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Introduction to Women’s Professional Surfing: A Crash Course

“To say that you could find a lot more about men’s surfing than women’s would be exactly the truth.”

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After I got back from vacation I knew exactly what I was going to write about. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how difficult it was going to be to write about it. Turns out, if you want to learn about women’s professional surfing then you better get ready to do some hardcore research. I figured that with surfing being added to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 that the sport would become much more prevalent. And yes, we are still a far way away from that time, but to say there was a great upturn in the number of avenues in which to research would be an overstatement. To say that you could find a lot more about men’s surfing than women’s would be exactly the truth. But if you want to know who the most attractive female surfers in the world are there are plenty of articles out there for you. Needless to say, this article is a week late and still about eighteen bucks short. But here is a small crash course in what I learned.

 

The Aussies are Killing the Competition

Currently, three of the top four female surfers, per the World Surf League, are Australian. They are Tyler Wright, Sally Fitzgibbons, and Stephanie Gilmore, who are in the first, second, and fourth spots respectively. And even though they each only have one competition win, they have done well enough in the other comps to remain on the top of the leader board. Courtney Conlogue, an American, on the other hand, has two competition wins, but hasn’t surfed as well in other competitions so she is currently in third.

 

The Athletes are Ranked on a Points Scale


It may seem weird that even though Conlogue has placed first in more competitions than anyone else in the series, that she is sitting in third place. But that is because the World Surf League is run off of a point system – similar to soccer, but on a way crazier scale. If you place first you receive 10,000 points. Second – 8,000. Third – 6,500. Etc. All of your points are added up, and then your total for the whole series, which is 10 separate competitions in total, gives you your ranking.

 

You Can Watch Online

If you want to learn more about professional surfing in order to get ready for the Tokyo Olympics, or if you just want to see some really awesome athletes ride waves that normal human beings would be terrified of, then I would suggest you check out World Surf League. They have past and present competition videos up and let me tell you, they do not disappoint. They are also probably one of the the only legitimate resource out there if you want to learn more about women’s surfing.

 

Hawaii is Different From the USA

So, another thing that I thought interesting is that, like tennis players, surfers have their country represented next to their name for all competitions. But, Hawaii is considered different than USA. Obviously, this will be different for the Olympics, but it is definitely something interesting to see when you aren’t familiar with surfing and surf culture. Hawaii breeds some of the best surfers in the world, and this looks to acknowledge that. It also maintains the mentality of ‘we grew here, you flew here,’ which, in this instance I really do understand. These women (and men) are proud to be from Hawaii, and surfing is a way of life there – these athletes represent that.

 

Yes, Bethany Hamilton is Still Out There Kicking Some Butt

Even if you have never watched surfing before or if you don’t know a thing about it, you still know Bethany Hamilton. She is the pro surfer who lost her left arm to a Tiger Shark when she was a teenager, and then proceeded to continue to surfer professionally. She also wrote a book and had a movie made about her. Yes, she is incredible. And yes, she is still inspiring. That’s probably why I have a poster of her surfing ‘Jaws’ (Pe’ahi) hanging in my office. She is also sitting at number 19 in the rankings.

 

 

So, like I said, this article should be better. And there should be more avenues for these athletes to really be recognized. But like anything else, we can’t always get what we want. Still, I do not fret. These ladies have a big stage to get ready for in 2020. So there is still time for the world to catch up with how amazing these surfers are. And there is still time for me to catch up too, and to learn more about the sport. Either way, these ladies will still shred a wave like it’s nothing, and we will just be the kooks that wish they could.

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U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey – 3 Reasons They Are Everything You Want in Life

“They work hard, and they play harder, and man, do they know how to keep a championship streak alive!”

It took me a while to figure out what I was going to write this week with regards to women’s sports. Sure, Garbiñe Muguruza won Wimbledon and she can definitely make a run at becoming the next great female tennis player, but there is only so far I can stretch that story. Here, I’ll do it in one sentence for you: She can be great if she keeps up with her amazing forehand and figures out how to stop making so many double faults on service.

As you can see, I needed to find a little inspiration somewhere else this week. So I thought I would go searching for some and look into a team that has been on my mind recently, but just haven’t had a chance to learn about – the U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey Team.

Turns out, they are even better than the hype. And I could really drag this article out for many, many pages, but I think it would be better to just give you a taste of what they are about. Because it really didn’t take me long to get excited about them, and I don’t think it will take you too long to jump on the bandwagon with me.

So here it is – 3 reasons you are going to want to root for the USWNT:

 

  1. They are good…like, freakishly good

Every year the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) holds the Women’s World Championship (with the exception of during an Olympic year). The U.S. Women have a record of 71-4-6-8-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L-T). To make it even better they have outscored their opposition 593-135. And who has won the World Championship for the past four years in a row? I’ll give you a hint – they rock the red, white, and blue.

So, let me put it bluntly – this team is easy to love and easy to root for. You know you are getting dominance when they skate out onto the ice. And for every American who, like me, hates to see other teams come out with a win, this team is for you. They work hard, and they play harder, and man, do they know how to keep a championship streak alive!

 

  1. The Rivalry

Some people really love a good rivalry in sports. Sometimes it simply isn’t enough to be the best – there has to be some drama in it. And there has to be one matchup that makes the stakes even higher. Well, don’t worry, my friends, these ladies have that going for them too.

In every gold medal match in IIHF Women’s World Championship history the U.S. Women have played Canada. How is that for a rivalry? Every year it comes down to us and our neighbors to the north? Heck yes – sign me up. We all know how I feel about the U.S./Canada Women’s Soccer rivalry, and now it’s as if I was gifted a second chance to get that riled up again. And yes, Canada has claimed that prize 10 of the 18 times, but the U.S. is coming back with a vengeance winning 8 of the last 10. So who is ready for the PyeongChang Olympics?

 

  1. They know their worth

Okay, so to be fair, I did know about this before I did my research on the team, but this is probably the most amazing reason that you should back these women. These women had the courage to threaten to sit out the World Championships if they did not get fair pay. It was a 15-month long contract dispute that could have ended with the women getting no money, no championship, and no future prospects with regards to the game.

Some may think this is crazy, but they probably don’t realize just what the women were asking for – a livable wage, increased marketing efforts, and USA Hockey’s support of elite programs. Seriously. These women weren’t asking for millions of dollars. In fact, they finally settled around the $70,000 range for salary. Want to know what they made before? $6,000…every four years when they went to the Olympics. Yeah, let that sink in. The current best team in women’s hockey got paid about $28.85 per week to represent the United States on the biggest stage in sports. I can work at McDonalds for 3 hours, one day a week and make more money than that. Ready to back them yet?

 

So there it is. Three things that should make you want to put on some face paint and an oversized hockey jersey and get way too riled up in front of your television once the Olympics comes around. And I know you are now thoroughly convinced, but just in case you want a little more incentive or inspiration to cheer for these ladies, check out ESPN’s latest Body Issue – U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey had quite the showing.

 

Until next time…GO U.S.A.!

 

 

 

 

 

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Pure Entertainment: 5 Reasons You Should Be Watching Sky Blue FC

“…this is me tell you to not miss this moment of Sky Blue FC.”

Whether you are a sports fan or not, everyone knows that there are some teams that are more fun to watch than others. The ’96 Bulls – a great time. The Yankees during their Bronx Zoo era – amazing entertainment. How about the USA Gymnastics team during Rio? I bet you couldn’t turn your eyes away. Every team has their moment in the spotlight, but often times it is harder for women’s sports teams to find theirs.

So this is me tell you to not miss this moment of Sky Blue FC. They are building momentum heading toward the latter half of the season, they are meshing as a team on a new level, and they are having more fun than anyone else in the NWSL. They are the greatest team in sports to watch right now, and you should absolutely turn in. But, since I know you may need an argument from me in order to be persuaded, here are the top five reasons you should tune in and watch:

 

  1. The Aussie

Sam Kerr is Sky Blue’s starting forward and she is currently on a tear. The 23-year-old Australian National Team Player just hit her 35th NWSL goal of all time, making her the all-time leading scorer for the league. She is also currently leading the league in goals this season, and has more flair to her game than anyone else. She has made Sport Center’s Top 10 for the past two weeks – first with her insane bicycle kick against NC Courage, and then with her diving header last week against Kansas City FC. If that isn’t enough to get you interested in the front-runner for league MVP how about a back-flip celebration? How about the fact that she scored a hat-trick in twelve minutes last match in order to take Sky Blue from what was expected to be a 0-2 loss with only 15 minutes remaining in the match to a 3-2 win? Spark your attention yet? If not, check out #samkerrfacts on Twitter – you will not regret it.

 

 

  1. The Rookie

Some of you may remember my devastation a few weeks ago at Kailen Sheridan not being American (still kind of upset about it). Well, just for that fact alone you should tune in and catch a Sky Blue match. The Canadian rookie goalkeeper is something to marvel at. So much so that she could be the underdog favorite to win Rookie of the Year. She has an overwhelming presence on the pitch and a very short memory in goal (which is a necessity for anyone in her position). There is never a time that she looks shaken. In fact, I don’t think in any of the matches I have seen she has ever looked anything but confident. She barks orders to her back line, isn’t afraid to come off her line, and has ice water in her veins during penalty kicks. The last one she stopped, from their match against the NC Courage, literally made me jump out of my chair in celebration…my Uber driver was displeased so say the least. But who can blame me for being excited? She saved her clean sheet with the stop.

 

 

  1. The Vet

If you were anything like me growing up you probably watched the ’99 Women’s World Cup. It, in my opinion, is the defining moment that created the push for modern day women’s sports and its popularity. And because of that I can’t help but get a little nostalgic every time Sky Blue FC takes the field. Because I know Christie Pearce, Captain America herself, will be taking it with them. At 42 years of age she is not only the last remaining 99er to still be playing professionally, but she is also one of the most dominant center back’s in the league. Her career is winding down (though I selfishly think she should stick around a little longer) and for that reason I refuse to miss a single second of it…and you should too. The woman is a complete beast on the field and there is nothing better than seeing her break down some little twenty-something inside the box.

 

 

  1. The Rest of the Gang

I really could have made this ’21 Reasons Sky Blue is the Team to Watch Right Now’ and have listed every player, but this is not a Buzzfeed article. So here are some highlights. Kelley O’Hara – attacking right back for the USWNT who might be the most hyped person on the field at any given time. Raquel ‘Rocky’ Rodriguez – the Costa Rican National Player who looks like she is putting on a clinic in the midfield whenever she has space to move. Erica Skorski and Madison Tiernan hold the spot of hometown heroes and get to continue to play at Yurcak field, where they played during their time at Rutgers. Then there is Natasha Kai, who is currently out rehabbing after ankle surgery, but as a prior USWNT member, is someone to look out for when she returns.

But I think the best thing about this team is that they present themselves as a team – as a family. On social media they give each other shout-outs and post pictures together, they actively vote for each other for NWSL Goal and Save of the Week, and even crack jokes on each other. There is a transparency with this group of women that is rare in the sports world. And it’s clear they are not there for themselves as individuals, but rather the team as a whole.

 

 

  1. The Club

When you look at Sky Blue FC on paper they may not look too grand. They play at a college stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey, are currently sitting in 3rd place in league standings, and have the most unique makeup of a club and fan base in the league. But that is what makes them so great to watch. The club embraces their differences from the other teams in the league. They may not have a huge stadium like the Portland Thorns or the Chicago Red Stars, but they have New York and New Jersey’s love and support – they don’t need your stinking stadium. And they certainly don’t need the pitch to be their only platform to connect with fans.

Whoever is running their social media accounts is doing an amazing job (slow clap). They are actively in communication and interactive with their fans across Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. They like, retweet, and respond back to the people who show their support for the club (For reference check out this video they retweeted of every Sam Kerr goal of the season set the Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”).They let their players take over so the fans can experience a day in the life. And they even get in on the jokes. They think nothing of tweeting Sports Center and letting them know that Sam Kerr did another insane stunt on the pitch. And they don’t miss an opportunity to join in on the fun with the players either.

 

So there it is – five reasons that you should be watching Sky Blue FC. But if you want a bonus one before you go, here it is: you can watch them for free on go90.com anytime you would like. You have no excuse not to watch…not that they, or any of their supporters, would want your excuse anyway.

 

You can watch Sky Blue this Saturday, July 15th take on the Chicago Red Stars at 7:00 PM (EST) on go90.com.

 

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I Believe That We Will Win…every couple years or so

I want the chance to buy the ticket and scream the chant and to have it matter more than every four years. I want my rivalry.

You ever have one of those moments when you think you have solved some huge problem, only to realize you are a complete and utter moron and expelled way too much energy on something that could never be a solution? Yeah, that was me last week with regards to women’s soccer, and let me tell you, it was super embarrassing and outrageously disappointing. But it led me to see an even bigger issue.

Ever since Hope Solo was released from her job as the USWNT goalkeeper I have been on the search for who is going to fill her shoes. Sure, there were the immediate fillers of Alyssa Naeher and Ashlynn Harris, but who was going to be that long term solution – that young blood who was going to be able to hold solid and consistent in the net like the US Team is accustom to having? And yeah, maybe that is a strange thing to focus on, but I love the defensive side of sports. It’s what wins championships.

Well, two weeks ago, when Sky Blue FC played the NC Courage I was sure I had found our girl. I mean, a goalie who is on the losing team, but is essentially the whole highlight reel of the match? That is something I can work with. Oh, and she’s only 21? Perfect! This rookie was playing on the next level. She set a club record for saves in a single game. She went one-on-one against Debinha inside the box and came out victorious. Sure, she needs some polishing, but I’m thinking to myself that Kailen Sheridan is the future. I look at the stats and the facts and I see that she was almost a sleeper pick in the third round of the NWSL draft and I am really starting to get excited. I’m going to call it before anyone else sees it. Because why isn’t anyone in the US talking about this girl? She has some real talent. But then I look her up on social media and my theory on the future comes crumbing down.

I mean, I wasn’t wrong – she is the future…for Canada. Right there, on almost every tweet is the Canadian flag emoji. I know – how daft of me. I am still mentally kicking myself for this personal blunder. And the worst part about it is that everything I have read or seen about this woman is amazingly cool. Like, I wanted to grab a beer with this girl – that’s how cool she seemed. But now I can’t. It’s goes against everything I am as a US Women’s Soccer fan. Right? Because USA v. Canada in women’s soccer is like Yankees/Redsox, or Duke/UNC, or Army/Navy. We love to hate each other. It could be said that as a US Women’s Soccer fan I root for two teams – the good ol’ US of A, and whoever is playing Canada. And I am sure the same thing could be said in reverse for Canadian fans.

But this got me thinking as to why I felt the blow of Kailen Sheridan being Canadian like a punch to the stomach. Why did it feel like someone ripped open a perfectly healed scar? Was it because I had forgotten about this rivalry in my big old American heart? Yeah, I think that is exactly why, and I immediately despised myself for it. This sports rivalry is something that has been engrained in me through time. So why have I not been able to feel it in a while? It’s just been simmering under the surface, waiting to rear its ugly head to the point that the smallest thing set it off – a rookie. But then I realize it’s been simmering for a while – over a year – because US hasn’t had the pleasure of facing our number one rival since February of 2016. And if you’re asking me, I think that is a disservice to not just women’s soccer, but sports in general.

Could you imagine a season where Coach K and the Blue Devils don’t travel to Chapel Hill? How about if they just canceled Redskins v. Dallas for next football season? What if Barcelona didn’t play Real Madrid? The year would be a lot less exciting.

And now that I look at women’s soccer since the Olympics, it has been less exciting on the National level. And sure, some of that has to do with the fact that we have a couple more years until the next World Cup, so the team isn’t getting the publicity that they were back during Rio. But I would like to argue that during this time in between these major competitions we American fans just kind of assume that everything is smooth sailing for the USWNT. We are just going to keep winning until the next major event comes and then we will tune in again, where we will arrogantly believe that we are still the best with no actual knowledge to if we actually are. But hey, who needs to see us beat Trinidad and Tobago? Who cares? We are the US Women’s National Team – these small international teams have nothing on us.

We don’t play any opposing team that we want to defeat with every bone in our American bodies. Maybe the match today against Sweden was a little exciting (lord knows US Soccer promoted it like it was a grudge match), but with a 1:30 PM match time no one working a normal day job could watch it. This last year the women have played formidable teams but no one that pushes a friendly to the next level. Can you tell me who any of the starters are for Panama? Probably not, and we should really work on that. But can you tell me at least one player on the Canada National Team? Sure you can – Christine Sinclair, who loves to make our lives a living hell for 90+ minutes (and now you can also remember Kailen Sheridan as the current 3rd string goalie). And even if you couldn’t name a player on the Candian team you still know in your heart of hearts that no matter what, that is not who you root for. Ever. And, on the flip side, I guarantee Canadians remember Alex Morgan’s name after her 2012 overtime header to advance to the Olympic Finals. And there is no way they would ever chant ‘I BELIVE THAT WE WILL WIN.’

So my question (put not so eloquently), is why don’t we have a real rivalry anymore? US/Canada is the match we actually want to see even when it isn’t for a World Cup or an Olympic medal. It’s a blood bath, as Carli Lloyd would say. It’s high intensity. On one side you have Melissa Tancredi stomping on people’s heads. And on the other side there’s Abby Wambach counting out to the ref on how long the Canadian goalkeeper is holding the ball before a free kick. And that is literally only a small sampling of things that happened in one match back in 2012.

That is the kind of rivalry this is. It’s dirty and messy, but oh so fun to watch. It’s one of those unique moments in sports where you don’t think that things could escalate any more, but then BAM! It does. So why do the fans have to wait so long for it? Why do we almost have to read up on the rivalry before the next match-up to understand why it is that we should care so much? I personally think that it is ridiculous, and poor business practice.

We know that match would sell out. We know those viewers would tune in…even if it is just to see what kind of crazy antics happen on the field, or how the rivalry is taken up another notch. It’s not enough for us fans to only get this type of hype for a game every few years. Frankly, it stinks.

And what makes it worse is that by doing that we are inadvertently holding back women’s sports. Because the USWNT is by far the greatest promoter of women’s sports in the world. And if you would like to disagree with me, I have no probably making that argument all day long. The world is their stage – from the 99ers to present. They are the poster children for women’s equality in regards to sports. And by extension, any team that is their rival becomes the step-poster child. And Canada is the perfect candidate to keep pushing that cause by simply giving the fans what they want to see and playing the game that they love against a team that they loath.

Could you imagine what holding an annual rivalry match between the US and Canada would be like? Can you imagine the smack talk and the bragging rights and grittiness of the game? I can. And man, I would kill for that. And what a platform that would create for women to show their strength and competitiveness and drive. And hey, I’ll even sweeten the pot – what if the proceeds of the match went to charity? Maybe the Susan G. Koleman Foundation or an International women’s charity? That way it’s about more than just the rivalry. Why can’t we have something like that?

I just want a moment once a year that I can sit on the edge of my seat and feel my heart pound in my chest and pray to the heavens that the big man upstairs rocks a red, white, and blue kit on match day. I want the opportunity to know that my team is the best year-in and year-out. And by default, that means I want that opportunity to potentially have my heart broken down the line (most likely by Kailen Sheridan making some ridiculous save that will cause me to think back to last week and once again mentally chastise myself). I want the chance to buy the ticket and scream the chant and to have it matter more than every four years. I want my rivalry.

Is that too much to ask?

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EDD: The Hero DC Needs

“They need to find the dark horse in the race – but the one they all should be rooting for: Elena Delle Donne.”

From most of world’s perspective DC is a tough place to be a sports fan. It seems as though every year there is some sort of heartbreak. This year it was the fact that neither Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, nor John Wall and the Wizards, were able to reach a Final Four in their respective leagues. Last year it was that Bryce Harper and the Nationals couldn’t make it to the World Series. The Redskins are going to the Super Bowl every year (at least that’s what their die-hard fans say in the preseason anyway) and somehow they don’t ever come close.

But this year legitimately could be different for DC sports fans if they know where to look. This year could be the year that they get their big win. But they just have to know where to place their bets. And for that they need to look in an unusual place. They need to find the dark horse in the race – but the one they all should be rooting for: Elena Delle Donne.

Most people have never heard of her. Sadly, that’s because most people do not watch women’s sports. And that is a shame really, because she is a world-class athlete who actually wants to play for this city, and has the pedigree and determination to deliver DC sports fans a title. But the question remains, ‘Will DC take notice?’

There are a lot of reasons that people should tune in or buy a ticket to watch Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics play this season – it’s not a bad way to spend an evening, it’s a cheap date idea, it’s guaranteed to be a pretty solid game, or the mere fact that they have a real shot at winning a championship. But Delle Donne gives DC fans three things that they don’t generally get day-in and day-out from any of their other beloved players or teams – a new level of dedication, heart, and hope.

Elena Delle Donne is a beast at basketball. Like, freakishly good. In 2015 she was the WNBA MVP and scoring champion, she is an Olympic Gold Medalist, and has a career average free throw percentage of over 90%. Like I said, freakishly good…and freakishly dedicated to her craft. Let me put it in perspective for you – LeBron James’ FT% is sitting at about 74% for a career average. Yes, when it comes to a tie ball game with no time left on the clock and one player shooting a free throw to win it, I’m not picking the best player in the NBA to take it. I’m picking this girl. Hands down.

Delle Donne is a master at her craft. In fact, she is so good, her new coach at Washington, Mike Thibault, stated after their season opener last Sunday that he has a rule that if any of the players on the team violate the line while Delle Donne is shooting a free throw then that player gets fined $25. Because why throw away free points? And with regards to Delle Donne, the phrase ‘free’ throw really does take on a new meaning.

It’s easy to cheer for a player like that. The player that comes in to work everyday, does her job to the best of her ability, and leaves it all on the court. It’s even easier when she dominates her opponents. And that is what DC needs – someone who is dedicated to their technique at such a high level that people are shocked when there is a mistake. Let’s face it, DC has never had that before. In fact, most fans expect them to drop the ball at the one-yard line. They expect the crumble at the finish, or the win slipping through their hands at the last moment. Because that is always what seems to happen in DC.

But now DC has a hero in the shape of a 6’5 shooting guard that doesn’t have that pedigree – doesn’t have that mindset. She has the mindset of a winner and the mindset of someone who knows what she wants and goes after it. And that thing that she wants is us – Washington DC.

In fact, Delle Donne requested a trade from the Chicago Sky in the previous off-season to come play here. Even though the Mystics have never won a championship before. And even though DC can be a rather unforgiving place to play in general. She wanted to be here. She wanted to play for this team and for Coach Thibault and beside Emma Meesseman, the league leader last season in three-pointer field goal percentage (EDD being a close second at 42.6% versus Emma’s 44.8%). To put it simply, she wanted to dominate with this offensive scheme.

But in addition to a great team and a great city, she wanted to be close to family. Especially close to her sister, Lizzie, who has cerebral palsy and happens to be blind and deaf. It’s part of the reason she walked out on her scholarship to play at UConn and instead went back to her home in Delaware to start her NCAA Basketball career. And it’s part of the reason that DC gets a champion athlete – because this athlete has heart and she wants to keep that heart close to home. Family is important to her. And if you’re asking me, she has her priorities right. She is aware that the only meaningful communication she can have with her sister is if she is physically there. She is aware that physical proximity to her support net will help her play better basketball on the court, and help her unwind off of it. Why wouldn’t a DC sports fan want to back someone like that?

I should leave you with that. That should be enough for you to go out and buy a ticket to see this girl completely kill it from the line and be a force beyond the arc. But I am feeling a bit generous today and just in case there are still a few doubters out there I will give you one more reason to watch her and the Mystics this season.

Hope.

It’s something that every sports fan has deep in their heart, but sometimes it is hard for the fans within the DC metro area to find. After years of close calls and ‘just not good enough’ DC has been given a gift. A gift that proved in her first game playing for this city that she could handle the pressure – she scored a team-high 24 points and went 8 of 9 from the line. But how many people living within the DMV actually knew that?

DC has been given greatness, but if they don’t look they will miss it. Elena Delle Donne is the player that can give you hope. She is the player that can give you heart. And she is player that wanted you, DC (and her family, and her friends, and her sister). So what are you going to give her back? Maybe a bit of support? A bit of love?

She can be your champion, DC. She can carry this city on her back and get you a title. But you have to want her to be your champion. Otherwise her greatness will simply pass you by. And that would be the real tragedy.

You can catch EDD and the Washington Mystics this Friday at 10:30 PM take on the Los Angeles Sparks – tune in and check it out!

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Photo from: http://summitthoops.com/2017/04/27/elena-delle-donne-mystics/

The Greatest Team You’ve Never Heard Of

“…you should support them. Not because they play with a disability, but because they are the best…”

Read this in silence. Soak in the quiet, and think about what it would be like to live in that silence for a full 90 minutes with 10 other women who are equally void of the sounds around them. Now, on top of that, play one of the most tasking sports in the world, all while trying to win a championship. Do it with minimal funding and limited support. Be five-time gold medalists at this feat. And then walk down the street after accomplishing that feat and have no one know the difference.

Welcome to the world of the US Deaf Women’s National Team (USDWNT) – the best team you’ve never heard of.

Soccer is a grueling sport on the body, and mentally it is just as tough. Working as a cohesive team doesn’t always go the way you expect it to – you make a run that someone doesn’t see, or you close down an attack on the back line only to realize that there is no support for your center back. It’s why communication is key. It’s why you always see goalies screaming at their wall during a free kick, or the coach shouting out movements and making adjustments from the sidelines. Players have to move and adapt and work in sync. And one of the easiest ways to do that is through speech.

But that is not an option for the Deaf Women’s National Team. Their style of play and their intuitiveness with each other is something that you can’t just throw someone into. They have to work twice as hard to make it look just as easy as any other team would. Their kind of cohesiveness is a rare thing among teams. I mean, we get excited when we see a no-look pass in basketball, or when a midfielder lets the ball run onto the next attacker. But those players can call for the ball and their teammate is going to hear them. That is not the case here. These women have to know where each other are and act on instinct with regards to the collective whole. They move as one, and in silence.

Even though some of the women on the team can hear with the help of cochlear implants, any type of hearing aid or implant is not allowed in their competition. Everyone must succumb to total silence to give everyone an equal playing field.

But to watch their game tape, you wouldn’t know it. They are a well-oiled machine. So good, in fact, that the US Women have brought home the gold in the past three Deaflympics. And it’s why they continue to be a force when it comes to the Deaf World Football Championships, winning in both 2012 and 2016. But these wins and trophies don’t just come from hard work, but also on the back of adversity.

Let me be the first one to call a spade a spade – they could use funding and support. In 2009, the team traveled to Taipei, Taiwan to compete in the Summer Deaflympic games but did not have enough funding for a sign language interpreter to make the trip…they took home the gold anyway. Then, in 2012, the team went to Turkey to compete in the Deaf World Football Championships. This time, one of their main sponsors pulled out the week before they were set to compete and because of this they had no jerseys. This forced them to have to raise $10,000 in the span of 24 hours in order to wear the uniform that represented their country. They did. Then they brought home the gold.

Not that many people noticed. But still, these ladies persisted, and they fought, and damn it, they did it with class. They won the 2013 Deaflympics and then continued on to win the 2016 Deaf World Football Championships. But who congratulated them? Who stood up and took notice? Was it you? Because I’ll be honest, it wasn’t me, as much as I wish it were.

These women don’t just represent the United States of America, they represent the whole speech and hearing impaired community. They do things that would make any hearing athlete completely jealous and have formed a bond that goes deeper than just the locker room. These women represent something that matters, and often times that is lost in the sports world.

Sure, when a great athlete surpasses some long-standing record we stand up and cheer. We take notice. But take a team that ranges in age from mid-teens to early-thirties, that doesn’t have the luxury of playing as regularly and has to find alternative ways to fund their training camps, coaches, and travel? We’ll let them pass on by without even as much as a glance.

Luckily, some are beginning to take notice, though their publicity is still slow coming. The USDWNT just recently held their Summer Training Camp in Seattle and created a lot of positive media attention. They practice with the Seattle Reign to hone their skills even more, they celebrated Pride at the Seattle Storm’s WNBA game, and they got out there and did meet-and-greets with fans – signed autographs and showed who they were to this nation who has seemed to have always forgotten them.

But the coolest thing they did, by far, was play a match against the Seattle Sounders, a women’s soccer development team, where every fully hearing individual played with earplugs. The videos they posted were awesome and showed just how difficult it is to play without sound. And just by doing this, these women were able to not just show their strength, but brought awareness to a whole community.

Every time the USDWNT takes the field they don’t just do it for themselves. Heck, they have other jobs that actually pay them…and some of them are still even in high school. But they put on the uniform and they are elevated to a purpose that is higher than most athletes could even fathom. They are a proud team, and they have every right to be. They love the game, and they love who they are and what they represent.

So the question is, can we love them too?

It doesn’t matter if you have a disability or know someone that does. It doesn’t matter if you are connected to the speech and hearing impaired community, or if you are even a sports fan. The point of the matter is that these women play for America. They play for a community that gets shafted a lot of the time. They play for the love of the game and they play for a cause. And aren’t those reason’s enough to give them some support?

I thought it was. I thought it was more than enough reason. But if you are still on the fence then watch some of their game tape, or their player interviews. Go to their website and see what they are about. They are a team that could use your help, and your love, and your support.

Follow them on twitter – @USDeaf_WNT. Donate to their gofundme page. Or, you can be cool like me and buy a t-shirt from their etsy shop (I won’t lie, I am super pumped to rock it once it gets delivered). The point is to do something – to show them some love. You don’t necessarily even have to pay any money, just give them a shout-out on social media. Let them know that you see what they are doing, and you are appreciating the work they are putting in, and you are supporting them.

And you should support them. Not because they play with a disability, but because they are the best, and they play for you and for me, and for every girl who has ever been told she was different or that she couldn’t. Support them because even when you didn’t, they still wore that American Crest over their hearts and played for you…and won for you. Over and over again.

 

The GOAT

“…we should applaud her for being the best, apologize for not seeing it sooner, and beg her to stick around.”

On June 18th of this year a new GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) was declared, quite loudly, throughout the sports world. Diana Taurasi hit a lay-up in the final minute of the first half against the Los Angeles Sparks that propelled her past Tina Thompson to take the title of WNBA all-time leading scorer with 7,489 points. The game stopped and congratulations were heard all around. Other sports greats such as Mia Hamm, Kerry Walsh Jennings, Kobe Bryant, Abby Wombach, and LeBron James cheered her on twitter. Heck, Kobe was even at the game. But every single one of their reactions was the same. And every tweet held the same phrase – #GOAT.

And that is really great. Everyone came together and recognized that Taurasi is the greatest of all time. She has hit more points in her career than any other player in WNBA history. And there is a chance that she will be the best woman we ever see touch a basketball. She is the GOAT…and she was even before the ball was tipped off last Sunday afternoon.

Yes, Taurasi staking her claim as the all-time leading scorer solidified her stature as the best there has ever been in the WNBA. I would love to see someone argue that she isn’t now – honestly, it would be laughable. But what else is laughable is that she is just now being recognized as the GOAT. Did everyone miss the past 17 years of her career?

In case you did, here is a short list of her accomplishments:

 

  • 3x WNBA Champion
  • WNBA Most Valuable Player
  • 2x WNBA Finals MVP
  • 4x Olympic Gold Medalist
  • Holder of 5 WNBA Scoring Titles
  • WNBA Rookie of the Year
  • 7x WNBA All-Star
  • WNBA Record Holder for Most 3-Pointers Made
  • 4x USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year
  • 6x Euroleague Champion
  • 7x Russian National League Champion
  • 3x NCAA Champion

 

…I could go back to her high school career too, but I think we all get the point. Even without the all-time scoring title it is impossible to compete with that résumé. She was already the GOAT when she stepped on the court last Sunday, before she hit that lay-up, and before the world finally acknowledged her for the true champion that she is. And it kind of hurts my heart a little.

Because as a girl who grew up playing basketball, Diana Taurasi was a staple. When I was in high school she was one of the few female players that would make the highlight reel. She was one of the few that you could talk about and other people would know. And she was the one that always came out with that win. She had a legacy for greatness, and for any girl that has ever touched a basketball and felt their chest pound a little harder, she was the person we looked up to. She was the one that we admired.

So it stinks that it took this scoring title for the rest of the world to admire her too. It also stinks that there are a vast number of little basketball-loving girls who weren’t able to see it happen live. I know it made me mad. I went to turn on NBA TV (who was airing the game) and I got the message that this program wasn’t being shown in my geographical area. Seriously? It’s not like they were showing anything else on the channel – it was just a sign stating that I couldn’t watch the GOAT accomplish one of the biggest moments of her career.

Do you think that if someone in the NBA came close to surpassing Kareem that I would have the same troubles? Ponder that one for a bit…

…Because whether you watched it or not (or whether you could or not), Diana Taurasi made history on Sunday. And she did it quietly. Her celebration was tame. Her attitude was composed. She was every bit the humble hero that we all wanted her to be.

And she has always been that player – lethal on the court, but the perfect role model in almost every situation. With the exception of a DUI in 2009, a failed Turkish doping allegation, and the sort-of scandal of her sitting out the 2015 WNBA season by request of her Russian Team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, Diana Taurasi has been a WNBA model citizen. And her slight pitfalls are hardly wide known. Let’s face it, how many people out there actually knew these things about Taurasi before they read this post? Yeah, me neither.

She has been a quiet legend. And for that I salute her. And for that I also challenge her. I know that she could phone it in for the rest of her career and no one would call her on it. She could retire and go live the nice quiet life that she deserves with her wife and former teammate, Penny Taylor. She could fade to the back and wait out the days until someone threatens her title (I don’t see it happening anytime soon though). But I challenge her not to do so. To not be quiet, and to not relax, and to not walk away from basketball or women’s professional sports.

She can coach, be an analyst, be an owner, heck be a mentor for all I care, but I beg her to please just be there. Don’t leave. Because her voice is law at this point – that’s what being the GOAT gives her. She can give her opinion and everyone immediately shuts-up and listens. She can advocate for women’s sports and the world will believe in her cause. Because she is the greatest. She has never led us astray before. Why would she now?

And that is the point. Even when she steps away from the court and she takes off that jersey for the last time, we basketball lovers are still going to want her to lead us. We are going to want to follow her. And yes, it is mighty selfish of us. And no, we may not get our wish. But what if we could?

What if Diana Taurasi got loud and stuck around and didn’t let women’s sports take all the crap they are given? What if she kept pushing, even after that final whistle? What kind of changes would we see for women and young girls?

Maybe if she does stick around and we keep waiting to see what she does next there may be a possibility that the next time a woman gets close to achieving the WNBA all-time scoring title anyone would be able to watch it live.

Maybe that is too wishful of thinking though.

But regardless of if she sticks around or takes the much-deserved quiet life that she has earned for herself after retirement, she will always be the GOAT – the gold standard that everyone will aspire to be. So we should applaud her for being the best, apologize for not seeing it sooner, and beg her to stick around. Because she is a force – always has been and always will be.

 

The Wolf Pack: Women’s Long Distance Running

And it was down this mile stretch that I realized that women’s long distance running is a sisterhood – one that I am proud to be a part of.

This past week was a bit slow for women’s professional sports – someone I have never heard of before won the French open, the USWNT played a rather uneventful match against Norway, and the WNBA continued to trudge forward in mid-season form. But this past week did give me an excellent reminder about how women’s sports aren’t just played at the professional level. It also reminded me that a heat advisory, 550 feet of elevation, and a possible hairline fracture do not create ideal conditions for a half-marathon.

To say that the Run for the Wounded Half rocked my world would be a gross understatement. Frankly, it was the worst run I have ever had in my entire life. This course beat me down and refused to apologize. It was literally just 13.1 miles of pain, sweat, heat, and agony through Prince William Forest, which essentially is just one steep, gigantic hill. I think the only reason that I finished was because you get so far out into the wilderness that you have no choice but to complete the course otherwise no one would find you if you didn’t. That, and the fact that it benefited the Wounded Warrior Project. How can you quit a race that benefits people who might not be able to ever even walk again? You can’t. At least I couldn’t do that in good conscience.

So I kept pushing myself in the heat. I kept running like I would in any other race, or in any other training run. But as the hills continued and my body became more and more dehydrated I started to fall to the back of the pack. And that didn’t bother me too much – I’m not a fast runner and a good number of the participants in this race were either marines, or elite runners. And everyone knew before the clock started ticking that they weren’t going to hit a new PR in this race. One girl even made the comment as we motivated to the start line that she was potentially going to have to slow up her 8:20 pace. Yeah, I know…I was way out of my league.

But there was a bright spot in the race – a turn around point in the middle of the woods at mile six of the course. It allows you to go by everyone that is ahead of you before you get to the dead end and everyone that is behind you once you turn around. And it was down this mile stretch that I realized that women’s long distance running is a sisterhood – one that I am proud to be a part of.

At this point I looked like death warmed up. And every man that ran by just kept his eyes focused forward and continued to work toward his goal. But almost every woman had some sort of encouraging word to say. Either, ‘good job’ or ‘almost half-way there’ or the occasional ‘you got this.’ My personal favorite was the woman who threw out a ‘looking good’ because that honestly made me laugh out loud. She laughed too. No one ‘looked good’ during this race.

But there is something about women encouraging other women, especially when they are working toward the same goal. It isn’t something that is seen too much in the work place or on the red carpet. In fact, many times we have to fight and kick and claw past each other, and at each other’s expense, just to get a little higher on the ladder. So when you see someone who it tearing it up out there cheer you on as you run past it can really lift you up when you need it most. It sounds like it would be patronizing because they are doing so much better than you are, but it’s not. Because these women just want you to succeed and do the best that you can do. We cheer each other on because we know that this it tough. It doesn’t matter if you are rocking an 8-minute mile or an 18-minute mile – it is still hard.

Those cheers go a long way, especially when you are having a bad run. And we have all had those bad runs. The one where nothing goes right, or your feet are killing you, or you are falling a minute behind your normal pace and you have no idea why. So when someone acknowledges the struggle that you are having but still believes that you can finish this damn thing, it gives you a little extra pep in your step. Even if it is only for another tenth of a mile.

And women runners aren’t just helpful on the course. I mean, have you ever talked to one while they are training for a race? They are so quick to tell you what is working for them, from their new insoles to the best hype track they have on their playlist. Women runners are always quick to encourage other women to take up the hobby and they are always there to lend a helping hand or give the best advice they can.

To be honest, that’s how I got into running. I showed some interest and the woman who would turn out to be my future running partner (who I am currently mad at because she wants to retire from running) invited me to do a quick two miles with her. And let me tell you she kicked my ass all two of those miles. She was way ahead of me the whole time. But she would circle back and pick me up and kept encouraging me to move forward. And I cussed her for all two of those dreadful miles too. The fact that she even ran with me after that, let alone helped me train for my first half, was a miracle.

But now that I am a more seasoned runner I realize that her helping me wasn’t a miracle. Because I would do the same for some other woman who wanted to get into long-distance running. It’s like the most non-secret inclusive club that anyone could join. We all want to see each other do our best and we want to have fun and get a good workout in and add as many people to the group as we possibly can.

Have you ever noticed that men tend to run alone? You see them out there in the streets and on the trails just pumping their music, and moving forward and just simply focusing at the task at hand. Now think about women runners – how many have you seen run in a pack? In my town, there is one women’s running group that takes up a lane of the streets because the sidewalk simply will not hold them. And every time I see them I just smile because they are having the time of their lives. They are even smiling (which I do not understand, but hey, good for them).

But I think the greatest part of being part of the wolf pack that is women’s running is that fact that we are all so diverse. Sure, we are all women, but no two are alike. I always like to say that not everyone can be athletic, but everyone can be an athlete. And women’s running goes to prove that. It doesn’t matter if you are tall, short, black, white, thick, or thin. ANYONE can be a runner. Anyone can be an athlete. But for some reason that mentality has only caught on with this group.

For the mot part none of us are judgmental (though we all have very strong opinions about shoes). We recognize that everyone has a different reason for wanting to be a runner. Some people want to run to lose weight, others love to run because they can’t get enough of their runner’s high (still looking for mine), and then there are those of us, like me, who run so that they don’t feel so guilty about the beer they drink and the tacos they eat. It’s all a balance. But no matter the reason, we are just pumped that you are running.

And it doesn’t matter if you run slowly. It doesn’t bother my 5’10 running partner that she has to come pick up my 5’1 self because I fall behind after two miles at her long-legged pace. It doesn’t matter if I would have come in dead last at my half-marathon last weekend. I still would have been cheered on by every woman that ran across that finish line before me. In fact, Little Miss 8:20 stayed and cheered on all the other women who did cross the finish line. And I won’t lie, that was pretty cool. She could have been at home, showered, and catching a post-race nap by the time I crossed. But there she was, still cheering us all on.

So ladies, it doesn’t matter if you are slow. It doesn’t matter why you may want to try this out. It doesn’t even matter what running shoes you ultimately decide on (though I am partial to the Nike Pegasus). What matters is that you are out there with us, getting work done and beating your feet against the pavement, or the trail, or the concrete, or the sand. If you are thinking about getting out there, just do it! What have you got to lose? You already have a whole community in your corner cheering you on. So lace up your shoes, put on a kickin’ playlist, and join the club.

The ad will be out there forever: Members wanted – come as you are.