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Archive for Athlete Profiles

Apr
12

Amy Purdy – An Inspiration to Everyone

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For those familiar with Amy Purdy and her story, her success on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars should come as no surprise. Purdy hasn’t just been overcoming obstacles since the double amputation of both her legs at age 19 – she’s been plowing right through them as if they never existed in the first place.

If you’re unfamiliar with her, she’s certainly going to be someone you want to know. After contracting what she thought was the flu at age 19, she found herself growing rapidly sicker, and within a day she was rushed to the hospital after developing septic shock. She soon went into a coma that would last for three weeks. Doctors finally learned that she had the bacterial infection neisseria meningitidis attacking her circulatory system, eventually causing multiple organ failures and resulting in the removal of her spleen and amputation of both her legs below the knee. Doctors at said that at the time, she had less than a 2% chance of survival. She later told ABC News, “I remember thinking, this is so surreal. This is so crazy. I thought, ‘This is what it feels like to die.”

Amy Purdy

Of course, she didn’t die, and in fact she was back on a snowboard (her sport of choice before falling ill) only seven months after her amputation. A year after the amputation she had returned to the snowboarding circuit, competing thanks to the support of the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Inspired by the support of the CAF, Amy decided to start her own organization for disabled athletes in 2005 called Adaptive Action Sports.

You would think that running a non-profit, working as a massage therapist, and a CAF spokesperson would be enough to keep anyone busy, but not Amy. She continued to snowboard competitively while pursuing other passions including acting and modeling. She even appeared in a music video for Madonna after the singer heard her inspiring story. To top it all off, Amy just brought home a bronze medal from the 2014 Sochi Paralympics.

Amy Purdy Dancing with the Stars

Now Amy is tackling another project: dancing. Never one to back down from a challenge, she and her partner Derek Hough were rehearsing even while she was in Sochi, and the duo flew directly from Russia to L.A. the day before the first show. Anyone would have been exhausted, jet lagged, and wanting to simply crawl into bed, but not Amy – she dazzled on the dancefloor doing a cha-cha that brought judge Carrie Ann Inaba to tears and landed her an impressive score of 24/30.

 She also pulled off another stellar performance during week two, after surviving a double elimination at the beginning of the show. While she was slightly concerned during rehearsals for her swing, she said, “It’s a pretty funny thought to think that my legs could potentially fly off.” Well, it’s a miracle they didn’t with all of the high intensity kicks, splits, flips, and jumps in her and Hough’s dance. Perhaps ironically, the only slip up in the dance was a missed arm motion. The performance ended with Amy doing the splits as the audience gave her a standing ovation. The judges were impressed as well, giving her a score of 24 out of 30 and putting her in the top five for the night.

Yet, amazingly, in week three Amy did even better with her contemporary dance which she told the L.A. Times was about “giving gratitude to my family and my dad for their support through my toughest time.” Clearly her inner passion came through and she landed a 9/10 score from each judge, giving her 27/30 her personal best so far. Those who haven’t seen Amy’s performances yet this season can catch them through many video-on-demand services, ABC Go, the ABC Player App or on demand through your DirecTV receiver or DVR.

For Amy’s fans, her success on the show comes as no surprise, she’s been defying expectations for quite a few years now. But for those of us who hadn’t heard of her before, who didn’t know her story, it’s a truly awesome story of perseverance and dedication. Amy can teach all of us, athletes or not, that only you set your own limitations, no one else.

Image Source: Zimbio.com and HollywoodGossip.com

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You’ve heard the saying, “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey,” right? In AT&T’s My Journey video series they feature seven US Olympians who are competing right now in London and give you a little insight in to their Olympic journey since the 2008 Beijing Games along with some other fun goodies. With my love of all things gymnastics, I immediately was drawn to Jordyn Wieber’s journey.

From 2009 American Cup Champion at age 13 to injuries in 2010, 2011 was Jordyn Wieber’s year. Her amazing talent, consistency and grace under pressure helped her win everything she entered (American Cup, Visa National Championships, and the World Championships) and has put her square in the eyes of the media leading up to these games – being touted as the “It Girl” for USA Gymnastics. As reigning World Champion, everyone expected Jordyn to be the one to beat in the Olympic All Around, however, it seems as if Jordyn’s journey has taken a slight detour.

Due to a “Two Athletes per Country” rule, Jordyn, who placed 4th All Around in the preliminary qualifying round will NOT be in contention for an All Around medal. Her teammates Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas each finished fractions of a point ahead of Jordyn thus earning the two spots allotted to the US Team. It was heartbreaking to say the least. While my heart breaks for Jordyn, I am very happy for Aly and Gabby. All three have worked so hard, sacrificed so much and have been in this journey together for years.

That being said, I am a true believer in things happening for a reason. Yes, it is a hard, hard realization for Jordyn to take, but she still has two more chances to medal – one as an integral part of Team USA in the Team competition and one in the Floor Exercise event finals. And, this may fuel her to fight on and be a star for the US Gymnastics Team for four more years.

Whether all the media attention and expectations just became too much for Jordyn or she was just having an off day (although many would argue placing 4th in the Olympic preliminaries is NOT a case of having a bad day, rather a very good one), it is great to see that she is a well balanced young lady with a fantastic support system around her. She loves to shop, went to prom, goes to public school and has a great family. I am sure that if Jordyn is featured in a similar video four years from now, this Olympic disappointment will be an integral part of propelling her to even greater success!

So, go take a look at the bonus features you saw in Jordyn’s video a little closer at ATT My Journey, and get to know some of the other amazing athletes and their stories a little more, too!

Disclosure:  This was a sponsored post by AT&T’s My Journey series, and while I did receive compensation for my time in putting this post together, the opinions and commentary are completely my own.

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Muay Thai fighter Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu

One of the things I love most is learning about new sports and hearing about the series of events that have inspired athletes to go after their dreams.

Meet Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu, a Muay Thai fighter from the United States who is currently training and fighting in Thailand as a way of furthering her growth and experience in her sport.  Sylvie is also a freelance journalist who has been involved in the Muay Thai community and whose goal is to help spread knowledge of the sport – especially for women. 

I had the opportunity to ask Sylvie some questions about her Muay Thai, keeping the balance and getting more girls and women involved in the sport and here is what she had to say.

SGP:  How did you find Muay Thai? What got you interested to try it?

Sylvie: I first saw Muay Thai in a movie called Ong Bak, starring Tony Jaa. There’s a scene maybe 20 minutes into the film where a guy is rushing Jaa’s character and Jaa stays perfectly still, totally calm, until the last second when he does a quick inverted knee across the guy’s chest and drops him to the floor; then just stands there all calm again. I’d never seen anything like it. It was SO beautiful and the more I watched, the more I wanted my body to be able to do those things too. It still looks like beautiful dance to me.

SGP: Tell us a little about Muay Thai fighting and how it is different from other martial art forms.

Sylvie: Muay Thai is a true martial art in that it was developed on and for the battle fields. It’s considered by many to be a very brutal sport and every strike is designed to end the fight – battles aren’t about points. Each movement is to replace a weapon that might be lost, so a lost axe becomes an elbow; a broken spear is replaced by a kick, etc. It has undergone changes over the thousand+ years it’s been around and many strikes have been omitted from the ring sport for purposes of safety. But the spirit of the tradition remains very strong. There is a secondary art within the larger art of Muay Thai which is clinching, a stand-up grappling that uses knees and elbows while the fighters are wrestling for position. And every fight begins with the Wai Kru/Ram Muay, a pre-fight ritual dance that pays homage to one’s teacher and family.

SGP: What attracts you most to Muay Thai?

Sylvie: The beauty of it. When I look at Muay Thai it’s like how one would watch ballet. There is incredible grace to the movement of fighters and the fights are performances – you gain or lose support from the crowd based on your attitude and you can gain or lose points based on how affected you appear by your opponent. Being calm is highly regarded; the aggression is in quick explosions of movement and power which then transition back into a quiet waiting. Thai fighters stay in each other’s space and will often “take” an incredibly strong kick without looking affected by it at all – it’s not all about hitting without being hit, it’s about not being affected by your opponent’s power.

SGP: What age do you recommend girls start Muay Thai training if they are interested?

Sylvie: A lot of women I know started Muay Thai in their 20s or 30s. Folks worry about being “too old” for this sport because Thais start as children, as young as six years old. But I know people who are in their 50′s and still fighting! I’ve taught young girls and don’t think that any age is too young, really. It’s a matter of how young students are taught, not how young the students are. But I think Muay Thai training is great for pre-teens and teenagers because it is truly good for self-esteem; it makes you strong and feeling strong is amazing for confidence. That’s the same reason it’s great for women in their 30s and 40s, too!

SGP: What are your long term goals with Muay Thai?

Sylvie: I’ve just moved to Thailand for a year in order to train and fight full-time. Part of the reason for doing this was because it was difficult for me to find opponents in the United States at my size and the way fighting is conducted (production, promoters, events, etc) goes against my values as a fighter. (Often, not universally.) So one of my goals is to get as much fight experience as possible during this year and I want to have 50 fights – so working toward that number is a long term goal. I’d also like to fight on the Queen’s and King’s Birthdays, which are big celebration in Thailand.

Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu Muay ThaiSGP:  How often do you train? How often do you compete?

Sylvie: In the United States I was training 4-6 days per week. I lived in the middle of nowhere and had to commute at least an hour any time I saw one of my trainers, so it was difficult. In Thailand Muay Thai is a job, so I “go to work” twice per day, totaling 7-8 hours each day and 6 days per week. It’s great! And I fight at least every two weeks. If I have a short fight (if I win by knockout for example) and don’t have any injuries I can fight again just one week later. I’ve been in Thailand for 6 weeks and just had my fourth fight.

SGP: When you were growing up, what sports did you play (if any) and at what kind of level (recreational, competitive, etc)?

Sylvie: I grew up in at the foothills of the mountains in Colorado, so there was always a lot of hiking and tubing down the creeks. I played soccer since I was five years old – pretty much all kids did – up until high school. I was a half-back and LOVED soccer. I also dabbled in gymnastics when I was maybe six years old. I also loved gymnastics but didn’t stay in it.

SGP: In addition to your primary sport, what else do you enjoy doing? How do you keep the balance between sport and family life?

Sylvie: Muay Thai is part of my family life, so I’m very lucky in that regard. I don’t have children (yet) and don’t live near my parents or brothers, so my responsibilities are gloriously selfish at this point in my life. I’m also very lucky in that my family supports my ambitions in Muay Thai, wholeheartedly. My husband is with me in Thailand and is very much a part of my Muay Thai journey and experience.

I run as part of my conditioning for Muay Thai (twice per day, before training), but I don’t really think of it as part of my training. I enjoy it and I do some good thinking on runs.  I also enjoy writing, reading and interviewing women in Muay Thai.

SGP: Is there anything special you like as a pre-competition or recovery meal?

Sylvie: I try to eat healthfully so that my energy stays consistent, so pre-competition meals are focused around having energy for the fight – quality protein and a little bit of complex carbs. Afterwards though I love to treat myself to a Snickers bar or a lovely new find called Tim-Tam. It’s a cookie with a chocolate coating that is just amazing when consumed with hot tea.

You might also enjoy this interview with Sylvie which gives you a great glimpse into her training and what draws her to Muay Thai.

For more information on how to follow Sylvie’s Muay Thai journey, view her video blog, and learn more about Muay Thai visit her at her site 8LimbsUS.com. Thank you so much, Sylvie, for taking the time to share your story with us and best of luck on your upcoming matches!

All images copyright Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu of 8LimbsUS.com and used with permission by SportsGirlsPlay.com

Categories : Athlete Profiles
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