Shalane Flanagan isn’t the only athlete running six marathons this fall

Tatyana McFadden (right), Manuela Schaer (center), and Merle Menje (left) finished on the podium in the women's division at the 2021 London Marathon
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Let’s start with the obvious: Shalane Flanagan is attempting something incredible this fall.

Flanagan, who retired as an elite runner in 2019, is aiming to race all six major marathons in a span of just 43 days. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the annual major marathon schedule – which usually begins in early March with the Tokyo Marathon and concludes in early November with the New York City Marathon – was instead condensed into seven weeks:

  • September 26: Berlin
  • October 3: London
  • October 10: Chicago
  • October 11: Boston
  • October 18: Tokyo (VIRTUAL)
  • November 7: New York City

With five marathons complete – all in under 2 hours and 46 minutes – Flanagan’s only remaining “Project Eclipse” race is this Sunday’s 2021 New York City Marathon.

Along the way, Flanagan’s marathon journey has been covered in-depth by most major national news outlets, from the New York Times, to the Washington Post, to the Wall Street Journal

While Flanagan’s journey is certainly worth profiling, nearly every article about her has implied that what she is doing is unique. There are no parentheticals letting readers know that – by the way – Flanagan isn’t the only athlete taking advantage of this fall’s unprecedented marathon schedule.

The result?

Some impressive competitors are being left out of the conversation.


In 1975, Bob Hall became the first sanctioned wheelchair racer to enter the Boston Marathon. He finished the race in under three hours. Other marathons followed Boston and began introducing wheelchair divisions, though not all at once.

The New York City Marathon was the longest holdout, adding elite wheelchair races in 2000, though only after the New York Road Runners Club was sued for discrimination and settled out of court.

Tatyana McFadden is grateful for trailblazers like Hall who helped provide her with access to running’s biggest stage. In 2013, she became the first person to complete a marathon “Grand Slam” (winning four major marathons in a year). She then repeated the feat three years in a row.

And like Flanagan, McFadden was excited about the prospect of a marathon-filled fall.

“I wanted to do all of [them] because it’s the first time in history the marathons will be compacted like that,” McFadden told On Her Turf in September, fresh off her three-medal performance at the Tokyo Paralympics.

McFadden has taken full advantage of the opportunity, finishing on the podium at all four marathon majors that were open to her.

The fifth major – the Tokyo Marathon – did not allow wheelchair racers to compete in the virtual event. Instead, McFadden is aiming to run her sixth 26.2-mile race at the Honolulu Marathon in December.

McFadden’s top rival, Switzerland’s Manuela Schaer, has also had a busy fall. While Schaer opted to skip Chicago, she won the women’s wheelchair division in the three other marathon majors and is aiming to win her fourth straight New York City Marathon title on Sunday.

The men’s wheelchair division has an equally ambitious field of competitors, led by Paralympians Marcel Hug of Switzerland and American Daniel Romanchuk, who are also four-for-four in podium finishes this fall.

Clearly, Flanagan is not the only marathoner attempting something incredible this fall. She is just the only able-bodied marathoner attempting it.


The point of this is not to pit Tatyana McFadden against Shalane Flanagan. Both are talented athletes who have taken on a mind-boggling challenge. Both are worthy of their own stories and their own coverage.

The point of this is to call out the ableism that persists in sports media coverage. This type of ableism is so deeply rooted that the authors who wrote about Flanagan – while failing to mention McFadden and her peers – likely weren’t even aware of their own omission.

This type of discrimination is not new. People with disabilities have long been ignored, misrepresented, and made invisible by the media.

What is especially disappointing is that the marathon majors are one of the only elite competitions in which able-bodied and para athletes compete on the same courses, on the same day. This type of side-by-side competition – and the level of media exposure it provides – is something that most para athletes never experience. Not at most World Championships. Not at U.S. Paralympic Trials. Not even at the Paralympic Games.

McFadden – who in high school was prohibited from racing at the same time as her able-bodied track teammates – knows that the fight for inclusion is a multi-generational one that will continue beyond her own athletic career.

“It’s taken every single athlete, from every single generation, to athletes now saying… ‘We want to be at press conferences at the same time. We want a pay increase. We want more visibility and coverage at the marathons,'” she said in September.

But the burden of increasing visibility and coverage can’t fall only on McFadden.

If she is racing 157.2 miles this fall, the media needs to meet her – if not halfway – then at least a 26.2 miles down the road.

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Abby Wambach gets surprise at finish line after NYC Marathon

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Crystal Dunn returns to USWNT roster five months after giving birth

Nigeria v USWNT
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Crystal Dunn was named to the USWNT roster for two upcoming friendlies against England and Spain, marking her first official selection since giving birth to son Marcel in May.

Dunn made her NWSL return with the Portland Thorns earlier this month and also trained with the U.S. team as a non-rostered player ahead of friendlies vs. Nigeria.

In addition to Dunn, the 24-player roster features a veteran core of Alyssa Naeher, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rose Lavelle, Lindsey Horan, Mallory Pugh, and Megan Rapinoe.

Alex Morgan was not named to the USWNT roster due to a knee injury. While U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski did not provide details of the injury, he noted that “if this was a World Cup final, Alex was going to be on this trip and was going to play, no question.”

Other roster highlights include 17-year-old Alyssa Thompson, who becomes the first player born in 2004 to receive a USWNT call-up. Thomas, a high senior, plays club soccer for the U-17 Total Futbol Academy boys’ team.

“We are very excited for her, very excited about her potential and qualities and looking forward to seeing how she will turn out in our environment,” Andonovski said of Thompson. “This camp is not make it or break it. It’s a first experience for her, it’s just something that she shouldn’t even worry about.”

The USWNT also includes a handful of players who have made their USWNT breakthrough this season — thanks in part to both strong NWSL play and injuries to more veteran players. That list includes the likes of Naomi Girma (7 caps), Taylor Kornieck (5 caps), Hailie Mace (5 caps), Sam Coffey (1 cap), and Savannah DeMelo (0 caps).

Andonovski on Thursday called Coffey, a midfielder for the Portland Thorns, a candidate for NWSL MVP.


USWNT Roster for October 2022 Friendlies vs. England and Spain

Goalkeepers (3):

  • Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit)
  • Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage)
  • Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders(7):

  • Alana Cook (OL Reign)
  • Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Sofia Huerta (OL Reign)
  • Hailie Mace (Kansas City Current)
  • Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC)

Midfielders (8):

  • Sam Coffey (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Savannah DeMelo (Racing Louisville FC)
  • Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon, FRA)
  • Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC)
  • Rose Lavelle (OL Reign)
  • Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC)
  • Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit)
  • Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit)

Forwards (6):

  • Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit)
  • Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars)
  • Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign)
  • Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit)
  • Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC)
  • Alyssa Thompson (Total Futbol Academy)

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
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It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”