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Abby Dunkin Talks LGBTQ Advocacy and How Sports Helped Her Find Her Identity

USA’s Abigail Dunkin (L) and Desiree Miller (R) celebrates after defeating Germany in the gold medal match of the women’s wheelchair basketball of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on September 16, 2016. / AFP / Yasuyoshi Chiba (Photo credit should read YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)

Abby Dunkin is a wheelchair basketball player who won gold at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio as well as at the 2019 World Championships in Suphanburi, Thailand. Below, she spoke with Just Women’s Sports about her introduction to wheelchair basketball, the importance of athlete advocacy, and what comes next following her recent retirement from Team USA. 

What does it mean to you to openly be a member of the LGBTQ community in sports?

Sports, in general, give you this platform and this voice to be able to talk about stuff that’s going on in today’s society. In that sense, to be part of the LGBTQ community gives us a voice to show that love is love — no matter politics, religion, sexual orientation, or culture. To be able to share that as an athlete on this platform is pretty special. Especially since there are a ton of athletes who share a similar voice — who are also part of the LGBTQ community. It shows that we can be successful and we can be good at what we do, while also being part of the LGBTQ community.

Why do you think it’s so important for athletes to be vocal on social justice issues, especially as they relate to the LGBTQ community?

It’s definitely important for athletes who are LGBTQ to speak up. Like I said, it shows that we can be successful. We can do things, we can be happy in the way we live our lives. We are able to normalize it, in a way. Hopefully, one day, people in the LGBTQ community don’t have to come out. We don’t see straight people having to come out, so we should be treated the same. There has been movement and new laws, like the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year was a huge victory for LGBTQ employees. These things will guide the way so one day we won’t have to come out, we can just be who we are.

What has been the role of sports in helping you come into your identity?

For me, discovering wheelchair basketball was a huge turning point. I grew up in New Braunfels, Texas, so there was basically a church on every corner. I knew a few of my friends who were still in the closet and who had fears of coming out because everyone was so religious. Once I was able to, I went to the University of Texas and, during my freshman year, my teammates and friends pushed me in a positive way to come out of the closet. They said, “Hey, it’s okay. We accept you for who you are.” Being in that atmosphere with coaches who were so supportive and teammates who were so supportive made me feel like I could do it. So wheelchair basketball, for me at least, helped me to come out publicly and be okay with myself. And I was lucky to have loving family and friends who supported me. With basketball, it doesn’t matter who you love, who you play for, what your skin color is or who you vote for — it just matters that you can play ball.

What first drew you to wheelchair basketball?

I grew up playing standup basketball and then, in middle school, I had knee surgery for a torn meniscus. After the surgery, the pain never went away, even though I was physically healed. I was diagnosed with CRPS, or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. With CRPS, you’re in pain 24/7, even though there is no reason for it. I managed my pain until I was about 16 or 17 and then I realized that I had to do something — it was becoming too much. In 2013, I tried a number of treatments. I tried one treatment where they put electrodes on the outskirts of my chronic pain and I was hooked up to this machine for about an hour a day, five days a week for two weeks. After the first week, I felt really sick. And after the second week, I ended up losing 30 pounds total. One morning, I woke up and I could not walk. I stumbled around and my legs were so tight, I just remember going, “Mom, what is going on?” No one knew what was happening and the doctor refused to see me. So I ended up leaving the treatment early in a wheelchair. I was so excited because I had just been named captain for my high school’s basketball team, and then I came back from this treatment in a wheelchair.

I found wheelchair basketball on YouTube one day and I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. Your arms are jacked and you’re playing ball on chairs. I had no idea people with disabilities could even do that. I had never heard of the Paralympics. My dad was retired military so I was able to try out wheelchair basketball for the first time with guys who had just come back from overseas with either one or both of their legs amputated. I was this 17-year-old scrawny white girl with guys who were twice my age and twice my size, but I absolutely loved the game.

How did you go from playing wheelchair basketball with men in the military to being on Team USA?

From practicing with guys in the military, I got a reference to go and meet with the San Antonio Spurs wheelchair basketball team. They were just getting ready for their season, so I thought I was just going to watch their practice and see what it was all about. Eventually, they invited me onto the roster and I started playing. Then, I got a letter of intent to go play at the University of Texas at Arlington. Literally three months after that, I got recruited for Team USA.

How do you compare the change in perceptions towards LGBTQ athletes and Paralympic athletes over the last few years?

Over the last few years, especially in Rio, it seems like everyone is just coming together, regardless of Olympian, Paralympian, LGBTQ or not LGBTQ. Everybody is just an athlete. As part of the LGBTQ athlete community, I think we all just want to be athletes. We strive for the equality and the equity of just being an athlete. Being part of the LGBTQ community makes it a little bit more special.

So there has been some progression, but what do you think needs to happen or continue to happen in the near future?

I think it is important that we are treated just like our counterparts. As a Paralympian, all we want is to be treated and paid like our Olympian counterparts. Just like how LGBTQ athletes want to be treated the same as straight athletes. We play the same sports at the same competitive level and train the exact same way at the exact same facilities. We all do the same things. So I think equal treatment and equal pay should be at the forefront.

With COVID, how has training been? How is basketball now? 

For me, personally, my health has done a total 180 during the pandemic. I’m now walking and doing a lot of things that I never thought I could do. I actually retired from Team USA last month. A lot of it was due to the pandemic and positive health reasons, but it was definitely a hard decision. I know that, for the team, they cannot go back to the Olympic training center for a few months at least.

Are you continuing to play basketball even though you retired from Team USA?

Yeah, that is one of the things I’m looking at for this upcoming season. I’m thinking about moving to North or South Carolina right now. It’s all still up in the air, but I have built my own home gym. So, I’m still training like I’m playing.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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