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How Stephanie Gilmore Turned a Traumatic Experience Into Competitive Power

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Stephanie Gilmore fell in love with surfing at a very young age. Even in grade school, it was her first thought when waking up, and her last thought before falling asleep. With any shift in the wind, the young Australian would immediately wonder what it meant for the waves at the legendary surf spots she frequented with her dad and sisters near her home on the Gold Coast.

In a recent conversation with Kelley O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast, Gilmore calls her early relationship with surfing a “healthy addiction.” This obsession, combined with a zest for putting on a show and a natural ease with competition, resulted in record-breaking success when she eventually started competing. In 2007, at 19 years of age, she won the World Title in her debut season on the World Surfing League tour. (The WSL is the annual pro tour where the top 17 female and 34 male surfers compete against each other in events around the world over the course of 10 months.) No man or woman had ever won the championship their rookie year.

Gilmore went on to add three more consecutive World Titles, making it four in a row for the young superstar. Over the last decade, she has added three more to her trophy case, tying her with legend Layne Beachley for the most women’s World Titles in history.

When asked by O’Hara which championship was the most rewarding of her career, there was no hesitation. It was Gilmore’s fifth title, in 2012, which came just two years after she was physically assaulted by a stranger outside her home during the Christmas holidays.

Up until this traumatic event, competition had always been full of joy and ease for Gilmore. She loved the performance factor. Doing tricks on her boogie board as a kid, she’d be hoping the swimmers and sunbathers around her were riveted by her sweet skills. When journalists routinely asked where her competitive fire came from, she would recall her imagined boogie board glory.

“It’s more of a performance thing that I really love,” she tells O’Hara, “It’s going out there on that stage and having a moment to really shine and impress people.”

She was also unashamedly confident in the vision she had for herself. At 14 years of age, she raced out of school one day to watch her idols compete in a pro event at her home beach, where she felt an overwhelming intuition that she belonged out on the waves.

She tells O’Hara she remembers thinking, “I can win. Just put me in that event right now, I will smash these girls.”

Three years later, qualifying for that same event with a wildcard spot, she did exactly that, winning first place as a 17-year-old amateur.

Once she was a full-time professional surfer, Gilmore never understood why her fellow competitors often set goals to only finish in the top ten or top five. For Gilmore, there was only ever one worthwhile goal: to be number one. She (literally and figuratively) rode this wave of confidence, skill, and competitive joy to those first four World Titles. Then, she was randomly attacked.

The assault occurred on December 27, 2010, just a couple weeks after cementing her fourth World Title. She was walking back to her apartment after plans to see a movie with a friend fell through. As she approached the stairs to her building, a stranger ran up behind her and hit her twice with a metal bar. The first blow was to her head, and she immediately saw blood everywhere. The second broke the wrist of the arm she had raised to shield herself.

Luckily, her relatives who also lived in the complex heard her scream and came running out. The man fled but was caught and arrested later that night. Over the next several weeks, Gilmore tried to process and cope with what happened. With her wrist in a cast, she spent those weeks away from surfing.

“It fully rattled my cage,” she tells O’Hara, “It was the first time in my life that I had such a traumatic experience and such a mountain to climb ahead of me.”

While the wrist injury healed in time for her to get back on tour for the first event of the 2011 season, the emotional damage took longer to heal.

“I was questioning my confidence in the ocean. I was questioning just everything,” she confides to O’Hara. After absolutely dominating the previous four seasons, Gilmore dropped to third place in 2011.

Coming back after the break for the 2012 season, Gilmore knew something needed to shift. She’d been putting in the physical and emotional work to heal her demons, but she could no longer feel her carefree and joyful state in competition the way she once had. Then, in the first event of the 2012 season she discovered a grittier, angrier drive to win.

“I remember it was a new competitor in me,” she tells O’Hara, “It was a beast that I hadn’t ever met yet myself. It was almost like I’d built this competitive creature within me and this was the unveiling.”

After spending the first years of her career known on tour as “Happy Gilmore,” she now began tapping into a much more primal and instinctual approach to competition.

“You have to sort of look at your opponents like they’re a piece of meat and you haven’t eaten for a year,” she laughingly tells O’Hara. This new Gilmore beast-mode worked. She won first place in the event and by the end of the year had reclaimed her place atop the tour, winning her fifth and most hard-fought World Title.

Though no one ever wishes for it, overcoming the kind of hardships Gilmore was forced to endure gave her a new perspective on surfing, leading to the most rewarding victory of her career. For Gilmore, World Title number five was the sweetest one yet.

That could change in the near future as she now chases down what would be a record-breaking eighth World Title, as well as the first ever Olympic gold medal ever awarded in the sport when it makes its debut next summer in Tokyo.

Listen to Stephanie Gilmore’s full conversation with Kelley O’Hara on the Just Women’s Sports podcast here.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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