Hector Picard showing how he swims without arms.

Hector Picard showing us how he swims


What a year 2015 was for us, but most importantly, for the athletes that we’ve featured.

We’re honored to bring you this list of our top 15 stories for the year based on pageviews.

Thank you, athletes, and thank you, readers. You make Purpose2Play spin, and we wish you the happiest 2016 imaginable.

15. A Woman’s Place is on the Football Field: How NWFL Quarterback Barbara O’Brien Defied The Odds In a Pre-Title IX World

When you think of female sports pioneers, you probably think of Wilma Rudolph, Nancy Lieberman or Billie Jean King—women of the pre-Title IX age who made the road a little easier for the athletes who followed.

It’s about time you added the name “Barbara O’Brien” to that list.

Still fit at 5’9” with twinkling eyes and a soft-spoken Southern drawl, O’Brien has rightfully earned her place in history. She was the quarterback for one of the original teams in the National Women’s Football League (NWFL) in the 1970s, a featured athlete on a nationally televised sports competition show, and an advocate for numerous human rights causes.

14. ‘Murderball’ Rugby Athlete Eric Newby Crushes Stereotypes and Competition

Don’t let the wheelchair fool you: Eric Newby is a hardcore rugby player.

“Smashing Stereotypes One Hit at a Time,” is the main message for players in the United States Quad Rugby Association. It’s not your traditional rugby game, oh no. Newby plays a version originally named “murderball” for its intense and full-contact nature. If rugby wasn’t already tough enough, these guys play in specially adjusted chairs designed to be used like battering rams. The athletes aren’t shy about using them either.

13. Former College Field Hockey Player Plays Through, Overcomes Thyroid Cancer

The feeling of being “alone” in a crowded world seems nearly impossible, particularly for someone who lives a stone’s throw from the busy streets of New York City, just across the river, in South Plainfield, New Jersey.

Shaun Evans pushing his son from Seattle to NYC. Photo courtesy of Shaun Evans

Shaun Evans pushing his son from Seattle to NYC. Photo courtesy of Shaun Evans

However, when cancer enters the picture, no matter the rate, a hidden, and often lonely battle ensues.

Purpose2Play and Sky Blue FC videographer/sideline reporter Brittany Alvarado knows the battle well.

Alvarado lives and breathes sports. This 22-year-old former college athlete pays attention to the sports world’s news, statistics, and odds on a daily basis. It’s her job now, but just last year, she was studying much different numbers and probabilities as it related to her own health.

12. Father Runs from Seattle to NYC While Pushing Son Who Has Cerebral Palsy, Gifts Mobility Along the Way

Looking at it on the surface, the Evans family had the quintessential American summer vacation. They rented an RV, drove across the country, saw Mt. Rushmore and a few other historical sites, and called various campgrounds “home” for a night or two.

When you dig a little deeper, however, you come to find that dad and ultramarathoner, Shaun Evans, 37, wasn’t driving the RV. He was running behind it for the family’s 3,205-mile trek from Seattle to New York while pushing his 9-year-old son, Shamus, who has cerebral palsy.

11. Undeterred by Spinal Cord Injury, Vanessa Cantu Hits Dallas Gyms Harder Than Most

While folks are logging miles, hoisting dumbbells, and spinning their legs, they are both finding themselves and losing themselves in the process, all so they can keep in touch with themselves outside of gym walls.

It doesn’t come without risks, however. Those in search of sweat chance the embarrassment that might come in the form of stumbling through a new exercise, showing “weakness” in failing to lift a heavy weight, or even just wearing shorts.

Vanessa Cantu, 32, is no different, yet because she ruptured her spinal cord in a car accident 17 years ago, her gym going experience runs even greater risks. By the same token, her workouts foster greater rewards, too.

10. A Greater Mission: How Chris Long and Former Green Beret Nate Boyer are Giving Back to Keep Veterans from Giving in

He has fought terrorists in Afghanistan and competed against 300-pound linemen in the Big 12, but Nate Boyer’s toughest mission yet is helping other veterans win their most challenging battle of all.

After returning home from the Middle East, the former active-duty U.S. Army Green Beret knew there would be no more fitting in.

Eddie Vega shows off his feet after one barefoot marathon.

Eddie Vega shows off his feet after one barefoot marathon.

“Too many guys are coming back [from service] and trying to fit in. We’re not going to fit in,” Boyer said. “We’re different.  What’s inside you is something that led you to some of the darkest parts of the world, fighting for people you’ve never met.”

9. Barefoot Marathoner Breaks Records, Sends Shoes to Poverty Stricken Areas of the Philippines

Golfers carry clubs, tennis players tote racquets, and hockey players bear sticks. Marathon runner Eddie Vega proudly carries tweezers.

That’s because this 55-year-old IT consultant known as the “Barefoot Bandito” has run 121 marathons barefoot. In 2014 alone, he ran 2,646.2 miles, or 101 marathons, without shoes, which set two new Guinness World Records for the most barefoot marathons run on consecutive days (10), and the most barefoot marathons run in one year.

“I’m hoping that my record will stay because I don’t think I can even break it myself,” Vega said with a laugh.

8. Ironman, Double Arm Amputee Hector Picard Challenges Dwyane Wade on Basketball Court

Hector Picard is the first double-arm amputee to finish an Ironman.

Picard lost his arms in a work-related accident when 13,000 volts of electricity went through his body twice while he working on a substation transformer. He had never done a triathlon before the accident, but then life propelled him to take on swimming, biking, and running without arms.

We stopped by his home in Ft. Lauderdale last week to film a feature on him, and while we were there, he took us to his local basketball court.

7. After Two Severe Concussions While Playing Sports, Lachlan Connors Could Suddenly Play Multiple Instruments

For Lachlan Connors, 19, music wasn’t just an escape from reality. It gave him wings to a distinct passion and a newly enriched life.

After the former football player and lacrosse star suffered two severe blows to the head in middle school, the gift of music was quite literally born in the throngs of scar tissue and firing neurons in his traumatized brain.

With no prior musical talent before his head injuries, and forced to give up playing contact sports afterward, the Colorado native suddenly developed a keen musical ability to the tune of being able to play 15 instruments, all by ear.

6. Pittsburgh Detective Jack Mook Provides Two Boys Boxing, a Family, and a Future

Kealia Ohai of the Houston Dash. Photo: KealiaMae/Instagram

Kealia Ohai of the Houston Dash. Photo: KealiaMae/Instagram

Parenthood is not something which a person stands around looking for credit.

However, what if it’s a man who adopts two older children to save them from a neglectful situation that would have likely led to a lifetime of poverty and crime?

Enter 22-year veteran of the Pittsburgh Police Department, detective Jack Mook. An Army veteran of the Gulf War,  Jack took the two boys, Joshua and Jessee Mook from an almost certain life of criminal statistics and has provided them with a quality of life as good or better than most.

5. Powerful Vision: Houston Dash’s Kealia Ohai On Playing Soccer With One Eye

We caught up with Houston Dash forward Kealia Ohai to get the scoop on what it’s like to play soccer in the National Women’s Soccer League with one functioning eye. Here’s her video.

4. Olympic Hopeful and Filmmaker Alexi Pappas Churns Miles and Words for the Perfect Mix

Alexi Pappas, 25, seems to thrive in every world she enters, even the ones she creates herself.

The filmmaker, writer, actress, and Olympic hopeful from Eugene, Oregon is proof that in order to tell a good story, you have to live an engaging one yourself.

Pappas has her second feature film in post production, a jazzy little narrative called Tracktown, which details the magical yet quirky running culture of Eugene.

She’s also very much a part of that beloved running civilization in the Pacific Northwest, which champions those who pay homage to themselves in the currency of sweat and miles. Pappas isn’t just any recreational runner, however. She’s a former elite college runner with her eyes on the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

3. USWNT Exclusive: The Unbreakable Bond of Morgan Brian and Lauren Holiday

The first day on a new job can be plenty intimidating. It comes with uncertainties, new tasks, and new faces. U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Morgan Brian knows the feeling all too well.

In June of 2013, the University of Virginia college junior went from competing against some of the finest players in D-1 soccer to battling the world’s best players when she was called up to the U.S. Women’s National Team.

Photo: @emasar3/Twitter

Ella Masar is always ready for her next move. Photo: @emasar3/Twitter

2. Beyond the Net with USWNT and Orlando Pride Goalie Ashlyn Harris

We had the privilege of capturing USWNT and Orlando Pride goalie Ashlyn Harris in her hometown of Satellite Beach, Florida. Harris wanted fans to feel a part of her story, and not just the one they see on the soccer field.

She opened up about her struggle with depression, and how she found relief in her darkest times — With a heavy dose of surfing, skating, and a strong community to lean on, (including To Write Love On Her Arms, a Florida-based organization that provides hope to people who are battling depression, addiction, and self injury).

1. Ella Masar of the Houston Dash Speaks on Life, Loss, and Love

Ella Masar of the Houston Dash is as transparent as any player in the National Women’s Soccer League. She graciously opened up to us about growing up with a mother who suffers from severe mental illness, losing her father unexpectedly, and her love for teammate and wife, Erin McLeod.

There’s a certain grace and rawness to Ella that we’re certain you’ll enjoy in this video.