UCF’s Tacko Fall on President Trump’s controversial travel ban: ‘It affects all Muslims’

This story was originally published for Yahoo! Sports.

University of Central Florida’s Tacko Fall isn’t from a country on President Donald Trump’s travel ban list, but he is familiar with what it’s like to not know whether you are welcome in the United States. And as a devout Muslim, he feels impacted by the decision either way.

“I think it affects Muslims all around the world because it’s called a travel ban but it’s for [only] Muslim countries and that’s the reason why [those countries are banned],” Fall, who is originally from Senegal, told Yahoo Sports. “It affects all Muslims whether my country was part of the ban or not.”

When Trump signed an executive order on Friday night that banned Syrian refugees indefinitely and people from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia from entering the United States for 120 days, Fall was asleep. But the 7-foot-6 center saw it all on social media the next morning.

He says he was surprised that it happened so quickly and felt like it “came out of the blue.”

Growing up in Dakar, Fall knows a little something about uprooting his life and moving to another country to pursue better opportunities. Even more than that, he knows what it feels like to worry whether or not he would be sent back.

At age 16 when Fall was attending Jamie’s House Charter in Houston, the school closed. He was left without a school to go to and without his I-20 form that he needed to study in the United States. After spending time with his dad who was a taxi driver in Cincinnati and trying schools in Georgia and Tennessee, but never staying one place too long due to paperwork, Fall ended up in Florida living with Mandy Wettstein, an acquaintance of a family friend.

After moving in with Wettstein and her family, Fall started school at Liberty Christian Prep even though he hadn’t yet gotten an I-20 certificate. He was walking on eggshells for months because if his appeal for an I-20 form was denied, he would have to go back to Senegal for 10 years.

“They were very afraid,” Wettstein said in a previous interview with Yahoo. “Ange [Fall’s friend who traveled to America with him] asked me every day, ‘Is there news? Have you heard anything?’”

Fall’s appeal went through and he was able to stay in the United States. And that experience makes this ban even more personal for Fall.

After he found out on Saturday, he touched base with some of his basketball friends who are from Sudan and friends on campus from other countries affected by the executive order.

“Some of them are scared because some of them can’t get out of the country or they have family that can’t come back to the country,” Fall said. “And that’s kind of scary.”

Fall says he personally isn’t scared yet but he is worried about the far-reaching impact of the executive order.

“There are bad people everywhere but that doesn’t define Muslims,” Fall said. “A lot of Muslims are good people. Muslims are good people in general so it hurts me when I hear that Muslims have this stereotype. The crazy thing is, it might not be bad right now but the kids that are growing up listening to how [bad] Muslims are, those kids we should be worried about.”

One thing that gives Fall hope and peace of mind was seeing how many people came out to airports and participated in protests against the ban.

“That meant a lot,” Fall said. “A lot of those people were not Muslims but that’s how people should look at each other, through religion and races, we are all human. That’s how I see people and I wish that people would just look at each other like that.”


Katie Hnida Shares Her Story of Making Football History and Surviving Rape

This story was originally published in Teen Vogue.

This story is part of Teen Vogue’s Girls in the Game series with Jessica Luther, which examines the role that gender plays in football today.

Katie Hnida didn’t mean to get into football. Back then, she was a 13-year-old youth soccer player with strong legs and a powerful kick. She got her first taste of the game as an eighth grader in Colorado, when she was out tossing a ball with her dad and younger brother. Katie propped the ball up and sailed it so far into the darkness that her father, Dave, joked that she could take up a new career in kicking if soccer didn’t pan out.

Maybe it was her father’s comment that pushed her to squeeze into the only vacant seat at Chatfield Senior High School’s football team meeting a few days later, surrounded by about 100 male classmates. Katie thought she slid into the room unnoticed until the head coach called out to her, “Are you lost? Are you looking for the girls lacrosse meeting?”

“I was like ‘No, I’m here for football,’” Katie, now 35, recalls to Teen Vogue. “And the entire room, which had gone silent, burst into laughter. I could hear one guy say, ‘Why did she even come?’ I was making a bit of a statement whether I wanted to or not.” While it might not have been Katie’s intention to make a statement, she has spent the 22 years since that meeting breaking down gender barriers. She didn’t intend this; she was just a kid who wanted to play. Her journey to making history would begin — but not end — in 1999 at the University of Colorado, which provided a place for her as a freshman walk-on. Katie was the first woman to ever play for CU, the second woman to ever dress in a college football uniform in the U.S., and would eventually become the first woman to score in a NCAA Division I-A, now known as the Football Bowl Series, football game.

The large state school with a proud football tradition seemed like the perfect fit. Until it wasn’t. The “Athletes get anything they want” culture was potent at CU at the time, Katie says, and that “anything” included women.

She couldn’t have prepared to be the target of objectification and sexual exploitation. Katie was raised in an environment where she was told that she could be whatever she wanted to be and do whatever she wanted to do. Maybe some would call her sheltered, she says, but the first time she remembers facing discrimination on the field because of her gender was when she arrived at CU.

“At that time, the [USA] women won the first World Cup, so it really was a big ‘can do,’ exciting time for women athletes,” Katie says. “So much of the harassment [at CU] was gender-specific. The names that they called me were gender-specific. Obviously, the sexual harassment [was because of my gender].”

Katie says her teammates made comments about her body, touched her without permission, and dropped their pants to expose themselves to her. Some of her teammates kicked balls at her head. And that was just the beginning. One night during the summer between her freshman and sophomore year when she was watching television at her teammate’s house, she says one of them — whom she considered a friend — starting kissing her and then forced himself on her and raped her.

“For me, growing up, I always thought that rape would be some guy jumping out of the bushes with a knife,” Katie says. “So I was always careful not to walk alone or to leave my drink unattended. I thought I did all the right things.”

She continues: “My rape whistle was probably a foot away from me on my key chain.”

She tried talking to CU’s chancellor with the end goal of making the school aware of what had happened so that the school could make internal changes, but she decided not to pursue legal action. But Katie says nothing was done, and so she left CU in 2001 and remained quiet about her assault for nearly four years. After a year of therapy and taking classes at a junior college, and after sending out film of her kicking to 80 different schools, Katie transferred to the University of New Mexico. She found a much different environment there, as she felt she was “more a part of the team” and felt more comfortable with her Lobos teammates. “(At New Mexico), there was this culture of people respecting anyone on the team whether that was a fourth string linebacker or the quarterback or the people who did our laundry,” Katie says. “And it was expected that we better be respectful and treat everybody fairly and equally.”

And on Aug. 30, 2003, Katie kicked two extra points against Texas State-San Marcos to go down in history as the first woman to score in a Division I-A NCAA game.

“One of my teammates started bugging my coach and saying, ‘Is this the night that Katie is going to make history?’ And my coach was like, ‘No, go away,’” Katie laughed. “But more of the guys joined in and like 20 of my teammates went to bat for me. It was exciting and it was great, but it really made me realize that it was a whole journey and the best part about it was being with my teammates and the coaches.”

With the help of her Lobos teammates, Katie started to heal.

Two years after Katie left Colorado, other young women came forward and said that members of the football team had assaulted them. At that point, Katie and her parents followed up with the chancellor, requesting that he investigate her allegations. In February of 2004, Katie went public with her story in Sports Illustrated, although she never named her alleged attacker. Instead of supporting her, Katie’s former coach Gary Barnett responded by saying, “Katie is a girl, and not only is she a girl, she was terrible. There’s no other way to say it.”

Ultimately, Barnett was suspended for his comments and, over time, it became clear that Colorado’s issues with sexual assault extended far beyond one “terrible” girl. In 2005, a sealed grand jury report that contained new allegations was leaked. The document stated that an assistant football coach at CU sexually assaulted two female trainers and detailed other inappropriate and illegal behavior within the program. Between 1997 and 2005, nine women claimed to have been assaulted by a CU player or recruit.

Katie wants to make one thing clear: She’s more than a victim. She says that “being an athlete is what I do. Rape is something that happened to me.” She’s still a player, and not just any player — her shoes and jersey hang in the College Football Hall of Fame. Sometimes those two identities, athlete and survivor, are in direct conflict with each other. She loves the game, and while she takes issue that women’s involvement in football is mostly from the sidelines as cheerleaders, and that she feels the sport promotes violence both on the field and off, she still sat down and yelled at the television as Clemson routed Alabama 35-31 in this year’s title game.

She also flies around the country giving motivational speeches with the goal of letting other young women know they are not alone.

“You decide the experiences that define you. For me, especially with my story being out in the media, rape victim was attached to it,” Katie said. “It’s still hard for me that people recognize my name more in conjunction with being a rape victim or a rape survivor versus any of my athletic achievements. I make sure that all different parts of me are out there and valued.”

She laughs that her message could be cliché, but in her speeches she encourages young women to put themselves out there to follow their dreams, even if that means shaking up the status quo. She believes in falling down, but getting back up and trying again, over and over.

And in her words, football is still the love of her life. And it probably always will be.

Even today, “the itch is still there,” Katie, who is now an author, speaker, and anti-violence trainer, said. “The great thing about being a kicker is that we can go on forever. Sometimes I’m not sure if my career is fully over or not. I know I never reached my full potential, so you never know, you may see me back out there.”


Family Business: Terry Porter and two sons eye new era of Pilot hoops


The soft-spoken man now at the helm of the University of Portland’s basketball program has been a hoops legend since before most students were born. He squared off against Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the Finals. He was a two-time NBA All-Star. His retired jersey hangs in the Moda Center rafters. He appeared on Dairy Queen glasses and Nike posters in the early 1990s that remain popular with Blazermaniacs to this day.

Your daddy knows his name. Your momma loved him.

But Terry Porter doesn’t talk about that now.

In his new Chiles Center office, most of Porter’s decorations are photographs of his wife, Susie, and three children, Brianna, Franklin and Malcolm. The only physical reminders of his Rip City playing days are an action figure on his desk and a framed No. 30 jersey that leans against the wall. Fittingly, the room has a family first vibe.

The Porters arrived on The Bluff as a package deal: Terry, the Blazers’ former star point guard, is joined by his two basketball-playing sons, who are ready to help him revive an inconsistent program. That deal comes with some fine print that will require a little patience. Franklin, 21, will redshirt this season after transferring from St. Mary’s, where he spent one season. Malcolm, a 19-year-old freshman guard, will also redshirt as he waits his turn on a roster with a deep backcourt.

The logistics are a reminder that, contrary to popular belief, not everything comes easy for the sons of professional athletes. Stephen Curry might have followed in his dad’s footsteps and Lebron James Jr. is already getting attention from colleges while in elementary school, but Franklin and Malcolm join the Pilots having walked a much different path.

“[I tell my sons] not to worry about coming from an NBA dad,” Porter told The Beacon. “Rarely do you find a dad who had great professional success and then his sons or daughters have gone on to maintain or exceed that level of success in that particular sport. It’s just freaking hard.” Instead of heaping on the pressure, Porter plans to mold his two sons, and the rest of the Pilots, with his natural soft touch.

A local legend turns coachPortlanders were on a one-name basis with Porter’s Blazers teams: Buck, Duck, Jerome, Clyde and Terry. The last two, 10-time All-Star Clyde Drexler and Porter, formed one of the best backcourts in NBA history.

“Back then, you lived in a community,” Susie Porter said. “Fans felt like they knew [the Blazers] as people, not just basketball people. You didn’t just see them on the court. The best compliment people have ever given us is, ‘Oh my gosh, Terry is so normal.’”

Drexler was Batman, a high-flying “Dream Team” member and Hall of Famer who teamed with Hakeem Olajuwon at the University of Houston. Porter was a playmaking, three-point-shooting Robin, who was a late-first round pick after working his way up from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, an NAIA school.

“There are a lot of good memories,” Drexler told The Beacon. “Terry is a really nice guy. Great player. Great teammate. We got along from the beginning. I do remember that it took him a while to get the starting job because we had three or four point guards on the team. But once he earned that spot, he kept it for many, many years.”After a decade with Portland, Porter signed with Minnesota as a free agent in 1996 and later made stops in Miami and San Antonio. He retired in 2002 after a 17-year career, but he is still recognized around town to this day.

“When people come up and want to take a picture, it’s a reminder of a special time,” Porter said. “I always say, ‘I’m an old, washed up player’ but people hold on to those memories. How the Blazers fit into their childhood, or with their relationship with their dad, listening to the games on the radio or going to games. You have to appreciate that.”Known for his headiness as a point guard, Porter made a quick transition into coaching. He began as an assistant for Sacramento before accepting Milwaukee’s head coaching job in 2003. After the Bucks failed to make a playoff appearance with an injury-ridden roster, Porter was fired in 2005. Three years later, Porter was given a second chance, hired to coach the Phoenix Suns. The roster included Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal and Amar’e Stoudemire. Even though he had a winning record, he was unceremoniously cast aside after just four months due to stylistic differences.

Susie said her husband was “hurt and upset” by the firings, but added that he was “a person who would never hold a grudge or burn any bridges.” Although Porter admitted that he has “heard it all” and is accustomed to criticism, he worried about the impact it would have on his children. His sons heard from classmates about how Porter was a “terrible” coach. The day after the Suns fired Porter, Franklin, a seventh-grader at the time, told his father that he didn’t want to go to school.

“It’s very, very difficult because if [someone out of the public eye] gets fired, it’s not going to be the lead in on sports radio,” Porter said. “It’s not going to be on the evening news. A kid has to develop a new toughness when they have a dad in that high-profile type of employment.”

After Phoenix, Porter spent three seasons as an assistant for Minnesota’s Rick Adelman, his old coach in Portland. When Adelman retired in 2014, Porter realized that after roughly three decades in and around the NBA, pursuing the best opportunities to provide for his family financially, it was time for him to take a break and move back to Portland. He worried that he had spent too much time away from his children as they grew up. He worried that he had moved them around too often.

“Anybody who has to leave their family behind when their kids are at a young age, it’s hard,” Porter said. “[Not being there] to wake up with them every day, have breakfast with them, be there at night to talk to them about their day. It’s hard.”

Mom’s watchful eye and dad’s shadow

There were many times Susie Porter felt like a single parent. Just two weeks after she gave birth to Malcolm in Portland, Susie and Terry moved to Minnesota. But as the children grew up, the Porters constantly had to decide whether to move to Terry’s next career stop or to stay behind. Moving meant uprooting the family, finding new schools and making new friends. Staying meant that Terry would have to call in from across the country to back up Susie’s orders about no seconds for dessert.

“I would get comfortable one place and then have to move to the next,” Malcolm said. “It was tough but I knew for my dad, it was what was best for him. Back then I was like, ‘Why are we moving again?’ Every time I got close to someone we had to move. So, I was kind of sad about that.”

Malcolm and Franklin have nothing bad to say about their father. Sure, they missed him being home at times, but they enjoyed the perks too. They grew up shooting hoops with Tim Duncan, Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups, and they had Tony Parker over for dinner. Malcolm even became best buddies with O’Neal.

But the boys point to Susie as the one who made things work behind the scenes.

“My mom is the rock of the family,” Franklin told The Beacon. “Whenever we moved, she took care of everything. She was always home so she was taking care of us all the time – organizing everything because my dad was gone a lot. She held everything together.”

One thing Susie couldn’t do, though, was shield her boys from attention, especially once they began playing basketball themselves. Both boys and their father agree that Malcolm, who starred at Jesuit High School, felt Terry’s shadow more. His games were covered regularly by OregonLive.com and opponents would get extra excited to play against him because of his pedigree. Franklin, meanwhile, went to boarding school all the way on the East Coast to breathe his own air.

“I think it was good for me to be on my own,” Franklin said. “Because I went there and I didn’t know anyone there. It was different for Malcolm because he played high school basketball here (in Portland) and he had the pressure of being Terry Porter’s son and everyone knowing who he was. But out there, people didn’t know who I was.”

It’s a conversation Porter has had with his sons many times: You don’t need to live up to the bar I set. He told them, “Hey, that’s me. You got to be you. You’ve got to find your own path and play the way that’s going to fit you. Don’t try to do things that I did.”

At Portland, Franklin and Malcolm are bound to feel the pressure, whether Porter likes it or not. The good news: Neither expects to play in the NBA. In fact, Franklin giggled at the prospect. But he also pointed out that St. Mary’s listed his father’s basketball accomplishments in his personal biography. And when the boys arrived at the Chiles Center as Pilots for the first time, they could hear the whispers of, “He’s only here because he’s the coach’s son.”

A new leader

Porter’s coaching style on the sidelines stands in stark contrast to his Pilots predecessor, Eric Reveno. Unlike Reveno, he doesn’t yell. He crouches on the baseline and eyes his players as he processes feedback. Instead of barking instructions, he calls his players over while the opponent is shooting free-throws and places a hand on their backs as he explains the adjustments.

“He’s very introspective,” Susie said. “There’s a silence about him, and yet his actions speak louder than words. He is the kind of guy who can give you a look instead of having to say something and you know exactly where he stands.”

But what is introspective to some makes others question his coaching abilities. He was known as a hard-working and accomplished player, but his coaching chops were questioned following his brief head coaching stints in the NBA. When he was hired by UP last April, there were even skeptics who wondered whether he had the right personality and the recruiting ability to succeed.

This season, Porter will do what he can with a limited roster. He knows there is a hole at center, that his guys can’t stack up against someone like Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski. After recent preseason exhibition games, Porter mutters about his puzzle of big men. He also acknowledged that his backcourt, led by talented senior Alec Wintering, is undersized.

There is pressure to compete in a conference that has always been top-heavy. Reveno had 10 years to break through to the top but couldn’t quite make the success stick. Although Porter won’t be expected to transform Pilots basketball overnight, he will be expected to capitalize on the hype that was generated by his hire.

There’s no question he’s made an impact already, even though the season hasn’t begun. Season ticket sales have increased 30 percent this season. Security has been tightened at practices and games. And even though Porter is around campus every day, nervous students still ask him for autographs when he is sitting with his family in the Pilot House.

While Pilots fans will get their chance to judge Porter this year and his sons next year, his wife has already reached her verdict. She’s glad Porter is coaching in college because “he has so much to teach these young men about basketball and life.” She’s glad her husband will be able to see her sons play at the next level. And she’s glad that her sons will get to make up for the times they might have missed out on earlier in their lives.

“UP is just the perfect fit for everybody,” Susie said. “Our family has sacrificed so many years being apart for his career. For us all to be in this one spot at this one point is just perfect timing.”

Jordan Norwood is competing for his spot while mentoring his competition

Jordan Norwood bends his knees, his eyes following the ball that flies toward him as he prepares to take off. His arms are outstretched slightly and his right foot, which he will use as an accelerator, is twitching.

Despite the defensive line coming at him full speed, when he catches the football, he doesn’t look nervous or anxious to take flight. His movements are calculated. He uses similar care when cradling the ball as he does when playfully tossing his 8-month-old daughter, Franni, into the air after training camp practice is done for the day.

The competition at punt returner between him and undrafted rookie receivers Kalif Raymond and Bralon Addison is the last thing on his mind.

“That competition is every year. I was that young guy, and I am that old head now, I guess,” Norwood says, laughing.

The wide receiver, who is generously listed at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, has made a living zigzagging through players who are twice his size. In order to do that, special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis says players must have “good returner mechanics” in how they see the ball, how they catch the ball and how they handle the ball.

Not everybody can do that.

“He has that skill,” DeCamillis says . “From a work standpoint, this guy has had a tough career and a long road to get here. He’s done whatever he can to make it. The other thing is he has some real courage to him.”

Last season, Norwood returned six punts in the regular season and four in the postseason, his most notable being a 61-yard punt return in the Broncos’ Super Bowl victory.

But now, that Super Bowl-record punt return has faded, and as one of several players in the mix for one spot at punt returner, he has to prove his worth every day at practice.

Raymond, who caught the coaches’ eyes this week, says he is trying to soak up everything he can from Norwood, particularly the veteran’s cool, collected demeanor out on the field.

“More than anything, he’s very poised out there,” Raymond says. “He’s very smooth. If it’s a bad route, he runs over there to get it, but he’s not frantic. He’s calm and collected, and that’s why he’s been such a good punt returner already. I’m trying to be a sponge and learn what I can from him.”

Norwood acknowledges the younger players’ talent and drive but says he trusts the process for determining roster spots. If he works hard and is consistent, a spot will be his. He would rather mentor the young guys, tell Raymond to play through the two drops, than see that as an opportunity to gloat.

“I just stick with the mentorship,” Norwood says. “The rest will take care of itself, I mean, if you’re working hard and you’re encouraging guys to work hard too, it takes care of itself.”

Neil Johnson sticks out tough season to win 2016 Colorado Open

Among the decorated former PGA Tour participants, Neil Johnson was easy to overlook. His baby blue shirt looked similar to 10 others, and his white golf shoes appeared a dime a dozen.

But the Wisconsin native, who isn’t a household name, separated himself from the rest Sunday, winning the CoBank Colorado Open. He shot 8-under par Sunday and a total of 23-under over the course of the tournament to take home the $100,000 purse.

“I wanted a win, because someone had asked me recently, what was my most signature win of my career and it’s like, jeez, I don’t have one,” Johnson said.

It has been an uphill battle for the 34-year-old Johnson who, at this time last year, had contemplated quitting the sport altogether.

“I was up in Canada last year and I went broke,” Johnson said. “I didn’t play well. My game was OK, but mentally, I had a bad attitude and obviously it was showing. You can’t perform when you’re negative all the time.”

Johnson settled on returning to Arizona to valet part-time at night to make some extra money and re-evaluate where his head was at in January. He was offered another job outside of golf, and that served as a wake-up call.

He said that he knew would be upset in six months or a year if he took another job. He didn’t want to have to look back and question if he had quit too early.

“I didn’t want to quit when I was broke and angry and negative,” Johnson said. “(This win) was a good way to restart.”

Instead of hiring a caddie for the week, Johnson carried his own clubs through all four days of the tournament. He didn’t rent a hotel room, instead staying with his Aunt Ann and Uncle Bert Ornelas, who are also his godparents, and drove their car to Green Valley Ranch Golf Club.

And when Johnson finally reached the 18th hole, he was visibly trying to suppress a grin as he pulled out his club. He crouched down, took a casual swig of water and glanced at the hole once before stroking the ball in. After a forceful celebratory right-handed fist pump, he found his aunt and uncle for a hug.

“For a kid that thought he was going to quit last year, this is just wonderful,” Ann Ornelas said, fighting back tears. “It means a lot to see him. He’s a great young man. Mentally and physically, he’s twice the man he was. And he stuck it through, has had a wonderful summer, and this is the cherry on top.”

Erica Enders focuses on getting back to winning ways at Bandimere Speedway

Erica Enders

Photo by Michael Reaves

Red nails on Erica Enders’ left hand rest on the outside left of the steering wheel as her right hand grips the shifter. They’re painted to match her dragster and her team. She has been married for five years but never wears her wedding ring when racing, for fear if her car were to catch fire the metal might heat up and burn her skin. The only jewelry she wears is a tiny Texas-shaped necklace to keep her hometown, Cypress, close to her heart.

She picks a point at the end of the track, dials in on it, and puts her foot on the gas as the light turns to green. She must shift four times in the six seconds it takes her to get to the finish line.

But back in her trailer at Bandimere Speedway before her qualifying race on Friday night, the 32-year old Enders slouched down into the brown leather bench when asked about the struggles her team has faced this season.

After winning back-to-back NHRA Pro Stock World Championships in the past two years, Enders, who started racing when she was 8, has only five round-wins this year. A year ago, she won nine races and 58 rounds.

“To be able to come in with a new team, a new group of guys that I hadn’t worked with collectively before (2014), and dominate the way that we did, and then with all of the rule changes NHRA implemented this year, we knew it would be a challenge,” Enders said. “I don’t think we expected to be this far behind at this point in the season, (out of the top 10) but I would rather go to the bottom with this group than the top with anybody else.”

The rule changes and a switch to Mopar has led to a season of adjustment as her Mopar Dodge team worked to develop a new Dodge Dart and new fuel-injected engines.

In July 2015, the NHRA announced a list of changes it would be making this year to “increase spectator appeal and reduce and control costs for race teams.” Whereas Pro Stock cars used to have carburetors, now they have electronically controlled throttle body fuel injection systems.

Enders can’t fully explain the effect of the changes while sitting in her trailer, so she walks down the stairs and out to her car, which she clarifies is a girl, and peels off the gray cover.

Patting the hood, Enders explains the inner workings of her car that led to her having “ultimate control with the carburetor. Now, it’s “inconsistent and sporadic.”

Enders made it clear she cares deeply for her crew, referring to them as brothers. But she also knows when she’s at the starting line, it’s on her.

“I’m a perfectionist and I take a lot of pride in my driving,” she said.

And, on top of perfectionism, Enders understands that she is under a harsher microscope than her male counterparts.

“I can make the same mistake as my teammate who is also a multiple time world champion, but because I’m a female, it’s looked at completely different,” Enders said. “I could do the same thing great in the car, but it’s because I had a great team or had a fast race car.”

That pressure helps drive her to iron out the glitches and get back to the winner’s circle. A little more testing and a little more funding money would help, but with the crew she has, Enders is confident she can win big again.

After two rounds Saturday, Enders was second — her best qualifying effort of the season. Her previous best qualifying slot this season was fifth.

After her run, she walked out from underneath the red awning of her trailer, grabbing a Sharpie on the way out, and signed autographs for the small crowd gathered outside. She makes sure to sign a little girl’s poster first.

Taylor Phinney pedals past injury, rehab to reach Rio Olympics

Throughout the twisting, turning mind game that is cycling, riders can’t afford to lose focus or it could cost them the race.

As Boulder’s Taylor Phinney pedals, he chooses not to distract himself from his burning calves and aching hamstrings by singing to himself — or letting his mind wander. Mile after mile he focuses on his breathing, repeating to himself “I am” as energy drains from his body.

World-class cycling is painful. Phinney compares the exhausting time trial and the focus needed to win at the Olympic level to staring someone in the eye for the better part of an hour. He knows his body can do almost anything; the challenge is how much his mind can endure.

Although, in Phinney’s case, he has put his body through the works, too.

It was May 26, 2014, when Phinney crashed during the USA road racing championships in Chattanooga, Tenn., suffering devastating injuries that nearly ended his career. Now, a little more than two years later, Phinney, 26, has made a remarkable recovery and will represent Team USA in the road race and time trial in the Rio Olympics next month.

The crash didn’t end Phinney’s career, but it marked the beginning of a new mind game, one that has tested his tolerance of pain, and patience, on his long road back to the pinnacle of the sport he loves.

In that race two years ago, a race motorcycle swerved in front of Phinney, causing him to make a sharp turn to the inside, which led him to crash into a guardrail at 50 mph. He broke his tibia, severed his patellar tendon and partially ruptured his posterior cruciate ligament.

“I just kind of remember thinking, ‘Maybe you just ended your career,’ ” said Phinney, who is back in Boulder doing his final prep work for the Olympics in Rio.

It could have been worse, he realized, once the shock wore off. The crash could have destroyed his back. Or he could have suffered a severe head injury.

On the night his career took a detour, there was no morphine in the ambulance rushing him to a hospital, so the excruciating pain lingered. That was just the start of his nightmare. Ultimately, Phinney would need five surgeries, the most significant being a procedure that involved sewing his patellar tendon back together and placing a titanium rod through his tibia.

“I could’ve been a vegetable,” Phinney said. “That (recovery process) is by far the most difficult thing I’ve had to do, physically and mentally. And with great struggle, with great pain, comes a lot of clarity.”

Phinney’s injuries were the kind that Boulder-based physical therapist Matthew Smith usually sees after a severe car accident. When Smith first saw Phinney two weeks after the crash, he had Phinney focus on exercises that would restore basic functions, starting with small movements on a massage table, as well as knee and hip abductions and stretching.

On many days, a disheartened Phinney wanted to be anywhere but at physical therapy.

“Going from the level of competition where he was to just focusing on being able to walk without a limp, it was frustrating for him,” Smith said. “He went from 60 to 0.”

Smith recalls Phinney going through “self-withdrawal” periods, taking short mental retreats to clear his head. Phinney also began painting as a way to cope.

“The guy is definitely an artist,” Smith said. “There is so much emotion in what he does. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. Most athletes would’ve quit a long time ago.”

Phinney wasn’t able to resume riding until six months after the accident and didn’t race for 16 months. Initially, he was on crutches for nine weeks. Then he moved to a cane for a few more weeks. He still can’t run and, even now, his left leg gets sore when he walks for an extended period of time.

“Good thing you don’t need to run to do what I do,” Phinney joked.

Phinney has an impressive understanding of his body and his body’s limitations, Smith said, which enables him to shut out the world while racing.

Phinney’s training with Smith now has become specifically geared to excel at the time trial. Their sessions focus on making sure Phinney is healthy from a mobility standpoint and that he doesn’t have any lingering pain.

“When he first came, his surgeon would be surprised if he ever rode again,” Smith said. “We always tried to keep a positive outlook, but the timeline in which he returned and toured Utah, California and Colorado, it was incredible. I didn’t think he’d be back winning stages this fast.”

Phinney knew the time constraint he was working with, and qualifying for the Rio Olympics had always been his goal. After finishing fourth at the 2012 London Olympics in the time trial, Phinney is hoping to push his way onto the podium in Rio.

“I still have some muscle to build back up, but I can ride my bike well enough to go to the Olympics,” Phinney said. “The biggest accomplishment you can have as an athlete is being an Olympic medalist, or even higher, an Olympic gold medalist. I’m excited to go, training is going really well and I’m feeling good about it.”