nevada, her solid work ethic and leadership skills set a positive example for teammate and rival alike.

While her requests for health insurance and a more equitable setting in the league resulted in her untimely dismissal, her efforts are similar to Curt Flood in baseball and Ted Lindsay in hockey. Although she will likely return to the WFA (where she first honed her skills), Johnson is a strong, courageous woman whose principles make her a symbol of admiration and determination.

Hilary Knight, Ice Hockey

While Amanda Kessel had an outstanding 2013, in which she won the Patty Kazmaier Award and led the Minnesota Golden Gophers to an undefeated season, Hilary Knight was playing in the ultra-competitive CWHL against some of Canada’s greatest women’s ice hockey players.

With such sterling competition, Knight not only ranked third in league scoring (first among US-born women), but she would become the first American-born player to capture the CWHL’s MVP Award. She would follow it up by leading all players in postseason scoring as the Blades upset the Montreal Stars to capture the Clarkson Cup. A few weeks later, Knight (and Kessel) would beat Canada on their own home ice to capture gold at the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships. Featured on a trading card in the Topps Sochi Winter Games trading card set, her star is on the rise.

Yekaterina Pashkevich, Ice Hockey

A former women’s tackle football competitor in the IWFL, Yekaterina Pashkevich emerged as the feel-good story of the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships. An original member of the Russian national team from 1993, she lived in Boston for several years after the 2006 Torino Winter Games. Making a comeback in hockey, Pashkevitch would capture the hearts and minds of fans 20 years later. As the oldest competitor at the 2013 IIHF Worlds, her acumen and leadership contributed to an emotional bronze medal for the Russian squad.

Winter Venecki, Running

In honor of her fallen father, Winter Venecki and her mother participated in marathons on every continent in the world. Looking to raise funds for cancer research, Venecki’s journey was one of inspiration and hope. Having established her own cause to raise funds, the teenaged Venecki is a great example of the great contributions youth can make to our society.

Serena Williams, Tennis

In a season that saw Williams amass an outstanding win-loss record of 78-4, she solidified her legacy as the greatest female tennis player ever. Her earnings of over $12,000,000 are the highest-ever in women’s tennis history and the fifth highest among both male and female players.

Honorable Mention: Christmas Abbott, NASCAR

As the first female full-time member of a NASCAR racing crew, Christmas Abbott is shattering barriers in traditionally male-dominated fields. Serving with the Michael Waltrip Racing Team, she is a proud member of Clint Bowyer’s pit crew. Able to change two tires weighting 60 pounds each, she paid her dues changing tires for female racer Jennifer Jo Cobb in years past. When not part of the pit crew, Abbott is also a competitor with Team CrossFitInvoke in the CrossFit Mid-Atlantic region.

Honorable Mention: Julie Paetsch, Football and Ice Hockey

One of the most influential women in Canadian sport for 2013, Julie Paetsch helped make history on two different occasions. Competing on defense with the Saskatoon Valkyries of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, she returned from an injury in-time for the WWCFL title game. Helping the Valkyries to a victory over the Lethbridge Steel, the Valkyries became the first team to win three consecutive WWCFL titles. Of note, she would earn Defensive Player of the Game honors.

A few weeks later, she would contribute to Canada’s silver medal effort at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds. Recognized as Canada’s Player of the Game in the gold medal match against the United States, it would prove to be the beginning of a memorable summer. In late August, she would be selected by the Calgary Inferno in the 2013 Canadian Women’s Hockey League Draft, becoming the first women’s tackle football player taken in CWHL Draft history. In addition, she would score a goal in her debut for the Inferno.

Honorable Mention: Whitney Zelee, Football

Having helped the Boston Militia to a national championship in 2011, Whitney Zelee has emerged as a key member for the WFA franchise. While she has been working tirelessly to help the squad claim a second, her mark on WFA and women’s football history reached unforeseen heights in 2013. As the first player to log 2,000 yards in one season of women’s football, Zelee became a legend in the sport. With several performances of 300+ yards in several matches, her efforts shed a new light on the excitement of women’s football and the growing relevance of the sport.

Two-sport star athletes a defining feature for growing CWHL

One of the unique aspects about the CWHL is the fact that many of its players come from various athletic backgrounds. While there is no question that the character and dedication that composes the make-up among the competitors of the CWHL is essential for any athlete, the budding league has definitely seen its players excel in a diverse number of sports.

CWHL co-founders Sami Jo Small and Jennifer Botterill lead the way. Small competed in track and field meets at the Pac-10 level for the famed Stanford University in California. While growing up in Winnipeg, Botterill had an opportunity to try out for the Canadian national junior basketball team in 1996. Luckily for hockey fans, she traded in her sneakers for skates.

The game of softball is no stranger to some of the women in the CWHL. Noemie Marin and Sommer West both competed in the Summer Games with the Canadian national Softball Team. West was part of the Canadian contingent that competed at Sydney 2000. Later that year, West was also a member of the Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team. Marin was the only player from Quebec that was part of Canada’s roster for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. In later years, she would set the CWHL record for most points in one game with ten.

Marin high-fiving a teammate at the Beijing Summer Games (Image by: Clive Rose/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Marin high-fiving a teammate at the Beijing Summer Games (Image by: Clive Rose/Getty Images AsiaPac)

In addition to Noemie Marin, the Montreal Stars have a handful of athletes with very impressive athletic credentials. Stars goaltender Kim St. Pierre (the winningest goalie in IIHF history) was once a promising soccer star. Her teammate, Emmanuelle Blais competes in the Cross Fit circuit, while Carolyne Prevost has a black belt in taek won do, once competing at the provincial level in Ontario.

Another Stars competitor, Dominique Thibault is the 2013 world champion in Red Bull Crashed Ice. Having competed in the inaugural Red Bull women’s championships in 2012, Thibault had the fastest time in the qualifier. Ironically, Fannie Desforges, a Montreal Stars draft pick in 2012 would go on to capture the 2012 title. Thibault’s presence is not only breaking ground in the nascent sport, but providing another avenue for women’s hockey players past and present.

Thibault (centre) and Desforges (right) at the 2013 Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championships (Photo credit: Patrick Garant)

Thibault (centre) and Desforges (right) at the 2013 Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championships (Photo credit: Patrick Garant)

One of the league’s most promising stars, Vicki Bendus of the Brampton Thunder was a competitive golfer at Mercyhurst College. While she also won the 2010 Patty Kazmaier Award with Mercyhurst’s hockey program, gracing the fairways and putting greens established Bendus as a year-round competitive athlete for her school.

CWHL veteran defender Amber Bowman is a world champion in her second sport of choice. Competing in the World Firefighting Combat Challenge, Bowman not only claimed three world titles in 2012, but set several new records. Breaking new ground is nothing new for Bowman. One of the first female firefighters in her region, Bowman is a role model hero that exemplifies character.

Image obtained from: http://about.me/amber_bowman

Image obtained from: http://about.me/amber_bowman

Of all the sports that the women of the CWHL have competed in, none may be as unique as 2013 CWHL Draft pick Julie Paetsch. Selected in the tenth round by the Alberta Hockey Club, the native of Lanigan, Saskatchewan is the first draft prospect in the league’s history to have competed in women’s tackle football. While playing hockey at the University of Saskatchewan, she would add tackle football to her athletic endeavors. A two-time silver medalist for Canada at the IFAF Women’s World Tackle Football Championships, she is also a three-time WWCFL champion with the Saskatoon Valkyries.

Paetsch being represented as Canada's player of the game in the gold medal game of the 2013 IFAF Women's Worlds (Image obtained from Facebook)

Paetsch being represented as Canada’s player of the game in the gold medal game of the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds (Image obtained from Facebook)

While two-sport stars tend to be more common in the realm of men’s sports (Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders defined a generation by playing pro football and baseball), it is equally important to recognize the role that women have played. Following in the footsteps of legendary Canadian female two-sport stars such as Cindy Klassen (who once played hockey for the Canadian Under-22 team) and Clara Hughes, the two-sport stars of the CWHL are carrying the torch and continuing to forge a legacy upon which the next generation of female athletes can reach for.

United States defeats Canada to earn second consecutive gold at IFAF Women’s Worlds

While Canada was looking for golden redemption against the United States at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, the US had other plans. Armed with a strong running game and a precise passing game, the US overwhelmed an ambitious Canadian contingent.

Having played each other in the gold medal game of the inaugural IFAF Women’s Worlds (held in Sweden in 2010), Canada was hoping to humble an aggressive US squad. Despite their best efforts, Canada struggled against the US passing attack, which logged 367 yards.
With Danielle Golay of the US sacking Canadian signal caller Saadia Ashraf, it was a harbinger of things to come. After Canada’s Aimee Kowalski punted, the US gained control of the ball. Although Emma Hicks (the only woman to have competed in both the MWFL and WWCFL) replied with a sack of Chicago Force quarterback Sami Grisafe, it would not change the momentum in Canada’s favor.

A 47-yard run by Cassey Brick quickly put the US in the driver’s seat. Along with a balanced running attack that featured Odessa Jenkins and Mia Brickhouse (who scored the first touchdown of the game), the Canadian defense struggled. Before the first quarter would end, the US pounded out the ball on the ground. Jenkins punished the Canadian defense with a 42-yard run. Brickhouse would scamper into the end zone as the US jumped out to a 16-0 advantage.

Quite possibly the world’s finest women’s quarterback, Sami Grisafe was looking to add a second IFAF gold medal to her repertoire. As she announced her retirement after the 2013 Women’s Football Alliance, she was hoping to maintain the momentum for her team. On the first scoring play of the second quarter, she would find Chicago Force teammate Jeanette Gray in the end zone.

Canadian quarterback Saadia Ashraf was struggling to bring any consistency to the offensive attack. With a possession that resulted in negative yardage, a comeback was not looming. Backup quarterback Aimee Kowalski punted the ball.

After Odessa Jenkins added to the US lead with a touchdown of her own, Grisafe and Adrienne Smith put the game out of a reach courtesy of a 73-yard touchdown pass. Facing a 36 point deficit to being the third quarter, Canada was not able to match the offensive abilities of their US opponents.

The US would begin the quarter with another touchdown. Grisafe contributed with 59 passing yards as a beleaguered Canadian defense was simply not able to stop the US juggernaut. Elizabeth Sowers (whose sister Katherine also plays for the US) caught a 12-yard touchdown pass.
When Canada regained possession, Ashraf was still at quarterback. With due deference to the Canadian squad, a change at quarterback may have been an effective move. As Ashraf struggled throughout the first half, Kowalski or Amy Mohr (who is a quarterback in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League) may have put some spark into a flat lined Canadian offense.

After another possession of negative yardage, Canada was forced to punt again. Once the US regained the ball, they would have a quarterback change. New York Sharks field general Karen Mulligan came into the contest and she showed no signs of rust. Four consecutive pass completions by Mulligan led to a third Brickhouse rushing touchdown.

With the US enjoying a 50-0 lead, running back Julie David of the Saskatoon Valkyries (one of the tournament leaders in kickoff return yardage) managed 13 rushing yards. With two incomplete passes, including on fourth down, Canada had to give the ball back to an opponent that seemed to score at will.

Brickhouse would add to the US lead on their first possession of the fourth quarter with a rushing touchdown. On Canada’s next possession, they did not fare much better. Ashraf was picked off by Rachel Gore. DC Divas running back Donna Wilkinson made Canada pay for the turnover with a touchdown run for the final score of the game.

Statistically, the US accumulated an astounding 630 yards of total offense while recording 28 first downs. Canada was forced to punt seven times while the US never punted once. Sami Grisafe would log 267 passing yards in less than three quarters of play. Odessa Jenkins shredded the Canadian defense with 84 rushing yards, while Adrienne Smith logged 117 receiving yards.

The only Canadian players who had any significant statistical advantage over their American counterparts were Julie David and Julie Paetsch. Having both won the 2013 WWCFL title with Saskatchewan, the two established themselves as world class athletes. David had 134 all-purpose yards, while Paetsch had 11.5 tackles.

Canada opens 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds with shutout victory over Spain

In their opening game of the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds in Vantaa, Finland, the Canadian contingent was facing a team from Spain that already had one loss. With the Spaniards making their international debut, the squad had yet to score a point.

Canada jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter. The first touchdown came on Canada’s opening drive. With a drive that only needed four plays and 39 yards, Julie David capped it off with a nine-yard run for a touchdown. Lara Guscott, the only Canadian on the squad playing for a club team based in the United States (the Kansas City Blitz of the Independent Women’s Football League) got the conversion.

As Spain’s offense sputtered in the first quarter, Canada quickly regained control of the ball. David was the answer once again, as she had a five-yard run for the 13-0 advantage. Having helped the Saskatoon Valkyries claim the 2013 WWCFL championship, she is looking for another title with Canada at the IFAF Worlds.

With 1:30 left in the quarter, Canada got on the board with their first receiving touchdown. A pair of Montreal Blitz players, quarterback Saadia Ashraf and running back Sophie Roy connected for the touchdown.

Special teams contributed to the two Canadian touchdowns in the second quarter. David returned a kick 70 yards for the 28-0 advantage. Although Spain had two long drives in the quarter (including a surprising 50-yard drive that resulted in a goal line stand), difficulties converting on third down nullified their efforts. Near the end of the quarter, Spain punted and Julie Paetsch (also of the Valkyries) returned it 35 yards for the touchdown. Having suffered with a knee injury for most of the WWCFL season, Paetsch’s comeback with Canada is an admirable one.

With a 35-0 lead going into the third quarter, Canada enjoyed an insurmountable lead. Spain continued to rely on the running game as the passing game was not effective. Despite keeping Canada’s defense on the field for long periods of time, the lack of experience showed. Its inability to convert on third and fourth downs prevented them from scoring.

As there were only 42 seconds left, Mallory Starkey of the Regina Riot punched through the Spanish defense for a one-yard score. Guscott would run in the ball for the two-point conversion. With Spain facing a 43-point deficit, they would play the fourth quarter for pride.

Although Spain relied on the running game again, their offense was showing signs of life against a Canadian defense that was facing fatigue. A 37-yard drive consumed more than half of the quarter. Once again, Starkey would emerge as the story of the second half for Canada. A 47-yard run by Starkey resulted in a touchdown, providing Canada with the 50-0 lead. Of note, Canada’s drive only used up 51 seconds.

While Spain was unable to score their first touchdown of the tournament against Canada, players such as Del Carmen Arroyo Moreno and Azucena Munoz Martos played valiantly on offense for Spain. As the Spaniards managed to win the battle in time of possession, It may help provide Spain with confidence as their next match is in the fifth place game. Julie David was recognized as the Most Valuable Player of the Game for Canada, while Spanish defensive back Veraya Romero Coronas earned the nod for Spain.

Canada’s next opponent is the host country Finland. The winner of the match will proceed to the gold medla game where they will likely meet the United States for the right to be called world champions.