True Gold Stories (A Rio Recap)

We have finally wrapped up an amazing 2 weeks of Olympic competition and I must say I have enjoyed it immensely.  Outside of the household names and the common sports we have all grown to love, I really was able to learn a lot about different athletes and sports I weren’t familiar with.  So today I want to honor those athletes who weren’t on everyone’s radar but had a true gold story.

  1. Chierika Ukoga (Nigeria) – Chierika is the first of Nigeria to row in the Olympic games. She trained for 30 hours/week with the top athletes in the Philadelphia area under coaches at Vesper Boat Club and Conshohocken Rowing Club, while conducting women’s health research at the University of Pennsylvania.  NigerShe didn’t receive any funding from Nigeria and raised the money on her own and through gofundme.  She is a Stanford Grad (2014), competed D1, and completed pre-med coursework in the process.  She founded a non-profit organization called Flip Flops for Africa and donated 10,000 pairs of flip flops to Nigerians in need.
  2. Kariman Abduljadayel (Saudi Arabia) – Kariman was the first Saudi women to compete in the 100m competition and took 7th in her preliminary heat.  She didn’t qualify for the finals but was praised heavily for her courage and willingness to break the norm.  105580636-Kariman-Abuljadayel-SPORT-xlarge_trans++rbV8E1vvGHaBNJhAQrBCaeU-5NBdMS2kWAh6ufw2hAEShe is only the second Saudi women to compete in the Olympics but surely there will be more and likely not her last time as she is only 22 years old. Kariman is seen on the left wearing her hijab, as is customary for middle eastern women not to reveal certain portions of their bodies. Sarah Attar was the first Saudi to compete in the 2012 London Games.
  3. Matthew Punza (Zambia) – Matt was ranked 112th in judo and was facing off against Israel’s Golan Pollack ranked 6th.  I’m sure he was happy just to be at the Olympic’s and was merely just trying to do his best.  However,  his best landed him likely the biggest upset in the Olympic’s.  If you don’t know anything about Israel, understand that they are a very well trained nation in combat.  000_E03DC-635x357Every male , after age 17, must spend a minimum 1 year in the military where they are trained to be ready for combat as a civilian, if necessary.  Matthew’s upset was short lived, as he was defeated in the next round, but definitely a success nonetheless.


If you missed the Olympics, be sure to check in with your local cable provider and catch some of the highlights.  There were definitely more amazing stories and some that were not as glorious but lessons all the same.  These Olympics held more meaning for me than any other due to the maturity and growth I’ve made in the last four years.  The dedication it takes for these athletes to compete on this stage is unparalled to anything else in the World. These are my heroes and should be yours as well, as we all continue to let our athlete arise!!

5 Back to School Sports Tips for Parents of Young Athletes

Charter schools in the Chicagoland area and others alike have started their 2016-17 school year and most public schools will be starting shortly.  There is always excitement surrounding this time of year for the parents and the child.  Parents get worn out, students get bored of being at home, and both anticipate what a new school year will bring…new teachers, new challenges, new friends, new crushes, and a new season for sports.

Portrait of soccer team divers looking team of little boy and girls holding prize cup and football ball smiling and cheering isolated on white

As youth sports continues to grow and become more competitive, parents and students alike must prepare and adapt to some of these changes.  Whether it be finances, knowledge, or support you need, there is usually a means of keeping your child involved.

  1. My 1st tip is to spend money according to your child’s interest.  If my kid loves to play baseball, it may not be in my best interest to spend a lot of money on the new KD’s or Lebron’s.  Reason being, all gym shoes are not crafted to be effective the same way.  KD’s shoes were made for basketball and trying to convert them into baseball shoes may not be the best idea.
  2. My 2nd tip is to investigate early in the school year the cost of each individual sport your child may want to play in.  Most schools can have team fees that start as low as $35 and can go up to $125.  Many times this can vary due to the popularity of the sport or it can come down to the talent level of the school.  A middle school I used to work at had more basketball games for their young men than a lot of high schools I know.  However, these were highly scouted and talented 7-8th graders and the idea was to teach them as much basketball as possible before the next level.
  3. My 3rd tip is to look into more locations than just your school for after school programs.  Often times, local park districts and YMCA’s have after school programs that will see to it homework is done and then give students additional time to play sports.  This benefits parents as student’s will come home with work done, ready for dinner, and finally bed.
  4. My 4th tip is for those of you who may have a child that is special needs. NEVER, NEVERFlourishing Families SDFM Cover 2013feel that because your child has a special need he cannot participate in sports.  Reach out to your school’s case manager and physical education teacher and find out what can be done to accommodate your child.  I worked with the special needs population for 5 years and accommodations must be made for those students by law. They have just as much rights to play a sport as kids who aren’t disabled.  (Click here for some more information on this topic)
  5. My 5th and last tip is to be involved!! One of the most important things to a kid is to impress his/her parents.  I remember when I was a kid, playing basketball at my local park district gym, I made a shot and I could hear my mom jumping and screaming in the bleachers.  That was the moment I craved for more than anything as a child.  Now I am an adult and it is still fun for my mom to come see me play every once in a while.  Your child needs and craves your support, be their #1 cheerleader!! It’ll be the one guaranteed thing that will help their athlete arise!!

Feel free to reach out with any specific questions you may have and as always let your athlete arise.

Sometimes it takes a little longer to understand the significance of someone else’s accomplishment and sometimes, even your own. For example, Kobe Bryant retired this year and although I followed his entire career, the impact of his legacy didn’t really hit me until it was all over. I was able to watch this guy play at a high level for 20 years and end his career as an ELITE athlete! Same with guys like Calvin Johnson who just recently retired after a short but fascinating career and he still is one of the best receivers in NFL history. Lastly, the news of A-Rod’s retirement came and although it is met with scrutiny, he was the face of baseball during my time. These are names my kids may ask me about because tomorrow’s athletes will be compared and measured to them. I wonder how much more significant it’ll be then?

maxresdefaultWell, the Olympics is that ultimate stage, the promised land, the light at the end of the tunnel, and the peak of any committed athlete’s dreams. There’s no higher prestige, no success greater, and you have to wait four years to compete for the gold. This year’s Olympics has been that much more significant to me for that reason, because four years ago I wasn’t in the mindset to see it yet. These athletes put in none stop work to be the best, teams have to build faith, trust, and a sense of family in order to stand a chance. This is the one place where you can say, I am one of the best in the world at what I do. The top 1%…who’s better?

This week my message is to simply stop and witness greatness! Take the time to learn what it took for some of these athletes to get here.  Outside of players who are in professional sports, these are everyday people with jobs just like me and you.  olympian_fencing_timMy mind goes to Timothy Morehouse, an Olympic silver medalist fencer from the Beijing games I met a few years ago, and the power of his story.  You may probably remember him from the Chase Bank commercials a year or so ago.  He wasn’t always a great fencer and was often destroyed in different tournaments around the country.  He invested his money into training around the clock and eventually won a tourney which led to him eventually qualifying for the 2008 games.  There, he won silver and this guy is a pedestrian citizen just like myself who just saw a goal that could be tackled.  I already blogged about Sgt. Elizabeth Marks and her accomplishments and what it took for her to get to Rio, and there are hosts of others.  I challenge you to learn more about these athletes, and not just Americans.  There are athletes from around the world who make it to the Olympics and must train in far worst conditions than we’d ever think of.  These are my superheros! These are truly people who have made their Athlete Arise!! Don’t miss Greatness!!


Thanks for Taking a Stand!

Sometimes it’s easy to have your own ideas or opinions about what professional athletes should and shouldn’t do.  I often hear many say, “If I were him, I’d…..” or “If I had that type of money, I’d….” when the reality of the situation is you don’t know what you’d do.  When you have a multi-million dollar contract, you have multi-million dollar bills typically.  There are those who are more frugal with their earnings but for the most part, athletes live comfortably.  WNBA players on the other hand make a lot less than that of their male counterparts, and fines for them likely hits harder.

The New York Liberty defeat the San Antonio Stars, 75-65, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, July 10, 2016.

The New York Liberty wearing their black shirts in support of #Blacklivesmatter and #Dallas5.

A few days ago the NY Liberty, Phoenix Mercury, and Indiana Fever were fined $5000 as an organization and players $500 for abusing the league’s uniform policy.  The players from these teams decided to take a stand and silently voice their support for #blacklivesmatter and the #Dallas5 by wearing black shirts.  After the fines, there was push back because NBA stars weren’t fined for their support of the “I Can’t Breathe” campaign in the wake of Eric Garner’s murder.  In a statement mad by Silver, the NBA’s commissioner, he expressed his gratitude for NBA players using their platform to express views on societal issues but asked that player’s would also honor league uniform policy.  After the Orlando shooting, the WNBA handed out #orlandounited shirts for the league to wear, why not Black Lives Matter?

Lisa-M-Borders-270x380Lisa Borders, WNBA Commissioner, has rescinded the fines and also made this statement, “All of us at the WNBA have the utmost respect and appreciation for our players expressing themselves on matters important to them.  While we expect players to comply with league rules and uniform guidelines, we also understand their desire to use their platform to address important societal issues.  Given that the league will now be suspending play until August 26th for the Olympics, we plan to use this time to work with our players and their union on ways for the players to make their views known to their fans and the public and we have informed the players that we are rescinding the recently-imposed fines.”

I applaud these young ladies and wish that more athletes would use their platform to enlighten the world to the fact that you are everyday people as well with families.  Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, or Sandra Bland could have been anyone’s cousin, mom, brother, in law, etc.  I implore you not to wait until it hits close to home, share your voice now and prevent further losses later.

We must force change because if we don’t, cops won’t and as always let your Athlete Arise!!

Sport Brought Her Back to Life! (Sgt. Elizabeth Marks)

Last week the ESPY’s came on and it’s always fun to sit and recap some of the most amazing sports memories the previous seasons have brought us. From Aaron Rodgers hail mary throw, to the big shot Kyrie Irving made with 50 seconds remaining in game 7. Stephen Curry’s outbreak shooting year from 3, Jake Arrieta’s pitching over the last year, and so many more. It’s a good time!!

Sgt-Marks-1038x576One particular story really stuck out to me and was really moving. Sgt. Elizabeth Marks received the Pat Tillman award for her perseverance even after near death. In 2010, Marks suffered a bilateral hip injury that caused her to be removed from service. After 4 surgeries and physical therapy, running wasn’t an option for strengthening her body, so swimming was the substitute.  She trained with different coaches, one of them six-time Olympic gold medalist Brendan Hanson, and after 2 months in the pool Marks competed in the Texas Regional Games.  These were her comments after, “I was very slow, and it was so hard, and [Hansen] just yelled and cheered the whole time, and that was extremely encouraging and humbling for me. I wasn’t a very good swimmer, but I loved it. I fell in love with the sport at that swim meet.”

I want to interject and key in on how the praise of her coach made her feel.  Here is a 6x gold medalist cheering for an athlete who has been swimming for 2 months. Marks probably felt like she sucked or wasn’t good enough, yet someone she looked up to changed that perception that quickly with one positive gesture.

Marks quickly favored the breaststroke competition as she tried a variety early going.  Due to the reconstructions of her leg, general leg strength wasn’t there, so she had to adapt her technique from leg movements to more of an upper body motion. marks22After being assessed for Paralympic eligibility, she was accepted into the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which allows athletes to train in their sports whileworking for their military branches.  After a couple of years she went to London in 2014 to compete in the Invictus Games, a Paralympic event.  While there she had issues breathing, and was admitted into the hospital. The condition worsened and it looked bad as Marks was breathing with the help of a machine for 2 weeks on life support.  When she did awake, her main concern was being able to compete in the Can-Am Para-swimming Championships three months from that point.  Fortunately, she was and beat her own personal best time in the 200m breaststroke.  The doctors told Marks that it was the swimming that saved her life.  The training she had done strengthened her lungs enough to be able bounce back and work on their own.

Now, 2 years later from that point, marks is a member of the 2016 U.S. Paralympic team and will be competing in Rio in September.  I wish her the best and hope she lets her athlete arise in the 2016 Olympics!! Below is the clip of Sgt Marks receiving the Pat Tillman Award at the ESPY’s.

Is the Competitive Nature of American Athletics Detouring Youth from Playing?

serena-winning-wimbledon-0907First, I would like to start by congratulating Serena Williams on achieving her 22nd Major Title and her 7th at Wimbledon.  Serena has continued to be dominant and has shown why she is the greatest tennis player of all time.  I hope she continues to perform great as she chases 25 major titles to take 1st place among women.  She is a great example of how an athlete can arise! 1886566-39727160-2560-1440Secondly, the Williams Sisters have won their 14th consecutive doubles championship keeping their flawless record in tact.  They showed poise, professionalism, and sportsmanship throughout the entire tournament as we have come to expect from this dynamic duo.


I recently read an article that reported 70% of kids quit playing organized sports by age of 13.  I was not surprised at all by these stats due to there being a steady decrease in kids athletics over the last decade.  Stats1Question is why though? Well, that very question is why I found the article by Julianna W. Miner in the Washington Post interesting.  She addressed a couple of very valid points.

Why students quit a team sport in a survey taken by ESPN.

  1. 1. Educational Demands – By the age of 13, students are wrapping up middle school and preparing for high school.  Not only is there more work to be done, but it is increasingly difficult as well.  Pending on the students previous level of mastery in previous subjects, this transition can be smooth or very rough for a student to adapt too.  Other extra curricular activities can also be available which may be more appealing to youth due to low activity demands.
  2. Competitiveness – Generally, the population in high school is bigger and more diverse than that of most middle schools.  This means the level of competition is higher, coaching staffs are a lot tougher, and nowadays middle school students are recruited during there 7th grade years, sometimes 6th if they are that talented.   For this very reason, high schools usually have a varsity, junior varsity team, and occasionally a freshman team as well.  In addition, kids develop at different rates physically and mentally so talent can be overlooked due to size and lack of maturity.
  3. Social Media/Technology/Gaming – One of the benefits of being an 80’s baby was being young enough to embrace the technology boom we saw at the turn of the century but being young enough not to get swept away by it. Mid to late 90’s babies and beyond seem to have been swept away in this and have found more entertainment indoors than out. There was a period of time when being stuck inside was the ultimate punishment where now kids dread being in the summer sun.  Obesity has been a result and society seeks ways to excite youth about sports and physical activity.  Due to this same boom, athletes find more competition around them because of an increase in exposure.  Once scouts had to have video sent to them or actually be present to see individuals play. Even then they were only privy to those they had heard of.  Now video can be instantly streamed, shared, and distributed to an infinite number of scouts causing an overflow at times of eager athletes trying to arise.

Surely, these aren’t the only factors effecting kids and sports.  There are various talent levels, over zealous parents, bullying, and poverty that also comes into play with youth sports. YouthWebGraphic4 As a mentor and coach, it is a responsibility to provide opportunities for as many youth as possible.  As an advocate for athletic wellness, it is also my responsibility to make sure those involved in sports are having a positive and healthy experience, physically and mentally.

Students who say sports are apart of them

Matt Roth in this Ted Talk goes into how youth sports can be beneficial but yet dangerous by American standards.  He also talks about the increase in overuse injuries in children and why we should rethink youth sports.  Take heed, your child’s ability to make his athlete arise may depend on it.

Once Again the Suspensions pile up in the NFL (Substance abuse & Personal Conduct)

It’s about that time of year again when you find yourself in between your two favorite sports.  The NBA season ends right on the brink of summer and football training camp gives you some hope for an exciting fall kick off, while in the meantime you wait.  Fortunately, this is the summer of the Olympics which brings its own entertainment and helps cut the wait period.  Funny enough some of the same stories seem to arise around this time in football and I can’t help but question why!

800x1028xasset-31.png.pagespeed.ic.b5jVlgK7RKWe are not even a full week into training camp and already there are 10 cases of substance abuse violations in the NFL. It does not confuse me that NFL players are using marijuana and other recreational drugs; however, what does confuse me is how you can test positive when typically you know when you have to drop. How is it that one can be so reckless when it will inevitably affect their income? For those who do not know, NFL players are paid on a weekly basis during the season, after games, and their income is not sustained throughout the summer.  There are 54 players on a NFL roster and there are 32 teams in the NFL, how many players do you think you can actually name? Then think about how many may have multimillion dollar contracts. If you were to look at the trend, it would state that NFL players are not good with money, they have a history of domestic violence, and drug abuse.   Now I do realize that there are far more athletes in the NFL then most sports combined, so I don’t want to be biased. Yet the trend of offenses that happen with them are more violent in nature and typically deals with drugs.  Furthermore, some of these guys are repeat offenders, one of whom was suspended last season for the same thing and now he is starting this season the same way.


Martavis Bryant has been suspended for the second season in a row for drug abuse.

Why can’t he give up marijuana for something that he supposedly loves? The more I read about these athletes the more it occurs to me that there could be some real psychological issues going on. The NFL will fine them and send them on their way with no support or help. No mandatory classes or intervention procedures are in place so after your consequence is handed to you, your forgotten about.

Football is vicious sport as it is, and some of the things said and used to fire up players isn’t any better. I often wonder if players who have been taught to hit and push for a living, and retaliate by blindsided or laying a hard hit on someone carry that attitude over into their everyday lives. As a soon to be dad, I have to consider all of these possibilities and decide whether football is an option for my child. As it stands, it will not, unless my son turns out to be a phenomenal kicker.

This week my goal was to shine light on some of the revolving issues within the football world.  As a fan, I love watching the sport but not to the detriment of the athletes playing it.  I will gladly sacrifice watching the sport if it meant the health and safety of the athletes involved.  Many of these same athletes would risk it all to play the game and I do understand their level of commitment.  I don’t have the answer to all the issues going on but then no answers have ever come from silence either.  Some of you may be considering letting your child play youth football and my have some concerns.  Be very intentional in the questions you ask coaches, never be afraid to be safe first, and continue to help these kid’s athlete arise!!