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From Crutches to Starting Lines

“I’ll never be an Olympian,” I wrote. “But I hope you remember me for being a great teammate that was always there when you needed me.”

In my mind, this was a resignation letter to my teammates. I had already sat out of my senior cross country and indoor track seasons with an injury, and it was unlikely that I’d be healthy enough to compete in the outdoor track season either.

I had come to Stanford with big hopes, dreams, and expectations. But with just a few months left in my final season — after five years of nagging injuries that sidelined me for most of my college career — I faced the realization that my dreams would remain just that. I was not going to achieve my running goals. At the very least I could take solace that I had aided in others’ successes.

Coming to terms with this was incredibly difficult.

After my first stress fracture freshman year of college, I decided that I needed another outlet. I doubled down on my schoolwork, diving headfirst into my International Relations major. I took courses on everything from the Israel-Palestine conflict to water treaties in India and Pakistan. I interned at the United Nations and U.S. Department of State, and I was mentored by the likes of former U.S. Ambassadors and Secretaries of State. My athletic career wasn’t going how I hoped it would, but luckily, Stanford had a lot to offer outside of track and field.

Fast forward a few years. My final outdoor track season was beginning and, to my surprise, my latest injury had healed faster than anyone expected. Somehow, I was healthy.

But healthy and fit are two different things. I hadn’t run in nearly two months, and in a sport that demands consistency, I was pretty far off the mark. I knew my chances of success were low, but I had one last opportunity to see what I could do. A “hail mary” if you will. I was willing to put myself out there and try. I had to. If not for anything else, then for my teammates, to show them it was possible to be brave and bounce back.

By the time the first race of the season rolled around, I had run on the ground only nine times. I raced to marks in the 1500 meter that in fitter times of my career would have been pedestrian paces. But by the end of the season, and “racing” my way into shape, I had begun to find my stride and narrowly qualified for the regional championship.

The meet was held in Austin, Texas, where it was 100-degrees and 99% humidity. Adversity, though uncomfortable, played to my advantage. Over the next two days, I dove at the finish line twice, nabbing fifth place in both heats. It took everything I had, but I managed to advance to nationals.

At nationals, I had imposter syndrome, and I had it bad. I knew I was less fit than my competitors, and I had a gnawing feeling that I didn’t belong. But in the semi-final race, I pulled out my diving finish once again, crossing the line just ahead of a former NCAA champion to secure a spot in the final.

To say that I wasn’t expecting this would be an understatement. I was ranked 127th in the NCAA coming into postseason competition — a blip on the radar considering my injuries. But there I was in the top 12, my chances at becoming a national champion the same as everyone else lining up beside me.

I remember walking up to the line, the sound of the starter gun, the burst of adrenaline as I took my first strides. With 400 meters to go, it was anyone’s race. 10 of us flew around the final curve, and six of us swished across the finish line.

Time doesn’t actually slow down at moments like this, but you have a moment-to-moment awareness of your surroundings that’s hard to describe. Everything — the crowd at Hayward Field, the other five runners on my sides, the injuries, the lack of fitness, all of it — faded into the background for a few seconds as I stretched every fiber of my being across the line.

In unison, we all turned our heads to the scoreboard. Turned out I was sixth.

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I sighed in disbelief — I was so damn close, just tenths of a second from a national title. But I was in it. I had a shot.

I was proud of my two-month journey from middling prospect to championship contender, but I can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed. Years of injuries had made me a more well-rounded person and a better teammate, but that experience — jumping into the outdoor season out of shape and unprepared, only to find myself an arm’s length away from being a national champion — reignited a flame that I thought had long been extinguished. For the first time in years, I felt the old hopes and dreams creep back in.

I had told my teammates that I would never be an Olympian. But that no longer sat right with me.

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COURTESY OF REBECCA MEHRA

In the fall of 2018, I moved to Bend, Oregon, to join Littlewing Athletics, a unique running club with an all-female roster, a female coach, and a women’s athletic brand (Oiselle) as our primary sponsor. Our coach, Lauren Fleshman, fosters an environment that prioritizes health and happiness over performance. As an athlete who had been plagued with injuries for so many years, I needed this health-first holistic approach.

That first fall in Bend I worked harder than I ever had. I ran more miles, did harder and longer workouts, and spent hours each week in the weight room reteaching my body how to move. But I also worked smarter, which was necessary, as the months to follow were a total whirlwind.

I tried out a new event, and it worked out great. Most distance runners move up in distance as they get older, but I tried the opposite approach, and competed in a shorter distance (the 800 meter). I ran personal bests all spring and summer, and qualified for the US Championships final in the 800 meter, in my first year of competing in the event.

By the end of the meet I had finished 7th in the country. I then raced all over Europe, and won every race I stepped to the line in. I went to the most prestigious road mile in the world and finished on the podium. It felt like I was living off pure adrenaline, month after month.

It’s now 2020, and after another fall of hard work and countless miles, it’s officially an Olympic year. The trials are only months away.

I want to make the team, though with how competitive American women’s distance running is, I know it’s a long shot. I won’t define my success on whether I make the team or not, but you can be sure that I’m going to go for it. I know from my own experience that you can’t ever predict what kind of magic might happen when you give yourself a chance in a big race.

There is something very special in testing the limits of your body— it is truly a privilege to get to do. To still compete all these years later. No matter the outcome, this journey has been so worth it. I will be forever grateful that Littlewing and Oiselle took a chance on me, and even more so that I took a chance on myself to go after a dream.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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