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Hero Triathlon series aims to support female veterans this summer

Posted by She's Game Sports April 30, 2013 02:59 PM

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Racers prepared to begin their swim in the 2012 Cohasset Triathlon. Photo courtesy Bill Burnett.


Jason Fowler is paralyzed from the chest down. A motorcycle accident when he was 17 made it so that his mobility was limited to his arms, but that doesn't stop him from being an elite athlete. Fowler is both a 2009 Ironman World Champion and 2012 70.3 Half Ironman World Champion. Since his accident, he has completed over 150 road races, 30 marathons, and 29 marathons, solely with the use of his arms.

Fowler is just one of the inspiring athletes who’ll be racing in the Hero Triathlon series this summer, supporting veterans and physically disabled competitors.

The Hero Triathlon series includes two races: one on July 21 on Nantucket Island and a second on Sept. 8 in Mashpee on Cape Cod. Both consist of Olympic distance events; an 0.9 mile swim followed by 25-mile bike and a 6.2 mile run. The race in Mashpee is the only Olympic distance race on the Cape, which stages its bike course within the secured grounds of Otis Air Force Base.

The races' co-founders, Jamie Ranney and Bill Burnett, are no strangers to these events. They've been recognized in the triathlon community for building successful events, including the sold out Cohasset Triathlon (June 30) and Nantucket Triathlon (July 20).

Ranney and Burnett met at Ohio Wesleyan University in the early 1990s and their friendship has turned into a strong partnership, translating to building great events.

But the Hero Triathlon series isn't your average race, it's not only centered around supporting veterans, but zeroes in on the fastest growing segment of the veteran population – women. Ranney had the idea for the "hero" concept several years ago, and consulted Burnett's advice before the two took it onto the athletic stage.

“Over the last ten years I’ve competed in dozens of triathlons and I am always so motivated and moved by the aggressive participation of veteran athletes in these events – particularly those vets that have suffered debilitating injuries in the service of our country," Ranney said. "I went to Bill [Burnett] and told him we needed to do something to help these vets capitalize on the challenges, physical benefits and close-camaraderie of the sport of triathlon and to promote awareness and appreciation for all they do for us.”

The races were founded with the goal of aiding those who having served the United States faithfully and with honor and dignity. Veterans need our help when they return home. From physical injuries to the invisible ones regarding mental and emotional health, soldiers deserve all the support they can get.

The 2013 Hero Triathlon will benefit the Women Veterans’ Network (WVN) of Massachusetts and other veteran service organizations making a difference in the lives of veterans and their families. Burnett said he and Ranney are proud to help support WVN.

Others can do their part by participating in the race. Participants have a few options when it comes to entering. An entrant can compete as an individual or as part of a relay team with two or three members each taking a leg of the race. There are also registration options for military and paratriathletes, like Fowler.

Burnett said with the recent tragedies in Boston, he's striving for the triathlon series to mirror the community's strength in hard times.

"Given the events at the Boston Marathon and the victims impacted, we have witnessed some incredible acts of strength and courage," Burnett said. "It is our hope that the Hero Triathlon series will provide a platform for athletes at all levels to achieve their goals, support a good cause, and cheer on athletes are who show some incredible determination."

For more information on the races or to register, visit www.herotri.com.

Boston wheelchair champ McFadden repeats feat in London Marathon, carries Boston in her heart

Posted by She's Game Sports April 22, 2013 12:58 PM

Tatyana McFadden was all smiles next to Britain’s Prince Harry Sunday as he posed with her during the victory presentation at the London Marathon. McFadden had just won the women’s wheelchair class just six days after she won in the same division in the Boston Marathon.

The win in Boston came just hours before two bombs exploded by the very finish line McFadden crossed. But after what transpired in Boston, the 24-year old paralympian didn’t let fear overcome her bid for more marathon crowns.

"We can’t live our lives in fear," McFadden said. "There are always going to be a few bad people in the world, but the majority are good.

"What we saw in Boston after the marathon — with the community coming together, the incredible medical staff who responded so quickly, and people who were out on the course running to the hospital to give blood —that’s the good in people."

On Monday, Tatyana posted four photo collages on her Facebook, one for each victim of the bombings, with a personalized message on each.

McFadden admitted that she didn’t hear the explosions. She had been in the shower and only found out about it when she got out and saw her family and friends sitting in stunned silence as the replays of the explosions flashed on the television.

McFadden decided to dedicate her London race to the people of Boston.

“Of course, I’m going to have Boston in the back of my mind,” she said. “But, as I told my teammates, my parents and my family, this Sunday we’ll be racing for the people of Boston. I’ll carry them in my heart as I go through the course.”

Considering that there was relatively little rest in the six days between the Boston Marathon and London Marathon, repeating as champion was a remarkable feat. Even more remarkable was her time: 1:46.02, a course record.

Nothing seems nearly as remarkable as her biography. McFadden was born in St. Petersburg with spina bifida, a condition which left her paralyzed from the waist down. If doctors operate quickly after birth, the condition tends to be non-life threatening, but doctors waited 21 days to operate on McFadden, a delay that should have cost McFadden her life. After surgery, McFadden, who was abandoned by her birth parents, lived in an orphanage until she was six. She had to walk on her hands because there wasn’t enough money to supply her with a wheelchair.

McFadden's life changed when her adoptive mother Deborah, a commissioner to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saw her in the orphanage during an aid trip to Russia and decided to adopt her. A weak McFadden continued to fight for her life when she arrived in the United States grossly underweight and suffering from severe anemia. Doctors thought she would live only a few more months.

But she beat the odds again, and Deborah enrolled her daughter in all kinds of athletic activities to build up Tatyana's strength. She thrived in athletics, and as a 15-year-old, she became the youngest member of the USA track and field team at the Athens Paralympic Games. She shocked the world when she won two medals: one silver (in the 100m) and one bronze (in the 200m).

In April of 2011, the McFaddens returned to the orphanage where Tatyana spent the first six years of her life. The reunion with the staff at the orphanage was emotional for everyone.

"The orphanage had never had a child come back to visit, let alone one they thought would never live," Deborah told Washington Running Report’s David Powell in 2011. "The staff came out to meet her and there she was with muscles to die for.”

"I had no intention of adopting, let alone a 6-year-old paralyzed child, but Tatyana and I had a connection that was nothing short of magical and miraculous," Deborah recalls. "I went back to the hotel that night and couldn't get her off my mind."

Now the world will be thinking of Tatyana as well. In addition to winning the Boston and London marathons, the 23-year-old took home three gold medals at the 2012 London Paralympic Games. When not racing on the international stage, Tatyana works to achieve equality in sports for all athletes, disabled or not.

Heartbreak on Marathon Monday

Posted by She's Game Sports April 18, 2013 01:35 PM

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Alice Cook reporting from the finish line of the 2008 Boston Marathon with Kathryn Switzer and Bob Lobel. (Photo from Alice Cook)


On Marathon Monday, my daughter Mackenzie and I were on our way out west to look at colleges. I watched a few hours of television coverage in the morning before Mackenzie and I left for Logan airport. I thought to myself, “What a perfect day for a marathon, for both the runners and spectators. Life is good in Boston.”

We arrived at Terminal B with plenty of time to eat lunch at Legal Sea Foods. Watching the coverage again from the restaurant, I told my daughter what a special day this always is for Boston. It was 1:30 p.m. and the winners were in. I saw my former WBZ colleague and friend Steve Burton do a nice interview with American runners Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan. Goucher held her baby son in her arms during the interview, and I thought how impressive it was for someone to get back into elite running form so quickly after becoming a mom.

I watched the credits roll as Channel 4 wrapped up their live coverage with a beautiful musical montage of the day’s race footage. I saw many names scroll by of people I worked with for so many years. I remembered what it took in planning to put together eight hours of live coverage. It takes an army of writers, producers, editors, camera people and reporters to pull it off- both in the field, and back at the station.

The running joke through the years at BZ was that the only way you could get out of working the marathon was to run it.

So I did, in 1999. I finished in 4:20. With that exception, I covered the race every year between 1986 and 2009 either from the women’s lead truck or the finish line.

At 2:00 p.m. last Monday I asked the waiter at Legal Sea Foods for our check. I then texted a friend I knew was still on the course and said I was looking to seeing him on TV. My daughter and I walked to our gate and boarded flight #1779 to Philadelphia where we would connect to Denver.

At 2:30 I turned off my phone when the captain said it was time. Less than an hour later, as we taxied to our gate in Philadelphia I turned my phone back on. I saw a number of texts waiting, including this one from my sister Julie who lives in Boston.

Bombs exploded at the finish line. Many people hurt. Body limbs on the street.

What followed next was a feeling of nausea and panic. I called Julie who told me to get to the terminal and find a TV. I called my friend Mary O’Connor, who traditionally watched the race from outside the Lennox Hotel where her family owns restaurants.

“Everyone is ok," Mary said. “They are evacuating the hotel. We are worried about Mike. “Nobody has heard from him.”

Mike Haggerty and another Hingham friend, Kristi Holden, were fine.

At the airport, people were lined up ten deep in front of television monitors watching CNN. I could not believe what I was seeing.

Mackenzie looked at the aerial photos and asked, “Is that blood on the sidewalk?”

A few minutes later I saw an interview with another good friend, WBZ chief photographer Bryan Foley. He was right there when it happened, his camera rolling and his heart breaking.

Eventually my daughter and I boarded our flight to Denver. I spent three hours on in-flight Internet.

I called my husband when we landed. My oldest daughter, who is a student at Emerson College was not near the explosion. The school went into lockdown. A few students were in the area and were treated for minor injuries.

Meanwhile, Mackenzie and I drove an hour through a blizzard after arriving in Denver. We got to our hotel in Boulder at 1:00 a.m. Eastern time. The monitors on every television at the hotel restaurant were showing footage of what happened in Boston 11 hours earlier.

When I finally put my head to my pillow that night I allowed myself to cry. It wasn’t the kind of crying my daughter sleeping in the next bed could hear. I just needed to cry.

I woke up the next morning 3,000 miles from Boston. We spent the day touring schools and meeting people from all over the country. The first question always asked is, “Where are you from?”

When we replied, “Boston,” every single person said, “I am so sorry.”

As I write this I am flying back to Boston.

My heart breaks for the city I call home. Even though I wasn’t born there, everything about Boston is who I am today.

I watched my first Boston Marathon as a freshman at Boston College, and vowed someday I would run it. Through the years, I worked it. I sat on the lead truck and witnessed some of the best drama in sports. It is the without a doubt one of the greatest spectator events as well. From Hopkinton to Wellesley, to Newton, Brookline, Kenmore Square, right down Hereford to Boylston Street, it is all about the people.

Some fly to the finish line and some stagger. Either way, there is always someone there at the end to cheer them on.

The Boston Marathon represents triumph, agony and the celebration of human spirit.

And now Boston will do what is has done before. We will pray for and support the victims and their families, we will stand up to this horror, we will survive and we will always be strong.

Like the Boston Marathon itself, recovering from this attack is a test of will. In the end, it’s always the heart that wins out.

The Cookie Jar: Meeting the new Red Sox

Posted by She's Game Sports April 12, 2013 08:30 AM

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Alice Cook with Bob Lobel at Fenway Park for Opening Day. (Photo provided by Alice Cook)

There is nothing quite like Opening Day for the players, the fans, and yes, even the media. On Monday, I had the pleasure of covering the Red Sox opener this past week. It was my 25th time and was one of the best Opening Days yet.

This truly is a fresh start for the Red Sox after two seasons of disappointment. As our esteemed mayor Tom Menino so aptly put it according to a Dan Shaughnessy column, “The Red Sox are part of the DNA of Boston. We always come back. We love the team.”

This year’s team has many new faces, none sweeter or younger than Jackie Bradley Jr. The kid is a few days shy of his 23rd birthday and seems thrilled to be calling Fenway Park his new home.

Bradley, who is from Virginia told me that nobody has influenced his career more than his dad, who was there for the game. JBJ was not in the lineup for the home opener, but he said the highlight of his day was huge ovation he received when introduced. His dad must have felt very proud. If respect and good manners count, Bradley is already batting a thousand.

Another new face, although not quite as young, is pitcher Ryan Dempster, who is in his 16th season in baseball and begins the year as the Red Sox No. 3 starter. Dempster is ranked 18th in wins among active pitchers with 124.

He is also a winner off the field. In 2009, when he was with the Cubs, Dempster’s second child Riley was born with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. It is a genetic condition that can cause an array of health and developmental disorders.

In response, Dempster created the Dempster Family Foundation with a mission to help parents with children suffering from the condition. Experts estimate that as many as 1 in 2,000 babies are affected by 22q. The plan is for Riley to one day take over the foundation when she is an adult.

Dempster is also known for his sense of humor. He jokingly predicted before the season began that he would reach 30 wins this year.

On Monday, I asked him if was sticking to his bold prediction and Dempster said,“Yes, I just need to get that first one.”

He pitched well enough on Wednesday against the Orioles, before a major bullpen implosion. Dempster is still waiting on that first win.

In 2001, when Dempster was with the Marlins and visiting Boston, he dropped into the Comedy Connection at Fanueil Hall. He delivered eight minutes of jokes and surprisingly got a few laughs. Boston can be a tough crowd for a comedian or ballplayer. Dempster’s self-effacing attitude should serve him well here.

My favorite interview of the day was with my great pal and former colleague, Bob Lobel, a true sports legend in this town. For over 30 years at WBZ, Lobel threw his unique personality into his reporting and became a huge part of the Boston sports landscape. Lobel brought together the three biggest legends in the history of Boston sports when he united Ted Williams, Bobby Orr and Larry Bird one Sunday night on live television. He was unafraid to criticize ownership, unabashed in his opinions and remarkably funny every week with "Sports Spotlight".

As we sat in the stands along the first baseline hours before Monday’s opener, Lobel talked about his newest gig. He will be one of three public address announcers at Fenway Park this season. Every Saturday home game, Lobel will be behind the microphone announcing the lineups and pitching changes.

“Everything I have done throughout my entire career has led me to this job," Lobel said. "There is no other place I would be rather be, or anything else I would rather be doing than announcing at Fenway Park.”

Lobel joked a lot on TV through the years, but in that moment on Monday, I could tell he really meant it.

Hours later, I was on the third level outside the EMC Club when the mayor walked by with his impressive entourage, looking like a rock start in his own special way.

Tom Menino will be leaving office at the end of this year. He has been mayor for ten duck boat parades, and he is ready for the city to celebrate another.

"This is a Red Sox town. Boston fans love the team. We’re going to follow this team to a rolling rally in October.”

And Ryan Dempster is going to get 30 wins.

Hope springs eternal.

March Madness: Can our obsession with brackets translate to college hockey?

Posted by She's Game Sports April 10, 2013 09:37 AM

Now that March Madness has officially ended, I can say this with confidence. My bracket was busted. Like, really, really busted.

As the first round of 64 teams began, I got off to a great start. I misguidedly taunted a friend because my picks were at 83.9 percent and his were at 1.3 percent.

I ended with 22.1 percent, and he won our pool. Karma? I think so.

But then again, I don’t really know much about college basketball. It’s just not my sport. College hockey, sure, I could rattle off stats and storylines on the Frozen Four for days. (For what it’s worth, my NCAA hockey tourney bracket has already been seriously busted as well. Thanks, Yale for winning and Boston College for losing.)

So why did I bother filling out a bracket? I made my picks in two minutes without putting much thought into them. I easily could have looked up teams records against one another and made some less ill-advised decisions.

Instead, I made picks like Virginia Commonwealth University, who I chose to win it all simply based on the fact that they used to be a Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) team and I attend a CAA university, so it seemed like a nice little homage to our conference.

It got me thinking, why do we have such an obsession with brackets?

Surely, there’s a competitive aspect to it. I love to win, and as soon as I saw how well I was doing in our pool early on, I checked ESPN compulsively to see just how good things could get before Georgetown’s loss to Florida Gulf Coast University sent my bracket, along with almost everyone else’s, into oblivion.

But really, brackets are just another way we make sports social and connect with a sporting event on a personal level. I’m not saying watching all the games isn’t the main attraction, because it is. It’s awesome. But part of what makes it so awesome is how many people are deeply invested in it. My team didn’t make it to the tournament, but I had a whole bunch of teams to root for anyway because my bracket’s success depended upon them winning.

March Madness is what it is because the whole nation gets involved, which brings me to my next point: if only it could be the same for college hockey.

College hockey is growing, and while its tournament is formatted much differently than the NCAA basketball tournament (first round of 16 with four teams at four different regionals, with winners traveling to the Frozen Four to compete for the national title in one weekend), that doesn’t mean it can’t someday garner some significant attention.

Part of the reason I love March Madness is its inevitable storylines. This year we had a Cinderella in Florida Gulf Coast and a hero to rally behind in Kevin Ware.

You get that in college hockey too. No one expected Yale to be in Pittsburgh for the Frozen Four this weekend. All the Frozen Four teams have something to prove, and for Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State and Lowell, it’s their first time making it this far.

Of course, with college hockey, there are plenty of bracket challenges to enter so you can brag to your friends when the team you picked comes out of Pittsburgh with rings on its players’ fingers.

If you love the NCAA basketball tournament and everything that comes with it, give the Frozen Four a try this weekend. There’s no more college basketball to watch and let’s be honest, what’s really cooler than guys running around on ice?

And if you were wondering, my Frozen Four bracket isn’t completely busted yet. Lowell is my lone standing pick to make it to Pittsburgh, and luckily for me, I picked them to win it all.

Go River Hawks.

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