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Three Paralympians pushing the boundary of what’s possible

Oksana Masters (David Berding/Getty Images)

The 2020 Summer Paralympics begin on Tuesday, Aug. 24 in Tokyo. 

If what enthralls us about the Olympics is the display of superhuman feats, what the Paralympics offer are the most deeply human feats. Succeeding in the face of obstacles and limitations, whether visible on our bodies or not, is perhaps our most universal of human pursuits. And it’s because of this that the achievements of every Paralympian have the potential to strike a chord deep within each of us. 

While each is a champion in their own way, these are three Paralympians we’re especially excited to see compete in Tokyo. 

Oksana Masters: Cycling, Cross Country Skiing, Biathlon, and Rowing

Oksana Masters was born in the Ukraine in 1989 with several birth defects to her limbs as a result of in-utero radiation exposure from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster. Her left leg was six inches shorter than her right and both were missing critical bones for weight bearing. She had six toes on each foot, five webbed fingers on each hand and no thumbs. Due to the extensive medical care she required, her birth mother relinquished her for adoption.

Masters spent seven and a half years in three different orphanages before being adopted in 1996 by Gay Masters. An American speech pathologist, Gay spent two years in a bureaucratic adoption battle with the Ukrainian government after a black-and-white photo of Masters from her adoption agent convinced her that the little being looking back at her was meant to be her daughter. The first several years of Master’s American life were filled with surgeries to give her more mobility in her hands. Eventually, both of her legs were amputated.

At age 13, after struggling to fit in with her school’s main sports teams, Masters reluctantly attended an adaptive rowing practice and quickly fell in love with the sport. A decade later, she won her first Paralympic medal, taking bronze at the 2012 London Games in the mixed rowing competition (trunk and arm doubles sculls) with partner Rob Jones.

After this first taste of Paralympic glory, Masters realized her strength and skill could be applied to other sports that targeted the same muscle groups, such as adaptive cross-country skiing and biathlon. She spent just 14 short months learning to ski and shoot. Masters then not only qualified for the 2014 Sochi Games (in six events) but became a Winter Paralympic medalist, wining silver in the 12km and bronze in the 5km cross-country skiing competitions.

A back injury prevented Masters from returning to rowing after Sochi, so she decided to try hand cycling as a way to cross-train for skiing. By the time the Rio Paralympics came around, she was so skilled at her “offseason” sport that she qualified for the Paralympic cycling team, but fell just short of the podium in her two Rio races.

Two years later at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, Masters’ cache of Paralympic medals more than doubled. She won gold in the 1.5km and 5km cross-country skiing events and bronze in the 12km. And this time, she added two biathlon silver medals (6km and 12.5km).

Coming into Tokyo, Masters is an eight-time Paralympic medalist across three different sports spanning both the Summer and Winter Games. She has qualified for every Summer and Winter Olympics since 2012, and after a fourth- and fifth-place finish in cycling at Rio in 2016, she is more determined than ever to add a Paralympic medal in what would be her fourth sport. A more versatile, accomplished and inspiring athlete is hard to imagine.

Rose Hollermann: Wheelchair Basketball

Rose Hollermann is by all accounts the best player on the U.S. women’s wheelchair basketball team and possibly in the entire women’s game. At age five, the Minnesota native suffered spinal cord damage that left her mostly paralyzed from the waist down after a tragic car accident that also took the lives of two of her older brothers. In the years following the accident, as she progressed in her recovery, Hollermann tried out a wide variety of adaptive sports, but her natural skill and passion for wheelchair basketball was apparent from the start.

By the time she was thirteen, Hollermann was a junior national champion. At age fifteen, she became the youngest player to ever make the senior national team, winning gold at the 2011 Parapan American Games that same year. After finishing in the dreaded fourth spot at the 2012 London Games, the team reached the top spot in Rio in 2016, giving Hollermann, still the youngest player on the team, her first Paralympic gold medal.

Upon high school graduation, Hollermann received a full athletic scholarship to the The University of Texas at Arlington to play on its wheelchair basketball team. Hollermann led the Movin’ Mavs to three national championship appearances and two national titles.

After graduating from UTA in 2019, Hollermann realized a lifelong dream by moving overseas to the Canary Islands. She signed with the Gran Canaria professional wheelchair basketball team that plays in the Division de Honour league in Spain. Playing in a league that is 95 percent male has given Hollermann valuable experience and confidence as she heads into Tokyo to help Team USA defend its gold medal.

Asya Miller: Goalball

Asya Miller, a 41-year-old Michigan native, will compete in her sixth consecutive Paralympic Games as a member of the U.S. women’s goalball team. Designed for visually impaired athletes, goalball is played on an indoor court roughly 20 yards long and 10 yards wide. Three players from each team play at a time. A three-pound ball with bells inside is thrown from one team’s half of the court to the other in an attempt to get it past the three opponents and into the court-wide goal just past the baseline. The athletes play on hands and knees, referencing taped lines and markers to orient their positioning. All players wear blackout sport goggles to equalize the broad spectrum of visual impairment among athletes.

Miller, who has an eye condition called Stargardt’s Disease and 20/200 vision at best with contacts in, was first introduced to goalball while an undergrad at Western Michigan University. In her first Paralympics in Sydney in 2000, she was a dual-sport athlete and earned a bronze medal for Team USA in the discus. Though her first passion was track and field, goalball offered a level of physicality, teamwork and strategy that other adaptive sports did not. One unique aspect of goalball is that novice spectators are often a nuisance. With players relying solely on sound to track the ball’s location, it’s crucial that the crowd remains silent during active play. 

“With Tokyo having limited spectators, we are probably the only sport who is excited about that,” Miller bemused in a recent interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting.

There are not many boxes she has left to check off her Paralympic bucket list, having already won a bronze (2016), silver (2004) and gold (2008) in goalball over the course of her decorated career. Now in her early forties, Miller has indicated this will be her final Games, giving her one last chance to go out in golden glory.

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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