A.J. Gibson

Writer, Producer, Model, Athlete

athlete profiles and features

Black Girl Strength: Black Panther's Niahlah Hope, Superhero In Training

It’s been about eight months since Black Panther made its blockbuster debut, and Niahlah Hope is no longer bald. 

Today, she sports a short fro that she likes to slick back now and again. Sometimes she wears wigs because versatility is in her nature — and actually, it’s a part of her job. 

As a stunt double, Hope has rocked Bantu knots while playing Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) in Orange is the New Black. Most recently, she’s worn a brown bob while playing Carrie (Tiffany Haddish) in Night School and will soon be seen flaunting longer Black tresses as Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson) in What Men Want.

Hope has always been adaptable and ready for anything.

That’s why when the 24-year-old from Far Rockaway, NY was picked to be in Black Panther —  the highest-grossing film of 2018 — she didn’t flinch when hair and makeup grabbed the clippers to shave her head. She was going to be Lupita N’yongo’s stunt double, after all. [Cont.]

BRANDI DARBY AND THE COMPLEXITY OF ALBINO EXCELLENCE

This is a story about tears and the many emotions contained within them.

It’s a tale about emotions, the memories coloring them and the sometimes daunting change of identity that comes with accomplishment.

Our heroine? An albino woman named Brandi Darby who became the first legally blind woman to medal at a USA Weightlifting event last July. And if she’s being honest with you, she’ll say it was an honor she wasn’t sure she was ready to accept.

In fact, the day she walked into the American Open Series 2 in Valley Forge, Pa., Brandi didn’t even think that making history was a possibility.

She was too busy taking in her surroundings. [Cont.]

Who Said A Fire Couldn’t Start With Ice?

On a blistering cold November day in Whistler, Canada, Simidele Adeagbo stood atop one of the most threatening skeleton tracks in the world. 

Elite athletes have reached frightening speeds at the Whistling Sliding Center. At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a training crash going at 89 miles per hour, according to reports

But a determined Adeagbo — who had only touched her first skeleton sled in September — was going to try it anyway. The 36-year-old Nigerian was at her first IBSF training camp and her major goal on her first run was not to scream. [Cont.]

OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTER CHUCKIE WELCH IS AN ICON FOR BLACK GIRL STRENGTH

When Olympic weightlifter and snatch American record holder Quiana “Chuckie” Welch stepped onto the platform at the Arnold Classic last March, she did so with more African pizazz than most of the competitors in the room. 

All eyes were on her custom-made, legless singlet: Its kente-like design featured bright orange, green and yellow, while a black meshy fabric laced her arms and shoulders. It was a much more playful version of the classic, monochromatic uniforms most weightlifters wear to meets. Welch and her teammates decided to stitch up something unique for this competition. [Cont.]

From racing men to winning gold, Lindsey Vonn reveals what truly motivates her

Excelle Sports got a chance to sit down with Vonn to talk about her goals, Billie Jean King’s Battle of the Sexes and even her squat routine. [Cont.]

How one NYC Marathon runner is healing from the trauma of the Boston Bombings

In 2013, Julie Vona truly believed that she was going to run the last marathon of her career. Don’t get her wrong: She loved running. It allowed her to enjoy the outdoors of central Massachusetts, feel at peace with herself, stay healthy and maybe catch up with some of her girlfriends over a causal jog. But Vona was approaching 50 years of age. Training every morning before her day job as a special education teacher, plus an additional three-hour workout on the weekends was becoming exhausting. She was a mother of two—ages 8 and 10—who wanted to spend more time with her family. [Cont.]

How one runner went from brain tumor victim to NYC Marathon competitor in less than a year

“No … no way,” she thought. “That’s not remotely possible.”

Ashley Clayton, 33, was lying on the floor of the Hoboken train station when paramedics rushed to her attention. Clayton was puzzled and trying to put the pieces together. Bystanders said she had seizure and collapsed to the ground.

“But I’m a healthy person,” she said. Clayton was an avid runner who loved marathons and took good care of her body. Besides, she rarely got headaches and didn’t feel any different that day. Why would she have a seizure? [Cont.]

No longer in the shadows, this pioneering girls’ wrestling team offers ‘endless possibilities’

KINGSTON, Pa.—In an old bank hall cleared of its roped waiting lines and glass teller booths, the Wyoming Seminary boys’ wrestling team ran around the mats wedged cozily on the marble floor. Massive vault doors against the wall yawned open to weightlifting equipment and exercise machines. Giant chandeliers hung from the ceiling giving the room a hearty glow, while a warm afternoon light floated through grand windows and made everyone sweat just a little.

The “Great Hall”—this unique gym still glittering with golden fleur de lis and old trophies—is the alluring symbol of Sem’s wrestling program: it’s charmingly old school. The boarding academy in Northeastern Pennsylvania, founded in 1844, has had some of the best boys’ teams in the country since the early 1900s. The Blue Knights have earned numerous national titles dating back to 1937, and they are frequently ranked among the top 10 schools in the America. [Cont.]

The Sport of Gaming: This is how eSports make UFC fighter Angela Hill a better athlete

Angela “Overkill” Hill doesn’t do anything half-assed, even when her ass is on the couch.

In the the ring, the 5-foot-3 strawweight fighter claims she “brings a bazooka to fight night” as she tries to land as many kicks and punches on her opponents. And at home, she’ll spend hours staring at the TV, a controller in her hands, punching buttons to master her favorite first-person shooter games. [Cont.]

The Sport of Gaming: NBA Live star Jonquel Jones is not ashamed to be a gamer girl

When Jonquel Jones was selected as the 6th overall draft pick during the 2016 WNBA Draft, guess what she bought herself afterward? A 65-inch TV to place in the living room of her new Connecticut apartment. There, she’s got her Xbox 4, Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch with everything hooked up to large surround-sound speakers. When Jones games, she likes to be immersed. [Cont.]

The Sport of Gaming: Becky Sauerbrunn is soccer’s Tomb Raider and she can beat you in Mario Kart

It’s Christmas and Becky Sauerbrunn is eight years old. She’s wearing pajamas as she rips open presents with her two older brothers. Santa had given her a Fisher Price kitchen set, but Sauerbrunn was more drawn to what her brothers had pulled out of its wrapping: Behold! A new Nintendo—a digital portal opening to fantastic worlds where sword-wielding heroes kiss princesses, space cadets save planets, and portly Italian plumbers ride dinosaurs. [Cont.]

Casey Short’s long comeback, then quick rise to fame

When the Chicago Red Stars travel to Providence Park to play the Portland Thorns on Saturday, both teams can finish out the regular season with relative ease. Each have solidified their spot in the playoffs, and with the no. 1 ranked North Carolina Courage snagging the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Shield earlier this week, there is no prize resting on this game.

But for one Red Star, there is another prize on the line that is impacted by each game she plays. Casey Short is in the mix for the 2017 NWSL defender of the year, and no matter the stakes, she doesn’t take her job lightly. [Cont.]

How one former USWNT player, a UFC fighter and an international wrestler came together to enforce gender equality

On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, the windows of the Brooklyn Expo Center rumbled with the sound of drums, vuvuzelas and cowbells as 24 women’s 5v5 soccer teams from all over the world gathered on the hard courts for the Global Goals World Cup.

The UN-sponsored tournament, which took place on Sept. 19, was dedicated to raising public awareness of important global issues, with the winning team taking home a trophy that symbolized their commitment toward creating world peace. [Cont.]

How UNC’s Ashley Hoffman is playing out a USA Field Hockey legacy

Some would say that Ashley Hoffman has a lot of pressure on her shoulders as a junior defender on UNC’s field hockey team.

For one, she’s a captain of one of the top programs in collegiate history. The Tar Heels have won 19 ACC championships and six NCAA titles since 1983. In her three years with UNC, Hoffman has helped lead her team to two NCAA championship finals only to lose the coveted crown at the final buzzer. This season, Hoffman and the Tar Heels are hungry for another chance at the trophy. [Cont.]

 

Why Jordyn Barratt is the pro skateboarder you need to know before Tokyo 2020

Tony Hawk. Rob Dyrdek. Bam Margera. These are a few of the male skateboarders who have made a name for themselves on and off the pro tour for their mind-bending tricks and prevalent pop culture presence. But there hasn’t yet been anyone on the women’s side who has transcended the sport and entered the mainstream to become a household name.

That could all change with skateboarding being added to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic program. And there are a crop of young skaters who are looking to capitalize on the opportunity, including 2017 X Games silver medalist Jordyn Barratt. [Cont.]