photo by Samual Stringer | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images
For most kids, sports are a huge part of growing up. Whether your kiddo loves baseball, football, soccer, swimming, or track and field, the value of being part of a team and learning to give your all to something is invaluable. One thing I love about being a sports photographer is seeing up close the strength (both physical strength and strength of character) it takes to be a top athlete at any level. Aside from strength, another quality I love catching is a love for the game. When I capture a photo of a player in their element and enjoying every moment, it just brings me so much joy!
So today, we will talk about five strong, dedicated, and passionate athletes who have come up in our great state of Wisconsin and made it big! Because, after all, your little leaguer may be the next Wisconsinite to make their dreams come true. And maybe, just maybe, I will have had the honor of capturing their love of the game on film when they were just starting out!
Brandon Brooks is a former NFL guard. Brandon was born in Milwaukee, Wi, in August of 1989. He went to High School at Riverside University in Milwaukee, where he helped his football team become Division Champions in the 2006 season. He went on to college at Miami University in Ohio, where he was named Freshman of the year and was recognized for his talent and hard work throughout his time at Miami. He was a 3rd round draft pick for the Houston Texans, where he played from 2012-2015. Then he signed a 5-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he would go on to help his team make it to 3 Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl Champion. After ten seasons in the NFL, Brandon announced his retirement in 2021. Aside from his talent on the field, Brandon has become an advocate for mental health. Brandon was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in 2016 and has been a great advocate for mental health care and not being ashamed to get help when you need it. He has become a role model and an inspiration that many young Wisconsinites are proud to look up to.
Arike is a WNBA guard currently playing for the Dallas Wings. Arike was born in Milwaukee, Wi, in March of 1997. Her accolades on the court began when she was an 8th grader at Our Redeemer Lutheran School in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. In her last year playing there, her team became the National Champions at the Lutheran Basketball Association of America’s Tournament of Champions in 2011. She was also named the MVP of the tournament. She went to High School at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in Milwaukee, where she was ranked 9th in the world and was a McDonald’s High School All-America selection. She has since been inducted into the Hall of Fame there. She attended college at Notre Dame, where she helped her team win the 2018 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament making game-winning baskets in both the semi-final and final games of the tournament and being named the female athlete of the year across all sports. She was drafted in the first round (5th pick overall) by the Dallas Wings, where she still plays today. She has racked up many accomplishments in her time with the Wings, including WNBA All-Star Game MVP, Two-time WNBA All-Star, and WNBA Scoring Champion. She also competed on the 26th season of Dancing with the Stars, finishing 7th with her partner Gleb Savchenko. Arike is a great talent, and she is sure to keep making Wisconsin proud!
Eric Heiden is a former long-track speed skater, road cyclist, and track cyclist. He was born in Madison, Wi, in June of 1958 and is most well known for his massive success in the 1960 Winter Olympics. He won five individual gold medals and set four Olympic records and one World Record. He ALONE won more gold medals than any other COUNTRY (aside from 2) for that year! He is one of only a few speed skaters to have won both sprint and long-distance events and the only one to have gold medaled in all five events in one Olympic Games. He is considered to be one of the greatest skaters ever. Along with his sister Beth, Eric helped motivate the creation of the Heiden Haus, a small building for local children to warm up after skating on the ice rink nearby. Eric has been inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame.
Gwen Jorgensen is a professional distance runner and former triathlete. She was born in Waukesha, Wi, in April of 1986. She attended high school at Waukesha South High School, where she was a standout athlete in both track and swim. After graduating, she attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she ran track and swam for three years before switching to track full-time. She earned All-American in track and cross country and was Big Ten Champion in the 5,000-Meter and 3,000-Meter in 2009. She also qualified for the Big Ten Swimming Championships from 2004-2007. In 2010 she was recruited by USA Triathlon, which encouraged her to join the sport. In her first year of professional competition was named the 2010 Triathlon Rookie of the Year and Elite Duathelse of the year. This culminated in several years of accomplishment for Gwen, leading up to her Olympic debut in London in 2012. She was World Champion in 2014 and 2015. She competed again in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and won the Gold Medal in Triathlon. Gwen made history as the first person to win Gold in this category for the United States. She will be inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame in August of this year. In 2017 Gwen announced that she was retiring from Triathlon and pursuing a new goal of winning Gold in the marathon. We are so excited to see where the future takes Gwen!
Now I may be a bit biased because we love the Packers at my house, and I live right around the corner from Lambeau Field, but Curly may be one of my favorites on this list! Earl Louis “Curly” Lambeau was born in Green Bay, WI, in April of 1898. He played football as a starter for Green Bay East High School all four years he attended. Then he went on to play for Notre Dame in 1918 until he got a bad case of tonsillitis and had to miss the 1919 spring semester. He was a professional football player and coach in the NFL from 1919 to 1953. With his friend (and Green Bay native) George Whitney Calhoun, Curly founded the Green Bay Packers in August of 1919 and led the team as captain from 1919 to 1920, when he became a player-coach. In the first two years of the Packer's existence, they mainly played other teams from Wisconsin and Michigan as an independent/semi-pro team. Still, their early success (and Curly’s persistence) led to them joining the NFL in 1921 (then called the American Professional Football Association). Curly helped his team win 6 NFL Championships as a player and coach for the Packers. He made Second-Team All-Pro three times and was the first coach in NFL history to win his 200th regular-season game. To this day, Curly Lambeau is recognized as one of the most successful coaches in NFL history. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963 and the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1970 at its inception. Lambeau is credited with being the pioneer of the forward pass in pro football, but he was one of the best passers of his time. Shortly after Curly’s death, the Green Bay Packer's home stadium (formerly called City Stadium) was renamed Lambeau Field in his honor. The stadium and Curly’s legacy have become such an enshrined part of Green Bay history that our community has continually chosen to preserve Lambeau Field, making it the oldest continuously operating NFL stadium in the country. Green Bay and Wisconsin, in general, would just not be the same without Curly’s influence and hard work.
As someone who has children in sports and often photographs children playing sports, I think it is incredibly important to recognize others who came from our home state and made their dreams come true. Your child or my child may not be the next Curly Lambeau or Gwen Jorgensen, but it's still imperative to capture their successes (and failures) in athletics. Sports teach kids such valuable lessons about hard work, being part of a team, and giving your all to something. I feel incredibly humbled and honored to be able to photograph the future athletes who could make a difference in the great state of Wisconsin someday. So, let your kids play, and don’t forget to snap those photos and create unforgettable memories!