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Athletic Achievers

Volleyball standout Rachel Giustino

Relatively short for an outsider hitter, Rachel Giustino excelled at collegiate volleyball through a combination of power, finesse and athleticism. In volleyball, being taller does give a player an advantage — something Rachel Giustino readily admits. Height is almost a prerequisite if a female high school player hopes to catch the eye of a major university. “Normally, big schools won’t recruit anyone under 6 foot,” says Giustino, who’s listed at 5-10. But that didn’t deter David Schwepker, head volleyball coach at Murray State University in Kentucky. From the get-go, Schwepker set his sights on Giustino, who helped lead Marian Central ...

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Rodeo wunderkind Katelyn Turner

A veteran rider at 16 years of age, Katelyn Turner took her roping to the next level last year at the World Junior Championships in Vegas. Katelyn Turner found her passion at a young age when she first saddled up a horse. Now, she’s competing in the international spotlight at just 16 years old. Turner was only 10 when she first started riding. Once she put her feet in the stirrups, they almost never came out. “I lived in Hollywood, Florida, and they used to have a Wednesday night Jackpot Rodeo,” says Turner, the granddaughter of longtime Chicago-area Italian-American community ...

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Former Cub Fanzone barred from MLB benefits

A former Chicago Cub with 237 games under his belt, Carmen Fanzone has been denied benefits accorded other short-term players in the wake of a 1980 rule change. Former Cubs player Carmen Fanzone still has fond memories of his time in the Windy City. “When I was there, if people found out you played for the Cubs, you were treated like royalty,” the 78-year-old Fanzone says. Sadly, the same cannot be said of Major League Baseball and the union representing today’s players, the Major League Baseball Players’ Association. Fanzone is among the over 600 retirees who do not receive MLB ...

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State hockey hall of famer John Conenna

An abiding passion for hockey propelled John Conenna to the pinnacle of the sport in Illinois. From standout grade-school goalie to stellar high school coach to Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, John Conenna has excelled at every local level of the sport. The soon-to-be-60-year-old travel agency owner was bitten by the hockey bug when he was only 8. “I used to watch a group of boys in my neighborhood play street hockey outside my window,” Conenna says. “I figured I’d tag along and try it and I was hooked.” His choice of positions was influenced by the play of ...

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Hot rod legend Tony Schumacher

A hot rod legend like his father before him, Tony Schumacher holds the land-speed record for a quarter-mile run along with countless other drag racing achievements. Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher is arguably the most successful drag racer in the history of the sport. An eight-time National Hot Rod Association champion, he led the pack in consecutive years from 2004 to 2009. He is the winningest racer in the NHRA’s “top fuel” class, posting 53 career victories, holding the record for the fastest quarter-mile run and reaching 330 mph in competition before any other racer. The son of fellow drag racing ...

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Rose Bowl champion Ralph “Babe” Serpico

A standout nose tackle in high school and college, Ralph Serpico emerged as a pillar of the community he grew up in throughout his adulthood. From high school football star to Rose Bowl champion and beyond, Ralph “Babe” Serpico was a role model and force for good in his native Melrose Park. “You have a community of mostly working-class Italians, and they’re reading stories in the newspaper about my dad winning the Rose Bowl,” Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico says. “It was a big source of pride for everyone in the community.” Ralph got the ball rolling as a standout ...

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Karate Champ Angelina Romano

A karate enthusiast since early childhood, Angelina Roman has taken the sport by storm, earning a spot on the U.S. team before her 15th birthday. There’s a new force to be reckoned with in the karate world. From her first well-aimed kick in kindergarten, teen phenom Angelina Romano has pummeled her way to the top of the sport in her age bracket, winning the national championship and earning a spot on the U.S. team. Though the martial arts are now her passion, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for Angelina. “My dad sat me and my sister down, and ...

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Collegiate running coach Megan Vaccaro

An average runner early in her college career, Megan Vaccaro took her race to the next level in the wake of a family trauma. The most decorated runner in the history of Dominican University says it was a personal tragedy — the death of her beloved father — that sparked her fierce dedication to the sport and her multiple achievements. “Going through college, I learned that nothing is impossible, and if you want something bad enough, you can find a way to make it happen,” 31-year-old Megan Vaccaro says. A native of Oswego and a 2010 graduate of Dominican University, ...

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Baseball exec Mike LaCassa

Data analysis is important in helping players make the leap from the minors to the majors, L.A. Angels exec Mike LaCassa says, but you can’t lose sight of the human element. As director of minor league operations for the Los Angeles Angels, Mike LaCassa says that yes, of course, developing players for Major League Baseball is the goal. “Each time a player moves up a level and especially when they make their Major League debut, it really makes us feel proud of all the work they put in, because none of it comes easily,” the 32-year-old said. But the job ...

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Competitive skater Deanna Stellato

Sidelined for 16 years by injuries, Deanna Stellato returned to competitive skating with a bang, earning a U.S. bronze medal last year and setting her sights on the 2022 Olympics. A highly successful return to professional ice skating after a 16-year hiatus is not something Deanna Stellato ever envisioned. “It’s definitely not something I thought I would do,” says Stellato, 35, who with her skating partner Nathan Bartholomay earned a U.S. bronze medal last year. Stellato, a native of Illinois, competed as a junior until the 2000-2001 season. She had suffered multiple injuries and was having a hard time recovering ...

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