The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY SPORTS

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

Sporting events are always going to be a central part of the American experience. In the fall, Americans tune in to watch their favorite sports, be it the NFL, MLB, NHL, and even the NBA. Every two years, we come together as a nation to support Team USA in the Winter or Summer Olympics. We even sometimes come together to see the USA compete in World Cup play.


American sports bleed into American life — and vice-versa. From the yellow ribbon tied around the Superdome during Super Bowl XV to remember hostages taken in Iran to chants of “USA” when a crowd in Philadelphia learned about the death of Osama bin Laden, American sports fans and players wear their American hearts on their sleeves.

 1. Team USA carries the WTC flag to the Olympics

Rarely does a flag presentation at the Olympic Games happen to a quiet crowd. But as eight members of Team USA, flanked by members of the NYPD and New York Fire Department, marched the flag of the host country into the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, you could hear a pin drop.

The flag they carried was found in the rubble of ground zero and had flown atop the World Trade Center in New York when the buildings were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. It was under the debris for three days before being found and given to the National Guard.

2. Rulon Gardner defeats the undefeated

For a decade, Aleksandr Karelin was the world’s dominant super heavyweight wrestler. By the time the 2000 Olympics rolled around, Karelin (aka The Russian Bear, aka Aleksandr the Great) hadn’t been defeated in a match since Russia was still called the Soviet Union – even then, that was his only loss. Then, he faced off with a dairy farmer from Wyoming.

In six years, Karelin hadn’t even given up a single point to an opponent. His American opponent, Rulon Gardner, hadn’t placed higher than fifth in the world up until this point and even lost to Karelin, 5-0, before. But Karelin lost his grip — and a point — to Gardner in the second period.

3.  Mary Lou Retton wins a gymnastic first

A little girl from West Virginia dealt a stunning blow to the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Before Retton, Team USA was never able to wrest Olympic Gold from Eastern Europe in the Individual, All-Around Gymnastics event. She came into the event trailing Romania’s Ecaterina Szabo.

In Retton’s own words, she believes her performance showed that American-born and trained athletes can do anything – no matter what the odds are.

4. 1999 Women’s World Cup Final

The 1999 Women’s World Cup came down to a shootout tie-breaker against the Chinese. With the score tied 0-0 in extra time, the US team would end up winning based on penalties. It wasn’t so much the game play that mattered, it was the draw. With 90,000 spectators, it was the largest turnout for a women’s sporting event ever.

The lasting image of the US win would be Brandi Chastain’s post-penalty kick celebration of the victory, where she fell to her knees and took off her jersey, revealing the “sports bra seen ’round the world.” The image became one of Sport Illustrated most iconic covers ever.

5. Joe Louis knocks out a Nazi

In 1938, Hitler was still touting the Germans as a “master race,” as German athletes competed the world over for top honors. On June 22, Max Schmeling met American champion, the “Brown Bomber” Joe Louis. The first time the two met in 1936, Schmeling took advantage of Louis’ dropping his left hand after a jab and gave Louis his first loss in the 12th round of that fight. That would not happen again.

With the world listening via radio and more than 70,000 watching in Yankee Stadium, Louis unloaded on Schmeling, knocking him down three times in two minutes. Schmeling was only able to throw two punches in the whole one-round match.

6. The Champ lights the Olympic Torch

Lighting the Olympic Flame at the end of the torch relay is an honor reserved for a legendary Olympic athlete from the host country. Does it get more legendary than “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali? Except in 1996, the one who would light the flame itself was a close-kept secret. Even swimmer Janet Evans, who was handing the torch off, didn’t know to whom she was handing it.

Ali was stricken with Parkinson’s Disease and had long since retired by this point. When Ali emerged to take the Olympic Torch and light the flame, the sound in Atlanta was less a roar of applause and more of the collective gasp of elated surprise as the once-great boxer, shaking, lit the torch.

7. Rick Monday saves the flag

Remember MLB outfielder Rick Monday? He might be before most of our readers’ time, but Monday was with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 1981 World Series-winning team. Before that, he was the top prospect in the 1965 MLB draft. Somewhere in between, he saved Old Glory from public humiliation.

In 1976, Monday was with the Chicago Cubs, visiting the Dodgers. With Monday in center field during the fourth inning, two protestors jumped the outfield fence and tried to burn a flag on live TV. Monday, seeing what was about to transpire, ran over and snatched the lighter-fluid-soaked flag. The protestors were arrested and Monday was able to keep the flag.

Ever since that day, Monday used the actual flag to raise money for military families.

8. The President’s Post-9/11 opening pitch 

It’s hard to imagine the Leader of the Free World facing a new Global War on Terrorism being psyched out by throwing the first pitch in Yankee Stadium. But in his own words, he absolutely was. Thousands of New Yorkers came to the stadium to watch the President throw the pitch to open game 3 of the 2001 World Series. It was also just weeks after 9/11.

He didn’t want Americans to think the President was incapable of finding the plate. But as he practiced, Yankee Derek Jeter told him that he needed to both throw from the mound (not in front as originally planned) and not bounce it. “They’ll boo you,” he told the President.

Bush, shaken but loose, walked onto the field and threw a strike to an eruption of applause.

9. ‘The Buckeye Bullet’ burns Hitler

Before he ever arrived in Berlin for the 1936 Olympic Games, Jesse Owens had already set three world records and tied another. At Ohio State, he won eight individual NCAA championships, which was a record in its own right. When he arrived in Berlin, he knew Nazi Germany was using the games as a showcase for its racial policies, but competed anyway.

Owens went on to win four gold medals in 1936, an unrivaled achievement until some 50 years later when Carl Lewis did the same in 1984. When Owens won gold in the long jump, the Olympic Committee told Hitler he had to greet all the winners or none at all. Hitler opted for none. As Owens won other events, Hitler would leave early. Nazi minister Albert Speer would later write that Hitler “was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens.”

10. The Miracle On Ice

Would you bet money on a bunch of college amateurs taking on the world’s greatest hockey team in a competition for Olympic Gold? Not many would – and not many did, as it turns out. That was the situation Team USA faced in the 1980 Winter Olympics. It was a tough time for the United States, with hostages in Iran, an energy crisis, and runaway inflation, it looked like the American Dream was coming to an end.

But no words echoed through the ages like Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in miracles!” as Team USA topped the Soviet Union 4-3 in one of the biggest upsets in sports history.

MIGHTY SPORTS

5 sports stars who saw heavy combat in the US military

Plenty of professional athletes have served in the military, but an even smaller number of sports aficionados have seen real combat or performed heroic deeds while in uniform. These are five examples:


1. Medal of Honor recipient Jack Lummus told the field doctor “the New York Giants lost a mighty good end today” before he died. 

 

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

 

He had a promising career ahead of him in the NFL with the New York Giants, but Jack Lummus answered the call to serve his nation during World War II. What a great sport. Even before his rookie season with the Giants, Lummus tried to drop out of school at Baylor to join the Army Air Corps as a pilot, but he failed.

He later joined the Giants and played in nine games, including the championship game against the Chicago Bears. The Giants lost the game 37-9, and afterward, Lummus joined the Marine Corps Reserve and worked his way up to second lieutenant, according to The Washington Times.

The Times has more:

In the book, “Iwo Jima,” author Richard F. Newcomb detailed the heroics of the former NFL rookie end, who led a unit in battle against the enemy despite suffering injuries from grenade blasts. As he led his troops against enemy positions, “suddenly he was at the center of a powerful explosion, obscured by flying rock and dirt. As it cleared, his men saw him rising as if in a hole. A land mine had blown off both his legs that had carried him to football honors at Baylor.

Lummus was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism. Before he died, he told the field doctor, “Well, doc, the New York Giants lost a mighty good end today,” according to NBC Sports.

2. Tom Landry flew 30 combat missions in a B-17 bomber during World War II while playing sports.

Tom Landry is considered one of the greatest professional football coaches in NFL history, but before his innovative contributions to the world of football, he was a co-pilot of a B-17 Flying Fortress. After playing football in the 1942 season, he joined the Army Air Forces and was later assigned to the 8th Air Force.

Landry served in 30 combat missions in the skies over Europe and also survived a crash landing, according to NBC Sports.

3. Bob Feller was the first Major League baseball player to volunteer for active duty, just two days after the Pearl Harbor attack.

 

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

 

Cleveland Indians All-Star pitcher Bob Feller began the trend of professional players giving up their careers in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec.7, 1941. Just two days after the attack, Feller enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

“I was on my way to meet with the general manager of the Cleveland Indians to sign my 1942 contract the day of Pearl Harbor,” he told ESPN. “It was about noon; I had the radio on in the car and had just crossed the river into Quad Cities when I got the news. That was it.”

Feller served on the USS Alabama until 1945 when he was discharged as a Chief Petty Officer. He saw combat in the Pacific, most notably during what he told ESPN was the “Marianas Turkey Shoot.”

“We shot down over 470 Japanese airplanes in one day [June 19, 1944]. And that was the end of the Japanese Naval Air Force.” He is still remembered fondly in his sport.

4. Baseball legend Ted Williams gave up four years of his major league sports career while serving as a Marine pilot in World War II and Korea.

 

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

Ted Williams had already cemented his place in baseball lore with the “finest rookie year in baseball history” in 1939, but it wouldn’t be long before the legendary hitter did his duty in the military. After the 1942 season, Williams joined the Marine Corps and was commissioned a second lieutenant, but by the time his flight training was finished, much of the air combat was over as well.

He spent much of his time during World War II training for war, and then training others, but he would later be called back to serve in Korea. It was there while serving with the 1st Marine Air Wing that Williams would have a number of brushes with death.

“Once, he was on fire and had to belly land the plane back in,” his friend and fellow pilot John Glenn told MLB.com. “He slid it in on the belly. It came up the runway about 1,500 feet before he was able to jump out and run off the wingtip. Another time he was hit in the wingtip tank when I was flying with him. So he was a very active combat pilot, and he was an excellent pilot and I give him a lot of credit.”

Williams returned to baseball once again in 1953 — this time to a hero’s welcome. But he maintained an attitude of modesty.

“Everybody tries to make a hero out of me over the Korean thing. I was no hero,” Williams wrote in his biography. “There were maybe 75 pilots in our two squadrons and 99 percent of them did a better job than I did. But I liked flying. It was the second-best thing that ever happened to me. If I hadn’t had baseball to come back to, I might have gone on as a Marine pilot.”

5. Pat Tillman gave up a lucrative NFL career to become a U.S. Army Ranger.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

 

Having been selected in the 1998 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals, Pat Tillman was three years into a lucrative career in pro football when the 9/11 attacks occurred. He finished the 2001 season and then enlisted in the U.S. Army with his younger brother Kevin, according to Biography.

“At times like this you stop and think about just how good we have it, what kind of system we live in, and the freedoms we are allowed,” he told a reporter a day after the attacks, according to The Pat Tillman Foundation. “A lot of my family has gone and fought in wars and I really haven’t done a damn thing.”

Both Pat and his brother deployed to Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2004 as Rangers with the 75th Ranger Regiment. During an ambush in a canyon on the evening of April 22, 2004, Tillman was killed by friendly-fire after his unit mistook an Afghan soldier near him as an insurgent and opened fire, according to ESPN. While he wasn’t able to return to his beloved sport, the NFL will never forget him.

 

MIGHTY SPORTS

That time a baseball player saved Old Glory from the torch

If you were watching Super Bowl LIII, you were probably very interested in the commercials, because the game sure wasn’t of much interest. Maybe you saw an ad for Zaxby’s chicken featuring former NFL center Jeff Saturday and MLB legend Rick Monday.

Long story short, they were ripping on Chick-Fil-A for being closed on Sundays. That’s not important, but I’ll show you the ad anyway.


Rick Monday’s name may not ring a bell for younger NFL and MLB fans, but it’s a guarantee your elders know who he is. Besides being the top prospect for the 1965 MLB draft, playing for the Athletics, Cubs, and Dodgers for 19 seasons and winning a World Series with Los Angeles, Monday is best known for defending the American flag in the middle of a game.

The left-handed center fielder was playing for the Chicago Cubs at the time against the home team LA Dodgers on April 25, 1976. At the bottom of the 4th inning, two strangely dressed hippies made their way onto the baseball field and crouched down in the left center of the outfield.

It was supposed to be an act of protest filmed on live TV. The two men started trying to set an American flag on fire, right there in front of Dodger Stadium, the U.S., and the world. But after the batter in play hit a pop fly, Monday saw what the men were trying to do, ran over to them, and snatched the flag away to thunderous applause.

If you’re going to burn the flag, don’t do it around me. I’ve been to too many veterans’ hospitals and seen too many broken bodies of guys who tried to protect it,” Monday later said.

Monday had served in the Marine Corps Reserve as part of a service obligation for attending Arizona State University.

The two men were arrested and charged with trespassing. Monday took the lighter fluid-soaked flag over to the opposing dugout. When Rick Monday walked to home plate on his next at bat, he came out of the dugout to a standing ovation from the home team’s fans. The story doesn’t end there.

He received the flag as a gift after it was no longer evidence in a criminal case. It was presented to him at Wrigley Field on May 4th, from the LA Dodgers, and he has kept it throughout the years. These days, he and his wife take the flag on fundraising tours across America to raise money for veteran-related issues.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Which exercise style fits you best?

Nowadays, if you want to get fit, you don’t have to settle for rows of treadmills or an overpriced gym membership.

You can select a style of exercise that fits your personality and helps you accomplish your fitness goals without making you dread every minute.

But, getting started can be overwhelming! What IS all this stuff? What’s a WOD? An asana? Why do I need to pulse?

Check out this list, a collection of five popular styles of exercise: Yoga, Pilates, Pure Barre, CrossFit, and traditional exercise. Learn how they work, their benefits and what makes each one special.


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Focus on “you” with yoga

Sanskrit for “yoke” or “union,” yoga joins physical movement with breathing. Instructors typically begin classes with a centering and breathing exercise. Then you’ll move through a series of poses, or asanas, before cooling down and finishing with yoga’s signature “Namaste.”

Benefits of yoga

Yoga improves flexibility and increases strength. Even without burpees, you’ll raise your heart rate, which is great for your heart’s health. Military spouses will love the way yoga makes them feel happier, sleep better and stress less (deployment-blues cure, anyone?).

In fact, Army spouse and yoga instructor Hilary Mitchell says that the benefits of yoga are “endless.” If you explore how deeply the practice changes not only your body, but also your mind, you’ll experience the immense benefits, she says.

“Bring a positive and hopeful attitude to the classroom or home practice, trust your body and your instincts,” Hilary says. “Allow yourself the opportunity to just be yourself without restraint.”

Should I try yoga?

Yoga offers classes for all levels. Hatha or Vinyasa yoga are good for beginners, while Ashtanga and Bikram are more demanding.

Hilary recommends to read class descriptions and look for terms like “all levels” or “advanced” to help you choose a class.

Where can I find a yoga class?

Check out your installation’s gym or your local community’s gyms. Or, search online for free or low-cost videos.

“Always look for options nearby for yoga community events or classes too,” Hilary says.

Fire up your powerhouse with Pilates

Pilates also unites movement and breath, but its focus on the “powerhouse,” the body’s deep core, makes it unique. During a Pilates class, you’ll practice its six main principles: control, centering, concentration, precision, breath and flow.

Benefits of Pilates

Practicing Pilates can result in improved posture, increased strength and increased flexibility. It’ll help you shed pounds and boost your mental health, too.

Targeting your powerhouse can also benefit areas that can be embarrassing to talk about, but they’re crucial to your overall health.

Air Force spouse and certified Pilates instructor Samanta Saura-Perez says that working on deep core and pelvic floor muscles can help improve your sex life, recover after childbirth and even control incontinence.

“If we bring the desire to work and concentrate, the overall experience and benefits will be greater,” Samanta says. “By trusting your instructor, after few classes you will see a noticeable increase in mobility, strength and balance.

Should I try Pilates?

Pilates is especially good for people who are recovering from an injury and need a low-impact exercise, women recovering from childbirth and people experiencing back pain, Samanta says. She recommends that anyone with a health issue consult a doctor before trying a new form of exercise.

Where can I find a Pilates class?

Look for Pilates at your installation’s gym or at a local gym. Some communities will have dedicated Pilates studios, too.

Feel the burn with Pure Barre

Pure Barre is rooted in ballet, Pilates and yoga. The low-impact workout leads participants through a series of small, controlled, highly intense movements. You’ll “pulse” and “hold,” feeling Pure Barre’s signature burn, which means you’re activating important deep muscle fibers.

Benefits of Pure Barre

Pure Barre’s slogan, “lift, tone, burn!” accurately describes its effects, results and why people love it. Army spouse and Pure Barre instructor Claire Manganaro says that Pure Barre’s efficient and controlled movements are “creating and defining all major muscle groups.”

“The exercises performed in class safely strengthen core muscles used for increased strength and mobility,” she says.

But Claire says that the Pure Barre community is its “strongest asset.”

Claire has seen students step out of their comfort zones and find their place in the Pure Barre community, accomplishing major weight loss goals or coping with the death of a child.

She believes Pure Barre has the power to transform the “whole self.”

Should I try Pure Barre?

Pure Barre is designed to allow modifications for anyone. Claire says that, because it’s low-impact, it’s especially good for people who are recovering from an injury or pregnant.

Where can I find Pure Barre?

Find a class in over 500 Pure Barre studios nationwide. If you’re OCONUS, search “Pure Barre On Demand” in the App Store!

Unleash your inner bad-ass with CrossFit

CrossFit workouts are varied and intense, and people love them! Classes begin with a group warm-up and skills-building session, in which participants fine-tune particular abilities. The WOD (workout of the day) changes everyday, and includes rowing, squats, kettle bell swings and more.

Benefits of CrossFit

Metabolic conditioning and functional movements burn calories, build muscle and reduce the risk of injury. Plus, they improve balance and agility.

Air Force spouse and certified CrossFit trainer Anna C. Olson says that, while she sees people get stronger and shed pounds, she also sees how CrossFit helps people grow more confident. People are surprised by their accomplishments, which makes them feel “unstoppable,” she says.

Anna also says the community is unique and powerful. “When you are most vulnerable and are tired during the workout, doubting if you can finish, there is someone next to you cheering you on, telling you that they know you can do it,” she says.

Should I try CrossFit?

CrossFit is adaptable to your fitness level and abilities. It uses a lot of special terms and equipment, but Anna says that being patient and setting one or two goals at a time will help you adjust.

“You don’t have to be the fastest or fittest,” she says. “You just have to try.”

“And remember that quitting won’t speed it up!” she adds.

Where can I find CrossFit?

Check for CrossFit at your installation, or search CrossFit.com for a local workout. This can be helpful if you’re on the road (hello, PCS season!) and desperate for a workout.

Keep it real with traditional exercise

If specialized parameters aren’t your jam, traditional exercise might be what you need. “The gym” can be a fitness center or your backyard, allowing you to get creative with an effective aerobic and strength-training workout.

Navy spouse and certified personal trainer Cheryl Roth says that pushups, squats, deadlifts, rows, pullups, overhead presses and lunges will keep you healthy and get results.

Benefits of traditional exercise

Exercising regularly will build muscle, create lasting energy and improve brain function. And don’t forget it’ll also burn calories and help you fit into those skinny jeans.

But well-planned exercise can help you accomplish basic daily activities, Cheryl says, so think about your goals. If you’re a parent who struggles to get down to and up from the floor, include squats and lunges in your routine.

If your shoulders are rounded from sitting at a computer or bending over, Cheryl says this could be a sign of a “tight chest and weak upper back.” She recommends opening your chest with a standing doorway stretch and strengthening your back with a seated row.

Should I try traditional exercise?

Traditional exercise gives you total control to design your own routine. With this in mind, Cheryl says to “come armed with a plan.”

“Know which exercises you want to incorporate that day, the weights you will use, and how many sets and reps you will do,” she says. This will help you stay focused and avoid wasting time.

Where should I go to exercise?

If you need help using the gym’s equipment, ask a trained staff member. If you need guidance at home, search YouTube for an exercise routine. Or, work with a trainer like Cheryl, who owns Me Time Health and Fitness, and works with clients online.

And there you have it! Which exercise style fits you best? Which one are you ready to try?

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Here’s what the President is supposed to do during the Army-Navy Game

While the annual Army-Navy Game might be one of the U.S. military’s oldest ongoing traditions, it’s an event that has not always included the Commander-In-Chief. Only ten U.S. Presidents have attended the game at one time or another, but if the nation’s chief executive decides to come, there are traditions for that office to follow when Army plays Navy.


President Trump has attended the game for nearly every year he’s been in office, including attending as President-Elect. While there is no precedent that says he has to attend the game, the very fact that he goes every year could set a new precedent, all the same, creating a tradition for future Commanders-In-Chief to follow throughout their administrations. Woodrow Wilson did something similar when he attended the game, creating a tradition that carries on to this day when the POTUS is in the house.

Although Wilson wasn’t the first American President to attend (that was, of course, the most athletic and all-around competitive President, Theodore Roosevelt), Wilson started the tradition of switching sides during the middle of the game, walking across the field at halftime in order to show no favoritism toward Army or Navy as the game continued. Presidents in attendance from Calvin Coolidge through President Trump have walked across the field ever since.

For many years following the Coolidge Administration, the President did not attend the game. Watching a raucous football game in the middle of the Great Depression and the Second World War might have sent a bad message. But once the economy turned around and the Axis was defeated, President Harry Truman returned to the game for much of his administration. But it wasn’t until President John F. Kennedy helped throw out the pregame coin toss that another Presidential tradition was born. His immediate successors did not attend, but Navy veteran Gerald Ford sure did. The next President to attend would be Bill Clinton, however. And ever since, Presidents have attended at least one Army-Navy Game during their administration.

One presidential event that didn’t catch on was when George W. Bush gave the Naval Academy Midshipmen a pregame speech and a pep talk to the Army Black Knights before the Army-Navy Game as American troops were fighting to avenge the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – a special consideration for a wartime President.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Six veterans who became famous sports icons

The military promotes values that are not just essential on the battlefield or during training, but applicable to other areas of life. Teamwork, sacrifice, and competitiveness are essential tenets of the military that are also essential in any sport. Given this association, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many successful athletes served in the military prior to excelling in their respective sports. Here are six sports legends who exemplified greatness both in their service and athletic careers. 

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history
The San Diego Chargers’ head coach Marty Schottenheimer gives an autograph to Lt. Ryan Phillips aboard USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during the Chargers’ visit to the ship.

Marty Schottenheimer

Marty Schottenheimer was an NFL coach for 21 years, and despite never winning a Super Bowl, he is one of only eight coaches to reach 200 regular-season victories. Like all great coaches, Schottenheimer’s excellence isn’t limited to his numbers. He created “Martyball,” a gritty, simple style which he explained in an interview for ESPN: “Run the ball, don’t throw interceptions, don’t fumble the ball, and then, at the end of the day, if you are able to do those things, you are going to win a bunch of games.” 

Schottenheimer was nicknamed “The Great Resurrector“ for his ability to turn losing teams upside down. He best showcased that skill in the 2004 season, when he led the San Diego Chargers to a 12-4 record after a 4-12 mark on the previous one. He was named Coach of the Year that season. 

Schottenheimer was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014 and recently passed away on February 8, 2021.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history
Gregg Popovich as an Air Force cadet.

Gregg Popovich

Popovich is widely regarded as one of the top five coaches in basketball history. Currently the head coach for the San Antonio Spurs and the U.S.A. Basketball men’s team, Popovich served in the Air Force for five years prior to starting his basketball career. His personality and coaching style is very much shaped by military values such as honesty, accountability, teamwork, and camaraderie. This piece, Michelin restaurants and fabulous wines: Inside the secret team dinners that have built the Spurs’ dynasty, illustrates with great detail how Popovich constantly applies a meticulous, larger-than-basketball, and collectively-oriented approach not just to coaching his team, but also in his personal life.

Popovich’s experience in the military helped him not only survive but thrive in one of the most competitive professional environments in the world: having won five NBA titles as a head coach of the Spurs, he is the only coach in NBA history, along with Phil Jackson and John Kundla, to win five or more NBA championships with the same team. He also is, by far, the longest-tenured NBA head coach having signed with the San Antonio Spurs in December of 1996. The next coach on the list? Erik Spoelstra, who has been Miami Heat’s head coach since April 2008. 

But these numbers alone don’t reflect the brilliance of Popovich’s career. In a league known for frequent changes of coaches, Popovich has not only managed to win consistently at the highest level, but has also created one of the most powerful and iconic basketball cultures worldwide, with teams always known for their passing, defense, and individual sacrifice for the benefit of the whole. 

“I know who I am and it started in the military where they broke me down to zero and put me in a box… And didn’t care if I was this, that or the other in high school. I was nothing. And they built me back up so that I knew what I could do and what I couldn’t do. I knew my strengths. I knew my place. I knew it wasn’t all about me. I knew it was about teamwork. And that’s how I live. That’s the deal,” Popovich said in a 2012 address to a crowd of All-Army, All-Air Force, All-Navy, and All-Marine Corps players.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history
Former San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson speaks with a U.S. Army All-American West Team family member at the Blossom Athletic Center in San Antonio, Dec. 31, 2012. (U.S. Army Photo)

David Robinson

Widely regarded as one of the best power forwards in basketball history, San Antonio Spurs and NBA legend David Robinson is also known as “The Admiral” because of his service in the Navy from 1983 to 1987, after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. 

Robinson’s impact in the NBA is remarkable. He won two NBA championships with the San Antonio Spurs, a team that epitomized collective play under head coach Gregg Popovich. Robinson is one of only five players in NBA history to record a quadruple-double, which consists of recording 10 or more in four of the following categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, or blocks. Robinson recorded 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 blocks on February 17, 1994. The Admiral features a unique basketball resume which includes Rookie of the Year, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, two NBA championships, and three Olympic medals (two golds and a bronze). In 2017, the NBA included Robinson in an official list of the best 50 players in the league’s history.

During his service as a midshipman, Robinson worked as a civil engineer and helped the Navy’s recruiting efforts. 

“I know the price that people pay to serve our country, and so it’s just a blessing to be able to come in and encourage the families here that are paying that price for us,” he said in one of his frequent visits to military families. 

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history
Gerald Ford, during practice as a center on the University of Michigan’s Wolverines football team in 1933. (Courtesy of the Gerald R. Ford Library via Pentagon)

Gerald Ford

The 38th President of the United States and a World War II Navy veteran Gerald Ford was also a collegiate football phenomenon, a multidisciplinary athlete who would eventually coach football, swimming, and boxing during his time in the military, and a barrier-breaker. As this feature by the Department of Defense points out, in 1975, Ford “signed Public Law 94-106 admitting women to the all-male military colleges — West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy.”

While Ford is evidently more well-known because of his time as a president than because of his sports career, his athletic achievements are worth highlighting. He won collegiate football titles with the University of Michigan Wolverines in 1932 and 1933 and received offers from the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers from the NFL. Yet, he rejected them and instead decided to coach boxing at Yale University. Ford would say that his experiences as a football player helped him get ready for the “rough-and-tumble world of politics.”

Shortly after the start of WWII, Ford “enlisted in the U.S. Navy as an ensign and was assigned as a physical training officer of recruits in North Carolina. After repeated requests to be sent to a combat unit, Ford was sent to the Pacific aboard the U.S.S. Monterey, a light aircraft carrier. He would earn 10 battle stars by war’s end, for participation in engagements at Okinawa, Wake, Taiwan, the Philippines and the Gilbert Islands, among others.”

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history
Brooklyn Dodgers baseball player Jackie Robinson in 1950. (National Archives)

Jackie Robinson

Robinson was not only a historical figure in baseball and the civil rights movement, but also a four-sport star (basketball, football, track, and baseball) in high school and college, and a World War II veteran. Prior to debuting in the MLB with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first-ever black player in the MLB in 1947, “Robinson was drafted and assigned to a segregated Army cavalry unit in Fort Riley, Kansas. In January 1943, Robinson was commissioned a second lieutenant.

Robinson never wavered in his determined stance against segregation. He experienced backlash around the country as an MLB player because of his race, but he was also a victim of racial abuse during his time as an enlisted soldier, as this feature by the U.S. Department of Defense recounts: 

“On July 6, 1944, Robinson boarded an Army bus. The driver ordered Robinson to move to the back of the bus, but Robinson refused. The driver called the military police, who took Robinson into custody. He was subsequently court-martialed, but he was acquitted. After his acquittal, he was transferred to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, where he served as a coach for Army athletics until receiving an honorable discharge in November 1944.”

Robinson would go on to become one of the best baseball players ever and the only one to have a number (42) retired league-wide. 

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history
William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey mock punches magician Harry Houdini, who is held back by boxer Benny Leonard in a photo that dates back to the early 1920s.

William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey

Considered one of the best boxers of all time, World Champion and Hall of Famer Jack Dempsey was the epitome of a self-made man. In his autobiography, he mentioned that, despite growing up poor, he made some money with the bets placed on him to win fights in bars and saloons.

Dempsey jumped to stardom in 1919, when he defeated 6’7″, 245-pound World Heavyweight Champion Jess Willard. Dempsey was 6’1″ and 187 pounds. The videos from that iconic fight illustrate the remarkable size difference between them. 

“I had trained for Willard at the Overland Club on Maumee Bay, an inlet of Lake Erie. Nearly every day Kearns and Trainer Jimmy Deforest reported that I was shaping up much better than Willard. But when I saw big Jess across the ring, without an ounce of fat on his huge frame, I wondered if Kearns and Deforest had been bringing me pleasant but false reports to bolster my courage. I won’t say I was scared as I gazed at Willard, but I’ll admit I began to wonder if I packed enough dynamite to blast the man-mountain down,” Dempsey recounts in his book Championship Fighting.

Dempsey would go on to remain the world heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926. Throughout his life, he displayed courage and the ability to sacrifice. During World War I, he worked in a Philadelphia shipyard and joined New York State National Guard when World War II started. He would then transition to a commission “as a lieutenant in the Coast Guard Reserve, where he was assigned as Director of Physical Education,” and made frequent appearances at “fights, camps, hospital, and War Bond drives… In 1945 he was on the attack transport USS Arthur Middleton for the invasion of Okinawa. In July of 1945, he was assigned to the Commander, 11th Naval District for assignment to Military Morale Duty. He was released from active duty in September 1945. He was given an honorable discharge from the Coast Guard Reserve in 1952.”

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

US Army men’s rugby takes gold at Armed Forces Championship

The men’s All-Army Rugby Sevens team won their seventh straight U.S. Armed Forces Championship at RugbyTown Sevens in Glendale, Colorado, on Aug. 24, 2019, beating the Air Force 33-5.

“To win seven times in a row means everything,” said Mark Drown, the All-Army Rugby Sevens head coach. “Everything we do is about representing the Army and winning that Armed Forces championship.”

The soldier-athletes beat the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force and the Coast Guard, advancing them to the championship game where they won gold over the Air Force.


The Army outscored their opponents 198-22 in five games, similar to last year, 159-2. They also went on to earn the Plate Championship of RugbyTown Sevens over 20 national and international teams for the second year in a row.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

Sgt. Dacoda Worth reaching for the ball during a line out while playing the Air Force at the U.S. Armed Forces Rugby Sevens tournament.

(Photo by Brittany Nelson)

After sweeping the competition, the soldier-athletes mentally prepared for the finals.

“These are good teams and these services are representing all their men and women, and you can take nothing for granted ever,” said Drown. “We wanted to spread the Air Force, expose their defensive gaps and then exploit them, and that’s exactly what our guys did.”

The team was composed of Soldiers from all over the country including soldier-athletes in the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program.

The championship team receives support from the entire Army because all soldier-athletes must have permission from their command to compete.

“The fact that we have been able to get the people out and away from their commands for seven straight years and have good enough players to win a championship has been amazing,” said Cpt. William Holder, the team’s captain since 2017. “The support we’ve received from the commands is great.”

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

Sgt. Dacoda Worth during the Army vs Coast Guard game at the U.S. Armed Forces Rugby Sevens tournament.

(Photo by Brittany Nelson)

A week prior to the tournament, the soldier-athletes meet to train at Camp Williams in Utah.

“We are able to train two-a-days with no distractions of Glendale or any other teams,” said Sgt. Dacoda Worth, an intelligence analyst at Fort Belvoir. “We get to focus on us and rugby.”

Drown, a retired colonel, uses the camp to work toward his two goals: creating a brotherhood-like culture and winning the Armed Forces Championship.

“The first step is for us to become brothers, coach really emphasizes that,” said Worth, a soldier-athlete of the team for three years. “If we can’t become brothers we aren’t going to mesh on the field. We are from all over so we don’t get to practice every day together. Building the team relationship is important.”

Once in Glendale, the team made their annual visit to Children’s Hospital Colorado to spend time with the children.

“It is an amazing experience to see the kids,” said Worth. “For us to go in and share time with them and uplift their spirits is a great time for us.”

Holder said that all of the soldier-athletes directly support Army readiness because of what they bring back to their units after the tournament.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

The men’s All-Army Rugby Sevens team won first place at the 2019 U.S. Armed Forces tournament for the seventh time in a row.

(Photo by Brittany Nelson)

“We expect and demand so much from these soldiers,” said Holder. “We hold them to a very high standard. They are able to go back to their units and share what they have learned in the process.”

Holder mentioned that the team meets the Army’s new Chief of Staff’s priorities.

“He has three priorities: winning, which we have showed the past seven years; people, we are constantly looking for the best people; and team, we strive to have the best one,” said Holder.

Holder said the team truly believes in the priorities and appreciates that the team is able to emulate them.

“We have won the Armed Forces championship but we do not want it to stop there,” said Holder, a member of the team since its establishment in 2013. “We have shown that we can compete with the best teams in the world.”

The All-Army Sports program is a part of the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, G9, department of the Installation Management Command. The program is open to soldiers from active duty, Reserve and National Guard to compete in a variety of sports at the highest levels including Armed Forces, USA Nationals and Military World Games.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

How one of the NFL’s greats honors fellow Cardinal Pat Tillman

It was a big weekend for the Arizona Cardinals. The team has been struggling this season and they were looking to roll into Green Bay and hand the vaunted Packers their first loss at home. It was a special game for a number of reasons, but for Larry Fitzgerald, it allowed him to participate in the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign.

The star wideout is one of the greatest players in the NFL today, and his cleats bore the name and likeness of one of the NFL’s legends – Pat Tillman.


NFL uniform wear is incredibly strict, and the league is known to hand down steep fines to players who step onto the field out of regs. But during the “My Cause, My Cleats” weekend, 800 select players get to sport customized cleats that raise awareness and funds for their personal causes, from fighting colon cancer to ending sex trafficking. Larry Fitzgerald wanted to honor the men and women who serve in the U.S. military.

As an Arizona Cardinal, that meant honoring the legacy of Pat Tillman.

Fitzgerald’s cleats were custom-made by Miami, Florida-based Marcus Rivero of Soles by Sir. He incorporated an image of Pat Tillman himself, as well as the name of former Arizona Senator, John McCain, who died earlier in 2018. The designer also added the name of Fitzgerald’s grandfather, who served in the Korean War.

Beyond simply making and wearing the custom cleats, the Cardinals wide receiver gave a special experience to two U.S. Army veterans and Pat Tillman scholars, Joseph Wheaton and Jameson Lopez. Wheaton is a native of northern Maine who joined the military after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Lopez is member of the Quechan Tribe from Arizona’s Colorado River Valley.

The Cardinals wide receiver gave the two scholars a tour of the Cardinals facility, a chance to meet the trainers and staff, and presented them each with a Pat Tillman Cardinals jersey.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

Fitzgerald’s custom “My Cause, My Cleats” wear, honoring Pat Tillman, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and his own grandfather, a Korean War veteran.

The mission of the Tillman Foundation is to empower military veterans and military spouses to become the next generation of great American leaders. More than 580 Tillman Scholars around the country are tackling the widespread issues surrounding national security, healthcare, technology, civil rights, and education.

“I’ve always just had so much respect for everything the organization and foundation has done,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald and the Cardinals improved to 3-9 with a win over Green Bay at home as Fitzgerald caught three passes for 48 yards wearing his custom Pat Tillman-inspired cleats.

MIGHTY SPORTS

Workout group gets veteran amputees moving again

In the gym at VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System, Joe Curran encourages R.J. Garcia with the intensity of a football coach. “C’mon, you’ve got this!” Curran barks as Garcia struggles to finish his last rep on the leg press machine. Garcia pushes through gritted teeth as he lowers the weight, balancing it between his good leg and his prosthetic. “There you go!” says Curran.

The two Army veterans are members of the Ass Kickers, an amputee exercise and support group that meets every Friday.

“They took on the name because they are known for making a lot of noise,” says Jessica Blackwell, a VA kinesiotherapist who founded the group in 2017 as a way for amputee veterans to stay active and meet others in the same situation. “They’re a great group of guys, but we mean business. They’ve come to work hard, and that’s how they got the name.”


Kinesiotherapy is therapeutic exercise to help rehabilitate people with functional limitations, including amputations.

“Joe is our ringleader,” Blackwell says. “He’s our loudest one, but he takes care of the other guys, making sure that they have the resources they need. He’s actually helping himself in the process.”

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

Veteran R.J. Garcia and kinesiotherapist Jessica Blackwell at the gym.

Pushing veterans “out of respect”

Curran relishes his role. “What I do is put a little fire under their butts. These guys in wheelchairs, they won’t get out unless I start pushing them. And I only do it to motivate them, out of respect.”

The motivation works, says Blackwell. “I’ve really seen a great turnaround with my guys since we started this group. Their health, their psyche, their mood—I’ve seen a lot of improvements.”

One reason Curran is so successful is that he literally walks the walk. After he lost both legs to complications he attributes to Agent Orange exposure, VA specialists helped him get going again. “First they taught me how to walk on one foot with a walker, how to hobble along. Now I can just walk with a cane. I try to stay out of the chair as much as possible.”

Curran’s grit is contagious. The group has expanded from two veterans at the start to more than 25. Besides their Friday gym session, they often meet for bowling, golf and other events.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

Joe Curran lights a fire under his fellow Veterans.

A sense of community

“Before this was created, our guys didn’t really have a reason to put their leg on and go outside,” says Blackwell. “They told me that they would stay at home and sit in their wheelchairs. This has really given them motivation and a sense of community.”

“I’ve got a theory,” Curran adds. “The average American veteran in a wheelchair is 200 pounds overweight. They’re homebound and often depressed. They’ll live longer if I can get them out of that chair. So that’s my plan: get the veteran off his butt and move!”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

7 ways to know you’re actually pushing yourself in the gym

You’re showing up and working out, but how do you know if you’re actually pushing yourself hard enough at the gym? If you’re putting the time in, but not seeing or feeling the results of all the hours spent grinding it out on the treadmill or in the weight room, you might be wondering if your effort is enough.

While techie gadgets like fitness trackers and exercise apps can help you stay focused, you sometimes need other ways to gauge your progress. INSIDER asked three fitness experts to share some ways you can tell if you’re pushing yourself hard enough when sweating it out at the gym.


1. You’re breathless during cardio

We all know that cardio workouts should make us sweat, but a better measure of an efficient aerobic workout is your breathing.”

A great way to tell if you’re pushing yourself enough in a cardio workout is if you’re getting breathless during the high-intensity moments,” said Aaptiv master trainer John Thornhill.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

(Photo by Meghan Holmes)

For instance, Thornhill told INSIDER that at the end of a high-intensity cardio push, if you were having a conversation with another person and you could only say a few words in a breath, you’re pushing yourself appropriately.

However, if you’re new to fitness, he said it’s best not to get breathless too often. Instead, Thornhill recommended working your way up to sustaining mid to high levels of intensity for longer periods of time.

2. You measure the intensity by using the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

One way to gauge intensity while working out, said iFit Trainer Mecayla Froerer, is by Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Using a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the absolute hardest you can work, Froerer told INSIDER that you can take inventory of where you’re at and how you are feeling.

If your workout is supposed to be a HIIT style workout, you’ll want to work in the 8-10 RPE range (anaerobic). Additionally, if your workout is scheduled to be a recovery workout, you’ll want to be in the 1-4 RPE range. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly.

3. You’re seeing and feeling progress

If you’re feeling better, lifting heavier weights, moving faster, or recovering quicker, there’s a good chance you’re pushing yourself in the gym. But if you’re still feeling the same after putting in the time, Thornhill said you can up the intensity by increasing your resistance or weight incrementally, reduce your rest periods between HIIT (high-intensity-interval-training) sets, and increase the number of times you work out during the week.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

(Photo by Scott Webb)

4. You’re experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness can happen after an intense workout. In other words, Thornhill said you know you’ve pushed the limits if your quads and calves are sore after a run, or your biceps are sore after a rigorous set of bicep curls.

“Tiny microscopic tears will develop in those muscles (don’t freak out, it’s totally normal) and your muscles will repair themselves and get stronger as you rest and recover,” he explained.

5. You feel some level of discomfort while working out

Strong effort and some discomfort go hand and hand, explained Tony Carvajal, certified CrossFit trainer with RSP Nutrition. He told INSIDER that you generally want to feel some level of discomfort (even minor) and pushing hard through a workout will cause that exact feeling.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

(Photo by Danielle Cerullo)

“Pushing hard will create more ATP, your body will need extra oxygen, and so breathing increases and your heart starts pumping more blood to your muscles,” he explained.

As the heart rate spikes and the body requires more oxygen, Carvajal said lactic acid starts to flow through the muscles, mainly in the legs and arms. “That’s what is usually described as the ‘burn’ and is exactly what you should be reaching for,” he added.

6. You’re thinking about the reward

If you exercise on autopilot, there’s a good chance you’re not thinking about your “why,” which often leads to a lack of effort and disappointing results in the gym. That’s why Carvajal said to remind yourself before, during, and after the workout “why” you’re doing this — what is your reward?

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

(Photo by Victor Freitas)

“You may find it beneficial to have a mental or even physical picture of your reasons for working out hard, and focusing on this will help you to push through even when it’s tough,” he explained.

7. You’re excited to exercise

It’s normal to have days when you want to skip the gym. But if you’re coming up with excuses and finding reasons to ditch your workouts, you might actually be bored.

Hitting a plateau in your exercise routine can lead to a decrease in your fitness level and a lack of motivation to push yourself when you are working out. Consider hiring a trainer or taking a fitness class. Having an expert guide you through your workouts can help to ensure that you’re actually pushing yourself hard enough.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY SPORTS

NFL helmet makers will upgrade US troops with the same tech

Bullets and shrapnel are no longer the biggest threat to U.S. troops. In fact, it’s not even on the battlefields where most of the damage is done to our troops. Eighty percent of traumatic brain injuries in the military are caused by blunt impact sustained during training and in other non-deployed settings. The National Institute of Health estimates chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury caused by repeated blows to the head, is the result of these constant impacts.

If “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the condition many retired NFL players struggle with in later years: CTE. Now that roads between the U.S. Military and the National Football League intersect, the NFL’s helmet producer is stepping up to tackle the problem.


Every year, more and more deceased NFL players are found to have struggled with CTE. Meanwhile, four out of five U.S. military personnel who experienced post-traumatic stress are also found to suffer from CTE. That might be what prompted the medical staff at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to reach out to NFL helmet maker, VICIS, to see how they could team up.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

(NFL)

“The main thing is the current combat helmets are … not optimized for blunt impact protection and that’s what football helmets are designed to do, protect against blunt impact,” VICIS CEO and co-founder Dave Marver told the Associated Press. “And so what we’re doing, rather than working to replace the shell of the combat helmet, which is good at ballistic protection, we’re actually replacing the inner padding, which is currently just foam.”

The U.S. Army and VICIS are using experimental technology, the same used by the Seattle Seahawks, to put what they learned working with the NFL to use for American troops.

“Most startup companies you have to stay focused and get your initial product out,” says Marver, “but we felt so strongly about the need to better protect warfighters.”

VICIS and the Army announced this initiative in the Spring of 2018 and estimate the new helmet should be tested and in the hands (and on the heads) of American troops within two years. VICIS’ Zero1 football helmet ranks consistently high in player protection and laboratory test. That’s the kind of technology the company will send to the U.S. Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center in its experimental models.

The focus on helmet safety in the NFL is the result of a rise of reported cases of CTE in deceased and retired NFL players. In response, the National Football League increased its investment in concussion research, tightened the rules surrounding concussed players on the field, and, along with the NFL Players Association, reviewed all the helmets used by NFL teams to reject designs that don’t actually protect the wearer.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

It starts with its padding system.

(VICIS)

According to VICIS, the current helmets are designed to defend against ballistic weapons, but most of the military’s head trauma is a result of blunt force impact during training. VICIS military helmets are able to cut the force inflicted on the wearer by half when compared to some of the helmets currently in use.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

(VICIS)

The current cost of a VICIS football helmet is id=”listicle-2611426115″,500.00 while the U.S. military’s current helmet carries a smaller price tag of 2.00. Still, it’s a small price to pay when compared to the cost of the VA caring for TBI-injured veterans over the course of a lifetime — an estimated .2 billion over ten years.

MIGHTY SPORTS

David Robinson’s meteoric rise from the Naval Academy to the NBA

If you had told David Robinson when he entered the Naval Academy that he would become one of the all-time greats in professional basketball, he probably would have rolled his eyes at you and laughed. But, by the time Robinson’s NBA career was over, that’s exactly what happened. With his dominant 7’1 stature and unprecedented agility for a center, Robinson earned a sure-fire ticket to the Hall of Fame.


Robinson became a two-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, 10-time All-Star, and led the league in scoring, rebounds and blocks several times. He also was a three-time Olympian, winning the gold medal twice, most famously as a member of the 1992 USA Basketball team. The team would go down as the best basketball team of all time, forever remembered as the Dream Team.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

live.staticflickr.com

But the future NBA legend didn’t start playing basketball until his senior year of high school. Born to a career Navy man, Robinson spent his childhood moving around until his father’s retirement. Finally, the family settled in Virginia. By this time, Robinson was a great athlete and pretty tall for his age. He excelled at many sports, but when he tried basketball in junior high, it didn’t go well despite his 5’9 frame at such a young age. By the time he was a senior in high school, he had blossomed to 6’6 and decided to try again.

It turned out he was pretty decent. He was the star player on the team and was named an all-district player. But that wasn’t enough to get much attention from college scouts, so while he was a late bloomer in basketball, it looked like it wouldn’t lead anywhere.

Robinson likely didn’t mind and had his sights set on a better prize. He had worked really hard on his academics and wanted to fulfill his dream of being a Naval Officer. He applied and was accepted into the United States Naval Academy in 1983 with hopes he would become a career officer. Robinson was recruited to play basketball there by Coach Paul Evans. Evans had seen Robinson and figured he would be a great back up to the team he had steadily built over the years.

After his acceptance, however, Robinson had a small growth spurt. He grew to 6’7 and that put him over the maximum height for the Academy. But the Navy quickly granted a waiver as he wasn’t even the biggest player on the team and figured he wouldn’t grow anymore.

They were wrong.

His freshman year, Robinson played as a backup but then had the mother of all growth spurts between his first and second year, taking him from 6’7 to 7’0. While growing, he kept his lithe athleticism, which turned him from a backup winger to a very versatile center. His sophomore year, he became one of the most dominant centers in college basketball and a true national star.

At the same time, he was drawing attention from the media and NBA scouts, and questions started to arise as to whether or not an NBA team would draft him in two years. He was a Midshipman and had a five-year commitment to the Navy after graduating. Robinson wanted to honor that commitment and had said he had no problem serving out his commitment as that is what he knowingly signed up for.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

But it turned out that awesome growth spurt that gave birth to his basketball superstardom also was about to limit his Naval Career.

Robinson already had a waiver to get into the Navy at 6’7, but now being a seven-footer, he was not allowed to be an unrestricted line officer. He would never command a ship and would be relegated to shore duty because of his height.

In the meantime, the Academy was getting significant media attention and scouts were trying to get as much information about Robinson as possible. He would be eligible for the draft in two years, but would a team have to wait five more years to see him play? Would any team want to draft a player in 1987 and have the only uniform he would wear until 1992 be a military uniform?

The Navy itself looked at Robinson’s situation as well and realized the predicament. Yes, he signed up for a five-year commitment, but at the time, he was still eligible to be an unrestricted line officer. But now that that plan was scrapped, they also realized that Robinson could have another growth spurt and be disqualified from the Navy in general. Could they really benefit by having a Naval Academy Midshipman not be a first-round draft pick?

At the time this was happening, the Navy had some great PR. They had another graduate, Napoleon McCallum, who was drafted by a USFL team and would spend his weekend playing for the Raiders and then the Rams. They were also about to benefit from a movie that was about to come out about Naval Aviators that featured a young star named Tom Cruise, awesome action sequences and an amazing soundtrack.

Being in his sophomore year, Robinson could have selected to leave the Academy, transfer to another school, sit out a year and play a final year putting him in the league in 1988. Would he really wait until 1992? Would he want to pursue the Navy that would restrict him from advancing in rank while missing out on millions of dollars?

The Navy didn’t want to lose Robinson and decided to take steps to keep him at the Academy and have him serve while still protecting his future basketball career.

The discussion went all the way up to Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, who figured in the best interest of the Navy, Robinson would serve as a Naval Reserve Officer. After graduating, he would serve two years on active duty and then be allowed to go play basketball. During those two years, however, Robinson would be allowed to play in international competitions. (The Navy wanted Robinson on the 1988 Olympic team.)

Robinson agreed and played the next two years at the Academy, taking the Midshipmen to the Elite 8 one year. He became the dominant center in basketball his senior year and was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs. Robinson spent two years stationed at Naval Submarine Base, Kings Bay, in Georgia. He worked as an engineering officer, worked out relentlessly to keep his basketball skills honed and ended up making that Olympic team. (In an ironic twist, that U.S. team lost which partly spurned officials to create an Olympic team with NBA stars in 1992. This would become the legendary Dream Team Robinson was a part of). Robinson was also the de facto poster boy for Navy recruitment as they took the opportunity to plaster his image on every promotional asset they could.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

Robinson joined the Spurs in 1989 and never looked back. He was a legend at center, won gold in Barcelona with the Dream Team and won two NBA titles. He also was a devoted philanthropist and man of faith; so much so that in 2003 the NBA gave recipients of its Community Assist award the David Robinson plaque.

Robinson started the Carver Academy in 2001, which helps inner-city kids reach new heights in education. In 2012, it became a public charter school with Robinson doing the lion share of donating and fundraising while taking an active day-to-day role in the school’s operations.

It’s amazing to think how a growth spurt could change someone’s life so much and impact millions of others as well.

MIGHTY SPORTS

How soldiers push their limits to stay fit

Some soldiers physically push themselves, compete against who they were yesterday, and train above and beyond meeting the minimum requirements of an Army physical fitness test. As motivation to be physically active can vary, some Maryland Army National Guard soldiers conduct their regular exercise routines in innovative ways.

Soldiers like Capt. Meghan Landymore, an ultra-marathoner and member of the All Guard Marathon Team; Sgt. Donita Adams, a basketball coach and All-Army Women’s Basketball team member; and Capt. Ben Smith, an avid obstacle course racer and American Ninja Warrior participant, are passionately competing in high levels of sports and maintaining their personal fitness.

Soldiers are required to maintain a certain standard of physical fitness. The annual Army Physical Fitness Test requirement for soldiers gives commanders an indication of the overall fitness of the soldier. The Army is now transitioning to the Army Combat Fitness Test, a six-event, age and gender neutral test, designed to assess a soldier’s physical fitness and readiness for physically demanding combat situations. Staying active can help prepare individuals to maintain a level of fitness for the physical demands of military service.


Runner for life

Capt. Meghan Landymore, a Joint Force Headquarters Medical Detachment physician assistant, is an accomplished ultra-marathon runner and member of the All Guard Marathon team. Each year, Army and Air guardsmen compete for a position on the All Guard Marathon Team during the National Guard Marathon Trials. The trials take place during the Lincoln Marathon, a traditional 26.2 mile marathon race, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Landymore placed third in her age group, sixth overall, and qualified for the national team with a time of 3:23:09.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

Army Capt. Meghan Landymore, a Joint Force Headquarters Medical Detachment physician assistant, poses for a photo July 9, 2019, at the Fifth Regiment Armory, Baltimore. Landymore is an accomplished ultra-marathon runner and member of the All Guard Marathon Team.

(Photo by Senior Airman Sarah McClanahan)

Landymore first moved off the starting block as a competitive runner in high school, where she was required to participate in a sport. As a kid who grew up performing gymnastics, running wasn’t her initial choice. However, after some encouragement from her father, she found her path – cross country.

On her first day of practice where every single person raised their hand in response to the question “who trained over the summer?” Every person except for her. The feeling of being behind the curve wasn’t something she was comfortable with. But, after working hard with her new coach, Landymore quickly became one of the top athletes on the team after just a couple short months.

Once she started, no one could stop her stride. Landymore ran all throughout her years in college and ran her first marathon, the 2010 New York City Marathon, while in graduate school. In 2012, she placed ninth overall for her first ultra-marathon, the Golden Gate Trail Run Winter 50K, with a time of 5:02:34. Ultra-marathons are anything over the traditional 26.2 mile marathon and sometimes through challenging trails that require hiking or climbing. With more than 30 ultra-marathons under her belt, this July she competed in the 106-mile North Dakota Maah Daah Hey Trail Run with the All Guard Marathon Team.

For ultra-marathon athletes like Landymore, training for a race becomes more than just a form of physical fitness, it becomes a lifestyle.

“It affects everything,” said Landymore. “It becomes your personality and becomes what you talk about, and who you hang out with.”

Training includes a combination of all types of running, from lengthy distances, overnight trail runs, tempo runs on a track, to hitting a strength training session in the weight room. However, training extends beyond the track or gym, needing to balance nutrition and family life can be a challenging task.

“It takes a lot to try and eat enough calories that are not junk calories,” says Landymore. “Other than nutrition, you’re fatigued. Just getting through daily life is actually really hard as an ultra-runner. I think we overlook it because it’s just what we do. It’s exhausting, I have two young kids. It affects my husband. Though they are supportive and understanding as much as they can be.”

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

Capt. Ben Smith, 32nd Civil Support Team survey team leader, poses in for a photo in front of a sign for the American Ninja Warrior 2019 television show. Smith is an avid obstacle course runner and was a participant in the 2019 Baltimore Maryland City Qualifiers for this year’s ANW.

(Photo by Senior Airman Sarah McClanahan)

On race day, her family often plays an impactful role of supporting her through the experience. Her husband will sometimes pace her for portions of her runs or act as a support crew providing various supplies like dry shoes or socks at each stop throughout the race. Her 4-year old son even ran with her through the finish line during the 2017 Patapsco Valley 50K.

Landymore explains that the supportive community of ultra-marathoning is what the experience is all about. Ultra-marathon racing is more than simply running, it gives other invaluable attributes.

“I think a big part of people [competing in any sport] is being able to be in pain and to handle it for any given time whether that’s a few seconds or few minutes,” says Landymore. “You have to know how to be uncomfortable. I think that’s necessary for most of life.

Nothing but net

Sgt. Donita Adams, a MDNG chaplain’s assistant and All-Army Women’s Basketball team member, connects her faith and the love she has for the game of basketball. She is the only National Guard member selected for an all-star team to compete at the 2016 Conseil-International-Du-Sport-Militaire World Military Women’s Basketball Championship.

“Basketball is a way that I can cope with a lot of things,” says Adams. “If I’m stressed out, I know I can go play basketball and clear my mind from anything. It’s my peace. God has given me a way to escape and go into an element where him and I can connect. Basketball is almost like that connection that I have with God. It ties us together because it’s something that I’m passionate about.”

Both basketball and her faith have been pivotal elements in Adams’ life. At 5-years old she picked up a basketball for the first time and by 8-years old started playing on a team. It wasn’t until high school that Adams found her love for coaching.

At 16, Adams landed her first coaching gig at a summer camp. Unbeknownst to her, one of the girls she would coach that summer was the daughter of an inspiring teacher Adams had in the sixth grade. This teacher saw the potential in Adams and made a point to push her to succeed. It was at this camp that her passion for mentorship and coaching ignited.

“My Amateur Athletic Union coach was a big influence in my life, a father that I didn’t have,” said Adams. “I knew that I wanted to give back to my community and this [coaching] was my way to give back.”

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

Army Capt. Meghan Landymore, a Joint Force Headquarters Medical Detachment physician assistant, poses for a photo July 9, 2019, at the Fifth Regiment Armory, Baltimore. Landymore is an accomplished ultra-marathon runner and member of the All Guard Marathon Team.

(Photo by Senior Airman Sarah McClanahan)

Prior to enlisting in the Army, Adams took on a head coaching job at Watkins Mill High School, the school she attended prior to transferring to Damascus High School. For four years, she taught and developed nearly 100 female student athletes on and off the basketball court. She taught the importance of mentorship and being a role model as an athlete.

“Sometimes you don’t sign up for this stuff,” said Adams. “But when you put on that jersey, or when you sign up for a sport, it comes along with it.”

Adams recently resigned from her head coaching position to give herself the opportunity to impact young athletes beyond the walls of Watkins Mill High School. Now she coaches the young men and women of Truth Basketball, a personal venture dedicated to teaching, coaching, and mentoring young athletes. Truth Basketball holds fundraisers to cover much of the fees associated with playing basketball. Adams hopes to turn the venture into a non-profit in the future to continue making basketball accessible and providing more resources to young men and women.

In addition to coaching, Adams is in her third year of playing for the All-Army Women’s Basketball team. October 2019, she’s headed to Wuhan, China to play with Team USA in the Military World Cup Games. For the second time, Adams will have the opportunity to play with Team USA representing the Maryland Army National Guard on an international stage. However, this will be the first time she will play in an Olympic-level event.

Leaping over obstacles

Capt. Ben Smith, 32nd Civil Support Team survey team leader, an avid obstacle course runner and a participant in the 2019 Baltimore Maryland City Qualifiers for American Ninja Warrior, a show where contestants demonstrate their agility and strength through challenging obstacle courses.

Through his training for the Toughest Mudder races, an overnight, eight-hour version of the Tough Mudder races, Smith realized while he was adequately conditioned to run the course, his technique work in tackling obstacles needed to be strengthened. This is where Smith was introduced to the world of American Ninja Warrior.

“I began Ninja Warrior training to increase obstacle course proficiency,” said Smith. “From there, I fell in love with the sport.”

Each year, ANW hosts city qualifying and final competitions in different cities throughout the nation including Baltimore. Each qualifier race consists of six obstacles testing competitors’ ninja skills including grip strength, lateral transversing, static or dynamic balance, and explosive movement. Competitors will need to efficiently and cohesively use all of these skills to complete an ANW course.

“The principles are the same as the preparation for any school, task, or mission,” explains Smith. “I worked through minor obstacles and adjusted my plan for major ones. The first key was to assess the skills I would need to develop. This is a challenge as no two ninja courses are the same. I set out a plan to identify weaknesses and train them in lieu of improving only my strengths.”

To be selected, Smith competed for one of around 600 slots against about 60,000 applicants. The selection decision rested entirely on his submission video. Once he was selected, his ANW training began.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

Capt. Ben Smith, 32nd Civil Support Team survey team leader, poses in for a photo in front of a sign for the American Ninja Warrior 2019 television show. Smith is an avid obstacle course runner and was a participant in the 2019 Baltimore Maryland City Qualifiers for this year’s ANW.

(Photo by Senior Airman Sarah McClanahan)

Smith explains simply being physically fit will not carry an athlete far in ANW and a more well-rounded approach to training is required. To prepare for his competition, Smith’s physical training and conditioning focused on improving endurance, speed work, functional strength, balance, and active recovery. This often resulted in late nights at his obstacle course gym multiple times a week. Smith would also incorporate ninja training into his regular physical training for the Army by including exercises focused on grip strength, balance, or running on curbsides for portions of his regular runs.

However, the biggest obstacle for Smith’s training was the unknown. The day prior to the competition he was able to see the course but wasn’t able to touch any of the obstacles prior to competing.

Though challenging, tackling the ANW course helped Smith identify areas he could improve upon including his speed and fluidity between the different obstacles. His training leading up to the race focused on individual skills. In practice, it was a struggle to apply them cohesively on the course.

Unfortunately, Smith did not successfully complete his run of the Baltimore Maryland City Qualifiers and was stopped short at the second obstacle of the race, the double twister. This obstacle involves two free-spinning pendulums where competitors must leap from a springboard to the first pendulum and use their momentum to move from each pendulum and finally to the landing platform. An unexpected stopper restricting the movement of the second pendulum caused Smith to ultimately plummet into the water.

While his run was not aired on this episode of ANW, a short clip of his entrance was aired of Smith ripping off of a modified level A vapor protection suit. Vapor protection suits are crucial for protection against dangerous chemicals encountered in Smith’s job with the 32nd Civil Support Team.

Despite recently sustaining a broken ankle, he is determined to work through his injury and get back to training and sharpening his ninja skills for the next round of applications.

The MDNG athlete

For every Maryland National Guard soldier, “game day” may not come in the form of an ultra-marathon, basketball game, or obstacle course race. Instead, the training, conditioning, and physical readiness of each and every soldier is tested by the APFT or fast-approaching ACFT.

The top 10 most patriotic moments in sports history

U.S. Army Sgt. Donita Adams, assigned to the Md. Army National Guard attempts to score during a basketball game. The 2017 Armed Forces Basketball Championship is held at Joint Base San Antonio, Lackland Air Force Base.The best two teams during the double round robin will face each other for the 2017 Armed Forces crown.

(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Emiline Senn)

It’s important to note that the ACFT will not be an easy test and must be approached with a well-rounded training program personalized for each individual soldier to build them up from where they are starting to where they need to be, explained Landymore.

Competing at a higher level of sports is not the only option for soldiers preparing for the ACFT. A voluntary program called “Fit to Serve” is available to soldiers for coaching in fitness and offers technology to track physical activity and sleeping habits. The program also provides physical therapy resources which focus on overall health wellness and resiliency.

“The best advice I can give is to use the resources around you,” says Adams. “There are people in your circle or even in your unit who are experts, like trainers or athletes, so use those resources. They are very knowledgeable. Take time during your drill weekend to do the exercises and workouts because it’s going to help you. Because as soon as it’s implemented we are expected to perform.”

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

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