Perhaps it is no accident that so many star athletes hail from towns that are familiar only to those who live nearby. The word “community” holds real meaning in these places, and it’s these small neighborhood-oriented towns that help encourage a certain few to accomplish greatness. This summer, some of our very own will be crossing the Pond to compete at the top level of athleticism with some of the world’s best. Some of these folks you may even consider your neighbors.
In 2002, Abby Wambach was the second overall draft pick in the Women’s United Soccer Association. This put her playing alongside the great Mia Hamm. Working with Mia helped Abby hone her athleticism and sharpen her ability to read the game. Her hard work and unrelenting focus certainly paid off. She is a five-time winner of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year Award and was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year for 2011.
Growing up in Pittsford, Abby played in her first youth league at age 4. She was transferred to the boys’ team after scoring 27 goals in three games. Abby recalls feeling right at home playing with the boys. She is the youngest of seven children and spent most of her childhood competing with her older brothers. When she gets the chance to visit her hometown, Abby spends most of her time visiting with all of her family members. “It’s the number-one thing,” she says. “Anytime I get to spend with my family, it’s always memorable.”
She has family and friends with homes throughout the Finger Lakes and loves spending some relaxing time here. She attributes much of her success to her parents and siblings who have each helped her in a different way to grow as a person and develop as a pro athlete.
Abby feels very strongly that Rochester and the surrounding areas are very family-oriented and a great region in which to raise a family. Although her nieces and nephews and many other young athletes around the world look to Abby as a mentor, Abby doesn’t want them to emulate her. “Try to be better than me. Try to keep raising the bar so that women’s sports can be better,” she said. “Many people in leadership positions and other trailblazers take many risks in order to achieve more greatness than those before them.” Abby tries to live by these words and hopes to pass down the value of their meaning when put into action.
Although they did not win the 2011 World Cup, Abby is still proud of her team. At the end of the day, they raised awareness for women athletes and women’s soccer. She hopes to complement that with a gold medal-performance in London this summer.
Ryan Lochte was born in Canandaigua, the son of a swim coach. He has four siblings. Growing up, Ryan was not interested in swimming and was often caught fooling around in practice. He and his family moved to Daytona Beach, Florida, when he was 11 years old. He was coached by his father from the start, and began taking swimming more seriously during his junior year of high school.
Ryan attended the University of Florida, where he studied sports management. He was twice named the NCAA Swimmer of the Year, and was a seven-time NCAA champion, a seven-time SEC champion, and an astounding 24-time All-American. During his senior year, Ryan won the title for all three of the individual events in which he competed. He broke a nearly decade-old NCAA record in the 400-yard individual medley.
In his free time, Ryan enjoys fishing and hunting, and he also takes pleasure in playing with his three dogs, Tike, Zeus and Spidy. Ryan is a car enthusiast as well as a cooking aficionado. In his downtime, he can be found playing video games and listening to hip hop music.
Ryan is currently a six-time Olympic medalist, winning three gold, two silver and one bronze. As part of the American team, he also holds the world record in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay, and individually, he holds the record for the 200-meter medley and the 400-meter medley.
In 2004, Ryan qualified for his first Olympics when he finished second to Michael Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. At the 2004 Summer Olympics, Ryan swam with Phelps, Klete Keller and Peter Vanderkaay to give the Australian team its first loss in six years. At the 2008 Olympics, Ryan came home with four medals and a world record under his belt. This summer, Ryan hopes to compete in as many events as possible; there is no doubt that he will be chasing Michael Phelps to the winner’s podium.
Churchville, Pole Vault
Prior to 2004, Jenn Suhr had never picked up a pole. Pole vaulting had not ever crossed her mind. Jenn played basketball, soccer, softball, and competed in the high jump and javelin, but it wasn’t until her junior year of college at Roberts Wesleyan that she took up pole vaulting. Her coach Rick Suhr, now her husband, convinced her to give it a try. She reluctantly picked up a pole, and 10 months later, Jenn won the 2005 indoor national title. She built momentum from there, and at the 2008 Summer Olympics, Jenn brought home the silver medal. This past December, Jenn was named number-one in the world by Track and Field News.
It is unusual to have a world-ranked pole vaulter from the Northeast. According to Rick, you typically see more top-notch competitors from southern California and other regions that are warm year-round.
Jenn practices tirelessly in a small storage barn that looks as though it is meant to store a small plane. There is a narrow wind tunnel attached for her runway and approach. Jenn and Rick reported that many times, Jenn has come very close to touching the ceiling. Many males who have come to use the facility have, indeed, run into the issue of the ceiling being too low. It won’t be long now before some renovations will have to be done. Jenn is the U.S. women’s record holder for highest jump at 16 feet, 1.5 inches.
Jenn and Rick travel so frequently that their home in Churchville has become their vacation spot. They enjoy the Finger Lakes because of the country quiet that they prefer over the discord of big cities. They are big fans of the outdoors, which continuously draws them home to this area. Jenn enjoys hiking, camping and watching HGTV. She and Rick have a camp on Lake Ontario and enjoy taking their dog, Tundra, to local parks.
Her competitive nature, motivational coach and husband, and fear of losing are what push her through this amazing journey. Pole vaulting is her career, but the many hobbies and activities that she enjoys in the Finger Lakes Region give her the mental rest and relief from it all.
Brittney Kuras and Heather Savage
Heather Savage and Brittney Kuras are two local girls who have recently become eligible to compete at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. They were teammates at Canandaigua Academy and on the Canandaigua Aquatics/YMCA swim team. They have worked very hard to advance their swimming careers, and needless to say, it has certainly paid off.
Heather is a junior at Virginia Tech majoring in human nutrition, food and exercise. Although she enjoys spending as much time as possible with her family when she’s home, she also enjoys spending time around Canandaigua Lake. She has countless memories of taking walks with her mother, sitting on the docks, and just spending leisure time on and around the lakes. Being in the pool, training, practicing and competing can sometimes be stressful. For Heather, taking in the blissful landscapes of the lakes makes it relaxing to be around the water. Heather strives to make her teammates, parents and school proud, and is motivated to represent the people she cares about the most. She is thrilled to get the chance to represent her country.
Brittney is currently a red shirt sophomore at the University of Buffalo, and is majoring in psychology. When she’s home, Brittney enjoys spending as much time with her family as possible. She and her family have horses, and she gets pure enjoyment from working with them.
When she’s not taking care of the horses, Brittney spends much of her free time swimming in Canandaigua Lake. Brittney also has numerous memories of playing on the beaches of Canandaigua Lake when she was a child. She remembers finding fossils and other unique things while exploring.
Although Heather and Brittney have gone separate ways, they will soon cross paths again at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, this June. Neither one of the girls have given much thought as to what the road ahead will look like, but they are both excited about the opportunity to compete with some of the country’s best swimmers.
by Hannah Kallet