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After Serving in U.S. Military, Seth Jahn Returns to Soccer at Rio Paralympics



Seth Jahn was on the field stretching, getting ready for another big game, and hundreds of fans were filing in.

Suddenly, he had a thought: My job is to play a game; all these people will leave here and go back to doing important stuff.

“I wasn’t okay with that,” Jahn said.

With that thought, his journey began – one that has taken him to more than 90 countries, helped him learn four languages, brought him to the brink of death and back through his service in the military, and ultimately, led him back to the soccer field, where the one-time pro will play for the U.S. Paralympic team in Rio de Janeiro later this summer.

It’s an honour to represent the United States on the soccer field, Jahn says, and something he felt he needed to do, just to see how far he can go with the sport his family made sacrifices for him to play as a kid.

And yet, having witnessed the horrors from 11 years of on-and-off combat in the U.S. Army – including no fewer than three near-death experiences over a career that included three deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq – he’s all-too-familiar with a world that has nothing in common with the global competition that will take place in Brazil.

“I know there are people out there being abused by corrupt regimes,” he said. “And it’s very hard for me to justify kicking a ball around for a living when I have a particular skill set that can make a difference in the way these people survive.”

Though he’s now listed at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Jahn describes himself as a scrawny scrapper as a kid – a boy who “constantly got beat up, but never backed down.”

A day at the swimming pool near his childhood home in Gulf Breeze, Fla., changed his life. It was there that his sister, Hannah, who was 9 at the time, got cornered by three boys twice her age.

“They harassed me and made sexual comments,” Hannah said. “It was a very scary situation for me, and, I’m sure, for my brother.”

Seth and Hannah’s mom came to the pool and got them out safely.

Years later, long after the memory had faded from Hannah’s conscience, Seth confided to his sister that the episode had scarred him – that he didn’t sleep for a week after it happened, and had trouble eating.

“He was devastated that he wasn’t in a place where he could defend someone he loved,” Hannah said. “Something in that moment clicked for him, that he’d make sure he was never in a situation where he couldn’t defend someone he loved.”

For Jahn, that meant a lifetime of chiselling his body, and his mind, all geared toward a lifetime of public service – starting in the military.

His first near-death experience came on a training jump from nearly 1,000 feet when both his parachutes malfunctioned. He kicked his legs violently to create air pockets that gave him a chance of not landing at maximum velocity. He hit the ground at about 75 mph, but lived to tell about it.

There was a fall from a four-storey building during another firefight in the Middle East. In a letter to his father, Jahn wrote, “the guys saw something last night they can’t explain.” They swore Jahn’s plummeting body slowed down as it neared the ground.

Jahn’s father, the Rev. Roger Jahn, said he had a vivid dream several years ago – including visions of his son engaged in a knife fight with an enemy soldier. He wrote to Seth about the vividness of the dream and the uncertainty of watching a fight “with neither soldier prevailing.” Months later, Seth wrote a letter back, with a footnote at the bottom.

It read: “Oh, by the way, that was a very interesting dream you had. Maybe we’ll have time to talk about it. Just so you know, I prevailed.”

The night that ended Jahn’s military career was also the night that, in a strange twist, put him in position to play soccer on the Paralympic team.

It was Oct. 20, 2010. Jahn and four others were in an off-road vehicle and engaged in a five-hour firefight against the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. Their vehicles were blacked out and the drivers were using night-vision goggles. The vehicle Jahn was in rolled down a cliff and landed upside-down in a river. He was pinned in that position. His last memories from the evening were of soldiers pulling at him to wrangle him free. He awoke hours later at the hospital.

Among Jahn’s long list of injuries included disarticulated ribs, damage to his spinal cord, paralysis of his right arm and leg and traumatic brain injury.

His journey over the next two years spanned 11 hospitals. He had to learn how to talk again. He met dozens of doctors, most of whom suggested if he worked hard, he’d be lucky to walk again within 10 years.

“But I was a little too dumb to just quit,” said Jahn, who will turn 34 on Christmas Day.

His biggest coup during the long rehab phase: Sweet-talking a nurse into sliding him a key to the gym. After a typically long day of doctor-prescribed rehabilitation, Jahn would wheel himself down the hallway, open the door to the darkened gym and teach himself how to walk again.

“My goal was to go back to serving my country,” he said.

He made it.

Jahn’s next act was as a special-ops contractor for the government. He went on secret missions he is forbidden to talk about.

He also linked up with the U.S. Paralympic soccer team, which allowed him to train while he worked. He retired last year to devote himself full-time to soccer, knowing this could be his final chance.

While he concedes there is conflict in returning to the fun and games, his family sees this as a different sort of chance. Both Hannah and Roger spoke of heartfelt financial gifts Seth has given to friends in need, to kids whose parents are in prison, to families who need a break.

“I keep thinking, I’d love him to find an opportunity to open up some doors so that maybe he can get his payback,” Hannah said. “When I heard about soccer, I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is it.’” Jahn is returning to the pitch neither for money nor for fame.

In many ways, he’s taking this on – a quick stop before he moves to other bucket-list items like climbing Mount Everest and helming an Iditarod team – to pay back his family.

“They took a lot off their plates to put me in a position to excel,” Jahn said. “I want to give back to them.”

This will likely be his last, best chance to squeeze every last bit out of a soccer career that he has never fully embraced.

In Rio, he’ll play on a U.S. team seeded eighth out of eight.

“Knowing him, he wouldn’t want it any other way,” Hannah said.

And yet, it is just a game.

“I can’t compare it to some of these other things I’ve experienced in my life, and what some of these guys are living through right now. I’d feel like a hypocrite if I did,” Jahn said. “But if we could pull something off as a team, it would be significant, for sure.”

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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