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.

Nikki Johnson shines as one of the sporting superstars of Las Vegas

Nikki Johnson first came to the attention of sports fans in 2008 when she appeared at the Women’s Football Camp and Conference in Las Vegas. Still a student at Silverado High School, she was already carving her legacy in football.

Playing in the inaugural season of the Las Vegas Sin, Johnson was nominated as the Rookie of the Year, MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. A second-team All-America selection with the Women’s Football Alliance, she earned the nod as a wide receiver, testament to her talent.

Having played against the boys as a child, Johnson was moved when she saw Sam Gordon, a 9 year-old girl from Utah rush for over 1,900 yards in the Ute Conference in 2012. Johnson even wrote her a letter of inspiration, indicating how she impressed she was with her play.

Represented by the SMWW Agency, Johnson is a sports model, motivational speaker and broadcaster.
An ambassador for the LFL, she is truly one of its gems. Having represented the league in All-Star games in Mexico and Australia, with a sparkling time of 4.8 in the 40-yard dash.

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Championing the worthy cause of having girl’s flag football earning the status of a sanctioned sport in the state, she would speak about its benefits at the conference mentioning that recreational flag football leagues for girls had nearly 2000 participants in Southern Nevada. Emphasizing the importance of giving girls a place to learn the game at an earlier age level, Johnson even set up a program to help establish the growth of the sport in her school district.

Although the Clark County School District in Nevada mentioned girl’s flag football would be classified as a club sport for 36 high schools in 2009, the desired result came in 2012. Following in the footsteps of Florida, Alaska and several regions of Canada and Mexico, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association would sanction the sport.

During that time frame, Johnson was also one of 10 young women that were chosen to help promote girls flag football for the National Football League. It would mark the beginning of a fruitful relationship with the league. From encouraging women to contact her so that she could put them in touch with proper NFL channels to get women’s football started in their area, she would also serve an internship with NFL Films in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. In addition, she would contribute to NFL Matchup, a weekly show featuring Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge, as a production assistant gathering stats and researching facts.

In women’s tackle football, Johnson participated in the Women’s Football Alliance with the Las Vegas Showgirlz. Competing at the Wide Receiver position, Johnson would emerge as the squad’s receiving leader in 2010. Several of her Sin teammates also made their mark with the Showgirlz; Yevette Tanner, Jennifer Cowan and Mia Chambers (who was tackled in LFL play by a drunken fan). Of note, Johnson would also play with another WFA squad, the Silver State Legacy.

Perhaps more impressive was the fact that an NFL Films crew followeed Nikki and her Showgirlz teammates, including a workout session at Van Hook Sports Performance, highlighting the growth of the women’s game. As a side note, former pop culture icon Robin Leach contributes to the Las Vegas Sun and is one of Johnson’s biggest fans, having frequently covered her storied career.

Johnson (left) and Joey Davenport during the introductory news conference for the Las Vegas Sin expansion squad. (Photo credit: Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Johnson (left) and Joey Davenport during the introductory news conference for the Las Vegas Sin expansion squad. (Photo credit: Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Her importance and value to her team is the equivalent of Peyton Manning in men’s football. Heading into the 2013 campaign, Las Vegas head coach Jeremiah Captain praised her talents to the Las Vegas Sun, calling her an accurate passer who could make any throw on the field. While Las Vegas has attractions such as Celine Dion and Britney Spears, Johnson and her superlative displays of football talent are every bit worthy of being a headliner as well.

A see-saw battle against the Green Bay Chill at Orleans Arena would help to solidify Johnson’s status as one of the league’s premier pivots. With both clubs fighting for a postseason berth, fans expected a shoot-out between Johnson and elite quarterback Anne “Showtime” Erler.

For fans of LFL Canada, this was just the continuation of a very intense rivalry between the two. During the inaugural season of the Canadian version of the sport, Johnson was named starting quarterback and eventually became offensive co-ordinator for the Regina Rage. Erler would earn the starting job with the Saskatoon Sirens, setting the stage for the football mad province of Saskatchewan to witness women’s football at its finest. Their rivalry would reach its summit during the last game of the Canadian season as the winner would advance to the LFL Canada championship.

With Cassandra Strickland at a 2013 Super Bowl weekend party at Tabu night club. (Photo by Cashman Photos: Obtained from http://www.vegasnews.com/89248/ladies-of-legends-football-league-party-at-tabu.html)

With Cassandra Strickland at a 2013 Super Bowl weekend party at Tabu night club. (Photo by Cashman Photos: Obtained from http://www.vegasnews.com/89248/ladies-of-legends-football-league-party-at-tabu.html)

The match between Green Bay and Las Vegas would go down as one of the most exciting and historic in league history. With Erler and wide receiver Anna Heasman leading the league in passing and receiving, Johnson made perfect use of her weapons on offense, including Carmen Bourseau, Kelly Schroeder, Stephany Pearls and Danika Brace.

In a game where the lead changed eight times, Heasman would finish the game with an LFL record five receiving touchdowns. Despite the record, Johnson would steal the show by registering four touchdown passes and a 35-yard touchdown run. Her run provided the Sun with a 32-26 lead. After Erler tied the score, Johnson did not disappoint the hometown crowd. A 5-play, 35-yard drive saw Johnson pick apart the Chill defense with a 4-yard pass to Maddie McCoy proving to be the game-winning TD pass.

During the 2013 LFL season, Johnson fifth among all competitors in rushing with 213 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry while earning All-Fantasy honors. Her 213 yard output accounted for 47 percent of the Sin’s rushing attack. In terms of passing, Johnson finished among the top five in the league with 309 passing yards and eight touchdown passes. She was also one of the nominees for the LFL’s Offensive Player of the Year Award.

Such a strong presence at the quarterback position was essential in the Sin earning the second highest rushing in the league with an average of 185.3 yards per game. Johnson was also a key factor in Kelley Schroeder blossoming into a deep threat as she finished her campaign ranking as the fifth-best receiver in the league.

Returning to the tangent of LFL Canada, if fans conduct an internet search on Nikki Johnson, they will likely find her hit on Toronto Triumph defender Devine Burton constituting most of the top search results. Named as one of the Top 10 plays of the year on ESPN Sports Center, the play consisted of Johnson on her way towards scoring a rushing touchdown, she drops her shoulder, sending a powerful message to anyone that tries to stand in her way.

While the hit against Burton is a viral video, the reality is that the game possessed some of that typical Johnson magic. Defeating the Triumph by a 40-32 score, Johnson was named Player of the Game. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that after 48 minutes of smash mouth football, she was part of a post-game autograph session, with an ice pack on her right wrist. A true display of character and dedication to her fans.

Showing great loyalty to her fans. Signing an autograph after a Regina Rage win while sporting an ice pack on her right wrist. (Image obtained from: http://www.prairiedogmag.com/what-it-was-was-girl-on-girl-football-rosies-live-blog-of-the-regina-rage%E2%80%99s-inaugural-game/)

Showing great loyalty to her fans. Signing an autograph after a Regina Rage win while sporting an ice pack on her right wrist. (Image obtained from: http://www.prairiedogmag.com/what-it-was-was-girl-on-girl-football-rosies-live-blog-of-the-regina-rage%E2%80%99s-inaugural-game/)

Her presence certainly added a major league feel to LFL Canada. She would finish second in the league in four categories, including passing yardage, touchdown passes, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, respectively.

While it is easy to look on the surface and see the beauty that Johnson and her colleagues from the LFL possess, the most revealing element is their dedication and athleticism. From her role as a women’s sports activist and a Title IX champion, Johnson is one of the modern day builders for women’s football in Nevada. With the goal of working in operations for an NFL team or with an apparel company, Johnson would be a tremendous asset. Although words such as beautiful, elegant and sophisticated may describe Johnson, durable, resilient and talented are equally fitting. A remarkable person during an exceptional period of growth for women in sports, a day may come when fans will boast about having had the chance to see her play, the way those today speak about Johnny Unitas and Joe Montana.