Purpose2Play’s Top 16 Stories Of 2016

It was another incredible year at Purpose2Play. We’re honored to be the media outlet some of the world’s most inspiring athletes choose to tell their stories to.

Before we move on to 2017, let’s reflect and look back on our top 16 stories from 2016 as measured by pageviews.

Photo courtesy of Michael Somsan and Dominic Bernardo
Photo courtesy of Michael Somsan and Dominic Bernardo

16. How A Blind Triathlete And His Guide Took On The 2016 IRONMAN World Championship

When you think of an Ironman race, you think massive individual effort, not necessarily “team sport.”

For Michael Somsan and Dominic Bernardo, completing a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run is done, and celebrated, in tandem.

Somsan, 46, a former first lieutenant in the US Army, completely lost his vision in 1995 when he was shot in the head while trying to break up a fight. Bernardo, 34, an equally impressive athlete, functions as his eyes. Together, they recently crossed the finish line of the legendary 2016 IRONMAN World Championship in Kona.

The two, who reside just outside of Phoenix, trained together for only nine months, but they became brothers — brothers in pain, sacrifice, and vision.

15. Teachable Moments: Elite Golf Coach Corey Lundberg on the Changing World of Golf Instruction

Anyone who has played the sport knows the truth: golf is a wicked-hard game that’s as much shot choice, mental focus and course strategy as it is about the physical swing. Mastering such a complex sport is challenging enough for adults. But, how do you effectively coach talented, young up-and-comers who dream of playing with the pros?

Corey Lundberg is a bit of an expert on the topic. He’s been recognized as a “Best Young Teacher” by Golf Digest and a Top 50 Kids Teacher in the United States.  He’s big on analytics, a passionate student of motor learning and skills acquisition techniques, and a prolific blogger. But, perhaps the most interesting thing about Lundberg’s rise from golf lover to esteemed golf coach is his catalyst for heading down that path.

14. Hector Picard Becomes First Double-Arm Amputee To Finish IRONMAN In Kona

Hector Picard has completed Ironman races in the past, but until this weekend, he had never crossed the finish line at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona.

On Saturday night, Picard ended his day after 16 hours, 45 minutes, and 41 seconds of swimming, biking, and running to become the first double-arm amputee to ever complete the historic race.

13. Being Legally Blind Doesn’t Stop Teen From Skimboarding, Skateboarding, or Cycling

Kai Owens is like any 13-year-old boy.

He loves hanging out with his friends at The Clubhouse, jamming to Twenty-One Pilots and playing Pokémon Go. Like any teenager, he pushes the boundaries with his parents, craves finding his physical limits in action sports, and of course, gets slightly nervous when talk of cute girls comes up.

But unlike most 13-year-olds, Kai is legally blind – barely seeing what’s in front of him.

Not that that is stopping this kid.

“If I want to do something, I just do it – whatever it takes,” says the new eighth-grader at Southeast Bulloch Middle School in Statesboro, Ga. “And most of the time, I do it better than sighted kids.”

He’s not being conceited; he’s being honest.

Photo courtesy of Dave Stevens
Photo courtesy of Dave Stevens

12. How Dave Stevens Became The First Person Without Legs To Play College Football And Pro Baseball

Dave Stevens has lived arguably one of the greatest sports stories that you’ve never heard of.

The 50-year-old, who resides in Bristol, Conn., became the first and only person born without legs to play college football and minor league baseball. And he didn’t have prosthetic limbs either. He “ran” using his arms.

Three feet, two inches tall? Doesn’t matter. He tried out for the Dallas Cowboys and the 1984 Olympic baseball team, he pinch hit for Darryl Strawberry, and he won seven Emmy Awards while working for ESPN.

“I don’t want it too sound offensive, but I feel like I’ve lived a Forrest Gimp life,” Stevens said. “If you remember Forrest Gump, he was in all these weird scenarios where he was doing things with famous people. I’ve had those kind of surreal opportunities all my life.”

11. Bipolar Disorder As A Family Disease: Diving In With Former Olympic Runner Suzy Favor Hamilton

No different from cancer, severe mental illness is a disease that affects the entire family.

Former middle-distance runner and three-time Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton, 48, knows that all too well. As a top athlete, she has performed on the world’s biggest stage, but the spotlight never illuminated her more than after she was outed by a reporter for living a double life as high-priced call girl, happily working the bustling city streets and sheets of Las Vegas.

Suzy, a dedicated wife and mother by day, transformed into “Kelly,” the escort, by night. She had up to five clients a shift. She was making $600 an hour. But, the thrill of it all is what really hooked her.

10. U.S. Rowing Silver Medalist Gevvie Stone Moves Swiftly On Water, Up The Ranks In Medicine

If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of U.S. rowing silver medalist Gevvie Stone. She’s the one moving swiftly on top of the water and up the ranks in medicine.

The 31-year-old doctor from Newton, Mass. has balanced Olympic training and medical school and impressed everyone along the way, managing not to tip the proverbial boat.

“There are a number of rowers turned physicians, and I think that we could all be classified as headstrong and ambitious,” Stone said. “I think that seems to work well for competing as a rower and being a good physician

9. Former Navy SEAL Swam Length of Mississippi River To Honor Gold Star Families

For former Navy SEAL Chris Ring, home is where the water is. And for six months last year, Ring did indeed live in the water.

The 29-year-old hopped in Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi River, and swam all 2,552 miles of it to become the first American to ever swim our country’s second-longest river.

The test of endurance was more than just a personal quest to conquer, however. Ring’s strokes were for a much greater purpose — to honor Gold Star families, or those who have lost a loved one in service to the country.

“Not everyone knows or understands what a Gold Star family is,” Ring said. “I’ve heard so many stories where people have been congratulated for being Gold Star families. No family wants to be a Gold Star family.”

8. Getting Off the Starting Block With Deaf Swimmer Marcus Titus

We always hear about athletes “tuning out the noise” before a big competition, in order to keep their focus.

Swimmer Marcus Titus, 30, doesn’t have to flip that switch. The 12-time All-American from Tucson, AZ. has been deaf his entire life, and he considers that one his biggest advantages before entering the water.

“Not being able to hear is my best tool since I can focus on my race without any distractions,” Titus said. “I don’t have to hear what people are talking about. Shouts, yells, cheers, last minute instructions or acknowledgements are not overwhelming to me. The silence calms my nerves before I dive off the block. It’s my race to swim.”

7. Pastor To Give 26.2-Minute Mass, Then Will Run 26.2 Miles In Louisiana Marathon

Nerves ride high in the minutes, hours, and even weeks leading up to running a marathon. Have I trained enough? Did I get enough sleep? How will my lower back hold up 22 miles in? Those are just some of the swirling questions that pick up pace as race day approaches.

As a pastor and a runner, Rev. Michael Alello, 35, of St. Philomena Catholic Church in Labadieville, Louisiana, has experienced those same concerns before each of his five marathons.

That’s why before this Sunday’s Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rogue, Alello will help ease other runners’ worries and offer a 26.2-minute mass one hour prior to the gun going off. Then he’ll jump over to the start line, and run the distance himself while trying to set a new personal record.

“There will probably be a running clock up somewhere up in the sanctuary just for fun,” Alello said. “We’re shooting for around 30 minutes. If I nail a 26.2-minute mass, it’s gonna be a good day.”

6. Better Focus Without Medication: How Mixed Martial Arts Training at UFC Gym Impacted an Entire Family

According to the CDC, over 6 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 have received an ADHD diagnosis in their lifetime, which is up 16 percent since 2007, and up 41 percent in the last decade.  About two-thirds of those with a diagnosis are prescribed medication, which often leads to addiction and anxiety.

What if to control excess childhood energy, we let kids express themselves through play and exercise instead?

That was the thinking of mother of five, Randi Sue Surratt, 34, when she moved from a small north Texas town to Dallas and found UFC Gym Flower Mound.

5. North Texas Breeds Young, Talented Golfers: Noah Goodwin, Next in Line

Noah Goodwin came out of the birth canal with more focus and competitive spirit than most of us muster up in a lifetime. He was born with a hormone deficiency, so he was smaller than the other kids. But, what Noah lacked in stature, he made up for in perseverance, discipline, and an uncanny ability to dream big. Those qualities may one day propel this now 15-year-old to the top of a PGA leaderboard.

“Noah has always been a goal-oriented kid,” said Noah’s dad, Dr. Jeff Goodwin, a professor of kinesiology at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. “He started taking Tae Kwon-Do when he was four, and as soon as he earned his Yellow Belt, announced to me that he was going to become a Black Belt—breaking boards, the whole thing. He became a first-degree Black Belt in December of 2007, at the age of seven.”

Noah wanted to keep going. That is, until he learned that he wasn’t allowed to test for a second-degree belt until he turned 13.  Instead of waiting six years, this very atypical Texas grade-schooler started seeking out another goal.

4. Mohammed Al-Khatib Has Eyes On Rio, First Olympic Medal For Palestine In The 100 And 200-Meter Dash

Mohammed Al-Khatib has the Olympic flame in his heart, and it burns for the love of his country.

The 26-year-old from Palestine has never been to the Olympics before, but he’s expending all of his time and energy trying to get there so that he can become the first from his country to win a medal in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash.

“I want to bring happiness and joy to my country,” Al-Khatib said.

The yoga instructor from Hebron, an area in the southern portion of the West Bank, figures that the dangerous and volatile area needs a big victory, so why not have it come in the form of an Olympic runner?

Photo courtesy of Anne Hed
Photo courtesy of Anne Hed

3. HED Cycling’s Anne Hed Digs Deep To Pedal Forward After Losing Her Husband

Whether slogging through Midwestern snow on fat tires, or sailing across heated asphalt on thin wheels, Anne Hed keeps active year-round.

That’s because the 54-year-old CEO of HED Cycling and former professional triathlete values her ability to pedal forward both on the road, and in life.

HED Cycling revolutionized bicycle wheels and components in the 1980’s when company founder Steve Hed emerged from his garage with dirt under the nails, and an affordable and aerodynamic disc wheel. He wasn’t exactly the pioneer of the design, but with Anne’s help, they were able to bring these lightweight products to the masses, and to some of the world’s top cyclists through the viaduct of the triathlon community.

Steve passed away unexpectedly in 2014 at 59 years old after collapsing outside of the their Roseville, Minnesota headquarters. But Anne is pressing on, continuing to build up the innovative company that they birthed together.

2. The Best Super Bowl 50 Commercial You DIDN’T See

We saw the good, the bad, and the ugly from the world of advertising during Super Bowl 50.

Now it’s time to highlight the beautiful.

The folks from the Adaptive Training Foundation in Dallas submitted an ad called “Limbitlelss” for Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl contest.

The Foundation is a haven for military veterans and civilians who have lost a limb and/or suffered paralysis, but still want to develop as athletes.

The submission didn’t reach the final 25, so it didn’t run during world’s most watched television event, but who’s to say we can’t shine the light on it?

1. To That Guy in My Communication and Sport Class: Passion is for People, Not Just Male Athletes

I walked eagerly into my Tuesday morning Communication and Sport class. Each class is centered around what any student athlete can passionately get behind: sports.

After we watched an incredible documentary about media coverage and female athletes, the discussion ensued.

Immediately, the guy two rows in front of me said something about the lack of slam dunks that occur in the WNBA. As the only female athlete in the class, I was taken aback. I thought, Brittney Griner can dunk. Here we go.

That’s when the male athlete that sits behind me began to explain the reason why women’s sports are not popular (to watch, to play, or even to cover in the media). His reasoning was simple, but archaic: “Girls are just less passionate than guys.”

Happy New Year, everyone!

Kim Constantinesco

Kim Constantinesco

As the founder and editor-in-chief of Purpose2Play.com, Kim Constantinesco dives under the surface hype to illuminate heroes in the sports world. Whether talking with the first man with cerebral palsy to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, or the first woman to mountain bike across Afghanistan, Kim has a keen interest in shining the spotlight on ordinary people doing extraordinary things. She believes it's time media starts placing a higher value on the people and communities who are actively doing something to make the world a little better. Previously, she covered the Denver Broncos and the NFL for seven seasons. Her work has been featured on NFL.com, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, The New York Times, and USA Today. She resides in Denver, CO. When not working, she can be found deep in the Rocky Mountains throwing backflips on her snowboard. Follow Kim on Twitter: @KimCon14
Kim Constantinesco

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