The River City Renegade


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About my favorite athletes…Mike O’Shea and brown tap water…no more hanky-panky from CFL coaches…scuzzy Pete Rose…Usain Bolt losing to a drug cheat…and another gay slur

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

From the top: Wilma Rudolph, Sandy Koufax and Arnold Palmer, Martina Navratilova, Rafa Nadal and Bjorn Borg.

Came across an interesting item on social media the other day, whereby folks were listing their all-time favorite athletes. Not a greatest athlete list, understand. A fave list. Here’s mine:

Wilma Rudolph: So sleek, so elegant. Such regal bearing. The Italians called her La Gazzella Negra and, to the French, she was La Perle Noir. I adored the American sprinter who blossomed from sickly child (polio, double pneumonia, scarlet fever) into an Olympic champion sprinter. She wowed the world at the 1960 Games in Rome, skedaddling to three gold medals. Once back home in Clarksville, Tenn., she insisted that a parade/gala in her honor include all townsfolk, and history records it as the first fully integrated municipal event in town history.

Martina Navratilova: When the tennis legend defected from the former Czechoslovakia in 1975, she was a high school kid with everything going against her. English was not her first language. Family and friends were on the other side of the world. Fear of being seized and hauled back to her homeland by thugs in trench coats was ever-present. She had a fondness for Big Macs and large fries. And, as we discovered a few years later, she was a lesbian, which was a lot less cool then than it is now. But, as she was to tell news snoops in early September of ’75, “I wanted my freedom.” Once untethered from the leash of communist state suppression, Navratilova became the greatest player of her generation. To some, the greatest ever. And she’s long been a leading voice in the LGBT community.

Sandy Koufax: I should have been mad at Koufax on Oct. 6, 1965. The Los Angeles Dodgers—my team—were in Minneapolis to engage a hefty-hitting Minnesota Twins batting lineup in Game 1 of the World Series. Koufax, the premier pitcher in Major League Baseball, should have been on the mound. Instead, it was Don Drysdale, who, although no slouch on the hill, was no Koufax. But I couldn’t get mad at the great lefthander because his reason for taking the day off was unassailable—it was Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Sandy Koufax was my favorite player long before he deferred to his faith by declining to start Game 1, but his decision still resonates with me, much more than any of the other-wordly numbers that he posted during the 1960s. It was a shining life lesson, even for a Roman Catholic kid. (p.s. The Dodgers won the Series, with Koufax pitching successive shutouts in Games 5 and 7, the latter on only two days rest.)

Bjorn Borg: He was the anti-Johnny Mac. While John McEnroe would disrupt matches with volcanic eruptions of petulance, Borg played tennis with a Zen-like calm, utilizing an assortment of two-fisted, cross-court backhands and top-spinning forehands to disassemble foes en route to 11 Grand Slam championships, including five successive Wimbledon titles. I admired the Swede’s calm amidst chaos, his unflappable resolve, and his quiet intensity—all wrapped in a cloak of mystery—as much as I did his groundstrokes. To this day, I wonder what made Borg tick.

Arnold Palmer/Rafael Nadal: Okay, this is cheating. But I couldn’t decide between Rafa, the king of clay court tennis, and Arnie, the king of golf. Arnie and Sandy Koufax were my go-to guys as a kid, Rafa is my go-to guy in my dotage. Arnie was a swashbuckler, daring and charismatic, and universally respected and admired as a sportsman and, more important, as a person. Rafa arrived on the tennis scene with bulging biceps, sleeveless tops and pirate pants. “Different,” I thought upon seeing him for the first time. Well, vive la difference! Rafa adorns himself in regular tennis togs now, but there’s never been anything regular about his game. Especially on clay. And the Spaniard seems like such a nice, young man.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers offed the RedBlacks, 33-30, in Ottawa on Friday night, in large part because Mike O’Shea managed to stay out of his own way. I guess that means the natterbugs will have to squawk about something other than the head coach’s short pants this week. Maybe they can blame him for that scuzzy brown tap water in River City.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

Upon further review, further review was ruining the game, so bravo to commish Randy Ambrosie and Canadian Football League team poobahs for taking away every head coach’s favorite toy—the challenge flag. Well, okay, the sideline stewards aren’t exactly hanky-free. Each coach is still allowed to toss one yellow hanky each game, but that beats a total of six potential challenges per match.

In the world according to Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, changing the coach’s challenge rule this deep into the season makes the CFL head office a “clown show.” It’s “amateur hour.” Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The real “clown show” was coaches using frivolous challenges to challenge nothing but the integrity of the game and spirit of the rule, which is to “get it right.” I watched all four games last week and that “clown show” is definitely over. No more hanky-panky from the coaches.

Oh boy. Some people just don’t pay attention. We’re only at the front end of August and already Freep sports editor and Wiecek’s Grumpet twin, Steve Lyons, is promoting folly. “Best place to finish might be fourth in the West” for the Bombers, he advises us. That way, they’d earn a crossover post-season berth and play the patsies in Eastern Canada. Repeat after me, Mr. Lyons: No, no, no, no, no…nine times no. No West outfit has successfully navigated the eastern route to the Grey Cup game. Never. Ever. In nine tries. And you think it’ll work for the Bombers? Ya, just like attempting a 61-yard field goal worked at B.C. Place last November.

So, champion sprinter Usain Bolt lost some of the lickety-split in his long legs and was beaten to the finish line in his final individual race at the world track and field championships in London. No big deal. Sandy Koufax lost the final game he ever pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Muhammad Ali lost his final fight (badly). Babe Ruth grounded out in his final at-bat. Hey, stuff happens. I just wish Bolt hadn’t lost to a guy, Justin Gatlin, who’s twice been told to go away for failed drug tests.

Scuzzball Pete Rose

Pete Rose, Major League Baseball’s all-time hit leader, has been holding his own poor Petey pity party since being banned for betting on games while managing the Cincinnati Reds, and the one-time jailbird has actually found sympathetic ears. In an ESPN sports poll conducted by Luker on Trends between November 2016 and last February, Rose was No. 50 on a list of most popular athletes in the U.S., active or retired. Only two ballplayers—Derek Jeter at No. 13 and Babe Ruth, No. 30—finished ahead of him in voting by 6,000 people 12 and over. I wonder what the Rose-ites have to say now that their hero has confessed to having had sex with a 16-year-old girl while he was in his 30s, married and a father of two. The man is a scuzzy as the brown tap water in Winnipeg.

Outfielder Matt Joyce of the Oakland Athletics is “beyond sorry” for using a gay slur during a hissing contest with a fan in Anaheim on Friday night. I’m sorry, but it’s “beyond sorry” that male pro athletes are still using homophobic language as their go-to slurs in 2017.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

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About P.K. Snub-ban…wife-beating Russians…playoff beards…John McEnroe…and Mike O’Shea has to watch another film

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

P.K. Subban didn't get the call.

P.K. Subban didn’t get the call.

Snub-a-dubba-do.

Corey Perry was snubbed. P.K. Subban was snubbed. Taylor Hall was snubbed. Phil Kessel was snubbed. Kris Letang was snubbed. Tyler Johnson was snubbed. Ilya Kovalchuk was snubbed. Nikolaj Ehlers was snubbed. Mikael Backlund was snubbed. Here a snub, there a snub, everywhere a snub-snub.

And you expected something different?

I mean, do the math. There are only 23 sweaters to fill per team for the World Cup of Hockey gala next September in the Republic of Tranna. It’s a given, therefore, that high-end skill will fail to make the final roll call, especially in a country with a talent-glut. Like Canada.

Oh woe is the man tasked with the chore of assembling a shinny side comprised of the ‘best’ Canada has available. He leaves himself exposed to second, third, fourth and fifth guessing from armchair general managers from sea to sea to sea, many of whom don’t know a puck from pasta. And it isn’t always a numbers game at play. Sometimes it’s in-house politicking. Other times, it’s just plain dumb.

Bob Clarke, for example, became a certified nutbar in 1998 when, in assembling our Olympic outfit, he insisted on making room for the legendary Rob Zamuner rather than grant a roster spot to Mark Messier. D’oh! At the 1991 Canada Cup, Steve Yzerman was out and Dirk Graham was in. Go figure.

Flash all the way back to the 1972 Summit Series between the Great White North and the Red Menace from the Soviet Union. Can you say Bobby Hull, Dave Keon, J.C. Tremblay, Gordie Howe and Gerry Cheevers, kids? All were all-stars. All were Stanley Cup champions. And all were on the outside looking in because they had the bad manners (according to the National Hockey League) to defect to the World Hockey Association or, in Howe’s case, had the bad manners to retire.

Here’s what Phil Esposito said about the selection process in ’72:

There were some guys that got there because they were (Alan) Eagleson’s clients, no doubt about it. I never thought that lineup was unbeatable at all. I felt that if we had Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr (injured) in that lineup, they wouldn’t have beat us one iota. I was disappointed by some selections.”

Now lend an ear to Peter Mahovlich, also a member of the ’72 side:

This wasn’t all of Team Canada. This was team NHL. Right off the bat, that excluded Bobby Hull, Dave Keon and Gerry Cheevers in net. If we had Bobby and Dave, I don’t see myself making the roster.”

So, P.K. Subban and others being snubbed? Nothing to see here, kids. Let’s move on.

Just wondering: If Team Canada bench boss Mike Babcock had coached Bobby Orr in his prime, would he have ordered him to play left defence because he shot left? Or would he have left the greatest player in the history of the game alone?

Interesting that Russia included wife-beating defenceman Slava Voynov on its WCH final roster. I’d say there’s about as much chance of Voynov joining the comrades in the Republic of Tranna as their is of Donald Trump choosing me as his presidential running mate.

Brad Marchand: We get to cheer for the rat for a month.

Brad Marchand: We get to cheer for the rat for a month.

Here’s the beauty of the Word Cup of Hockey: We all get to cheer for that little rat Brad Marchand while he’s wearing the Maple Leaf on his chest, then we resume regularly scheduled dissing once he’s adorned in Boston Bruins linen again.

Is it unCanadian of me if I really don’t care to talk about the World Cup of Hockey again until September? I don’t believe so. If, on the other hand, I still don’t wish to talk about it once the frost is on the pumpkin, feel free to take away my maple syrup, my back bacon and my Don Cherry voodoo doll.

Midway through this current NHL crusade, I sat in my local watering hold and advised the Lord of the Beer Pit that the Eastern Conference champs would win the Stanley Cup. I assumed that team would be the Washington Capitals. Instead, we have the Pittsburgh Penguins. I say Pitt in seven.

Joe Thornton: That beard is thicker than rough at the U.S. Open.

Joe Thornton: That beard is thicker than rough at the U.S. Open.

Once the Stanley Cup tournament is a matter for hockey historians to discuss and either the Penguins or San Jose Sharks are hailed as rulers of all they survey, players shall reach for their razor blades and perform some serious spring pruning of facial foliage. There is no truth to the rumor, however, that Professional Golf Association Tour officials will collect Brent Burns’s and Joe Thornton’s beards and use them for rough at the U.S. Open.

If you’re keeping score at home, it took Mike O’Shea exactly one practice to deliver his first “I’ll have to watch the film” sound bite of the Canadian Football League season. After observing his troops on Sunday, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach said, “They flew around pretty well. I’ll have to watch the film and count the number of errors, but I thought it was a very clean practice…” Las Vegas bookies have listed the over/under on O’Shea’s “film” quotes this season at 3,492.

John McEnroe: Waaa, waaa, waaa, waaa.

John McEnroe: Waaa, waaa, waaa, waaa.

Wonderful start to the Milos Raonic-John McEnroe partnership. McEnroe is hired as a grass-courts consultant for Raonic, he shows up for one practice session, and the Canadian is promptly ousted from the French Open by 55th-ranked Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain the very next day. Clearly, McEnroe has yet to work his magic with Raonic. Not to worry, though, the Mouth that Roared guarantees us that Raonic will have perfected the fine art of the tennis temper tantrum by the time they arrive at Wimbledon.

 

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 


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Sports Illustrated editors are horses’ asses for naming Serena Williams Sportsperson of the Year

Okay, who’s the horse’s ass? Or horses’ asses?

I mean, the deep thinkers at Sports Illustrated have anointed Serena Williams as their Sportsperson of the Year for 2015, and I want names. I want rank. I want serial numbers. I want to feret out the scoundrels who delivered this decree, a decision that has spurred debate to a gallop and sired a level of rancor not seen since…well, not since the needle on Donald Trump’s hate-seeking compass moved his attention and direction from Mexicans to Muslims.

SOTYCOV1221.lo.inddIt’s positively scandalous, this coronation of Williams, who, as one side of the argument hastens to emphasize, did not win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes this year. That, of course, was the province of American Pharoah, who spent the past spring, summer and autumn showing all other race horses his ass, becoming the first thoroughbred in 37 years to lickety-split his way to victory in all three Triple Crown romps and first ever to add the Breeder’s Cup Classic to that collection.

Surely, that trumps anything Williams accomplished on the tennis court.

And, no, it matters not to the pro-equine lot that Williams uses a knife and fork while dining and Pharoah eats from a bucket in a barn. American Pharoah is a person if SI says he is a person, and the mag said as much by including him in a poll asking readers their choice for Sportsperson of the Year. Apparently, his two extra legs did not disqualify him from being short-listed. Table manners and leg count be damned.

We ought not be surprised that Pharoah fell short of the wire in this sprint, though, because the SI salute has never been bestowed on any creature with a lip tattoo, although we still aren’t sure about Terry Bradshaw. And let’s face it, if Secretariat doesn’t qualify as Sportsperson of the Year (he lost to race car driver Jackie Stewart in 1973), neither does Pharoah.

Still, the giddyup community and the faithful who fawn over Pharoah went into a tizzy and the language became racist and rather unseemly, with gusts up to deplorable, on Twitter.

Well, truth is, the pony people were right about one thing: The tall foreheads at SI got it wrong. But they didn’t get it wrong because they chose Serena Williams over a race horse. They didn’t get it wrong because they featured Williams splay-legged and in black stilletos for a cover shot that the prudish might tsk-tsk as a tad tawdry (you’d never catch Pharoah in such a provocative pose). No, they got it wrong because they chose the wrong tennis player.

Serena Williams wasn’t the best tennis player on the planet this year, let alone the top sportsperson. That would be Novak Djokovic, the sometimes sombre Serb who likely would have gotten the nod had he been born in Bakersfield, Calif., rather than Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

Why Djokovic over Williams? Let me count the ways…

  • Djokovic: Three Grand Slam titles, four finals. Williams: Three Grand Slam titles, one semifinal.
  • Djokovic: Won 11 tournaments. Williams: Won five tournaments.
  • Djokovic: 82-6 overall. Williams: 53-3 overall.

You want more? Well, Djokovic was beaten in his first tournament of the year, a tuneup for the Australian Open, then reached the final in his ensuing 15 events. In the open era of tennis, only Roger Federer (92-5 in 2006), John McEnroe (82-3 in 1984) and Jimmy Connors (93-4 in ’74) have carved out a better winning percentage than Djokovic. Finally, while Williams shut down her season after stumbling against a spare part named Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open, Djokovic soldiered on, leaving the Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, N.Y., to play another 20 matches, winning 19 and the Association of Tennis Professionals title.

But, like I said, Djokovic had the bad manners to be born in Belgrade, not Bakersfield or Bemidji, so he was snubbed.

And that’s why the editors at Sports Illustrated are horses’ asses.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.


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Weekend Wrap, Vol. 5: All about the 2019 Stanley Cup champions, tennis rivalries and quality curling coverage

A little bit of this, a little bit of that and a whole lot of opinion in a weekend wrap…

I’m not sure what is more giggle-worthy, the puck prophets at The Hockey News reading tea leaves that tell them the Winnipeg Jets will be rulers of all they survey in 2019 or Jets Nation getting all giddy about a magazine designed to do nothing more than spike sales.

If you missed it, there shall be a Stanley Cup cavalcade on the streets of downtown River City in June 2019. The Hockey News says it will be so in their Future Watch issue, and who can we trust if not the Bible of Hockey? I mean, according to David Larkins of the Winnipeg Sun, THN is the “trusted periodical on all things hockey.” So there. If those wild-and-whacky puck prophets at THN tell us to plan a parade route, then that’s what we must do. Plan a parade route. For June. 2019.

Ignore the fact that those same shinny swamis pegged Team Peg to finish dead last in the Central Division of the National Hockey League this season. Hey, sometimes the tea leaves are tough to read. So cut ’em some slack.

Just know this, Jets Nation: A Stanley Cup parade is coming to a downtown intersection near you—assuming you live in the vicinity of Portage and Main—because your Winnipeg Jets are bringing hockey’s holy grail to good, ol’ Home Town. In June. 2019. Book off work. Skip school. Strike up the band.

This is big. This is colossal. I mean, it’s been a quarter century since River City last held a downtown parade that didn’t include Santa Claus. Or a bevy of Ru Paul wannabes.

What I like best is that THN has given us advance notice. Four years worth. That’s plenty of time to put some spit and shine on our ol’ girl, Peg. Why, once we’ve scraped all the hobos off the streets and shuttered them away in the background so as not to ruin the optics we’ll be sending out to all those losers in locales like the Republic of Tranna, we can have ol’ Peg looking like a million bucks.

Oh, what fun this will be for the kids. For the entire family.

We wish we could give you an exact date for the parade, also a route, but the THN shinny swamis didn’t have the good manners to tell us if our local hockey heroes would be winning the Stanley Cup final in four, five, six or seven games in June 2019. Doesn’t matter. We can work out the details later. For now, they assure us that the Jets shall be NHL champeens. In June. 2019.

Be there.

WHO’S IN, WHO’S OUT? Watching good, ol’ Home Team dismantle the Nashville Predators in Music City on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but wonder who among the current crop of Jets will be part of the large celebration. In June. 2019.

I mean, you think Lee Stempniak is going to be riding in a convertible when the Stanley Cup motorcade lurches toward Portage and Main in late June 2019? Jiri Tlusty? Jay Harrison? Mark Stuart? Drew Stafford? Anthony Peluso? Ondrej Pavelec? Jim Slater? Michael Hutchinson? Chris Thorburn?

Well, okay, maybe Thorburn will be part of the parade. Apparently he has dicey pics. Thus, the Jets no doubt will double down on his existing pact between now and Nirvana. Or just grant him a contract for life. But those other guys? Not so much. They’ll probably be playing their hockey for the woeful Las Vegas Crap Shoots. The parade will pass them by.

HITHER ‘N’ YAWN: Interesting that True North Sports & Entertainment plans to bring its American Hockey League affiliate home to Winnipeg. Can’t see much fan lure there, other than affordability compared to the tariff for Jets matches. Seems to me a Western Hockey League outfit would be an easier sell…Don Cherry has become so irrelevant that I didn’t even notice what he was wearing during his Curmudgeon’s Corner rory1gig on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night…So quiz me this: When Tiger Woods has a hissy-fit on a golf course and swears or spits or slams a club into the ground, it’s boorish behavior. It’s deplorable. Entire forests are plowed to the ground in order to provide enough newsprint to satisfy the needs of sports scribes who spend the next month cutting Woods a new one. Yet, when Rory McIlroy has a hissy-fit, hurling his 3-iron into a water hazard at Doral, it’s greeted with a shrug and a ho-hum. Why the double standard?…Couldn’t believe what I heard tripping off Hazel Mae’s tongue late last week when the Sportsnet talking head previewed the Davis Cup tie between Canada and Japan. She actually compared the rivalry between Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori to those of tennis legends Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe, Andre Agassi-Pete Sampras, among others. Good grief. Apparently, research is an option Hazel doesn’t exercise…When it comes to tennis rivalries, there has been none greater—ever—than that produced by Martina Navratilova and Chrissie Evert. Between 1973 and ’88, they met 80 times. More than 25 per cent of those matches (22) came in Grand Slam events and 14 were Grand Slam finals. Nothing compares to that. For the record, Navratilova held a slight edge overall, 43-37.

CUE THE CURLING: Totally selfless act by John Morris to demote himself from skip to third on the Team Canada outfit that won the Brier on Sunday. Can’t imagine many curlers doing that…Although the Johnny Mo team was wearing the Maple Leaf at the Saddledome in Calgary, let’s not lose sight of the reality that another Alberta squad has won the Canadian men’s curling championship. They play out of the Glencoe Club in Cowtown, so Wild Rose Country teams have now won nine Briers this century…Department of Better Late than Never: Melissa Martin of the Winnipeg Free Press killed it at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw last month. When a scribe is on assignment out of town, I want her or him to take me to their locale. I don’t want to simply read the final score and a stream of quotes. I want to see and feel what the writer sees and feels. What the fans see and feel. Martin delivered. She took me to Moose Jaw with some wonderful anecdotal insight and spot-on reporting that allowed me to join Jennifer Jones and her Buffalo Girls for every step to the Scotties title, a fifth for Jones. It was boffo work…It pains me to say the Winnipeg Sun wasn’t served as well as the Freep at either the Scotties or Brier. They never had one of their own on the scene. Don’t blame sports editor Ted Wyman, though. That had to be a corporate call. But a Winnipeg daily should always, always, always have their own scribe at the two main bonspiels on the curling calendar…

Jeff Stoughton

Jeff Stoughton

Interesting take by Freep scribe Paul Wiecek on Reid Carruthers’ wonky, unManitoba-like record (4-7) at the Brier. “The job description as the curling writer for a paper that has covered every Brier since the first one in 1927 says I’m supposed to rip Carruthers in this space today,” he writes. “He let down his team, he let down the province etc. But my heart’s not in it. Carruthers knows better than anyone what went wrong this week. And no one feels worse about it than he does. He’s a good guy, who had a very bad week. I’m giving him a pass. You should too.” Good for Wiecek…Now that Jeff Stoughton has retired, I suppose it’s time to confirm his status as the greatest curler ever produced in the Keystone province. Who else could it possibly be? Here’s my top-five list (since I began watching and writing about curling in the very early 1970s): 1. Stoughton; 2. Jennifer Jones; 3. Don Duguid; 4. Kerry Burtnyk; 5. Connie Laliberte; Honorable Mention: Vic Peters.

 

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.