Sports & Recreation

Our home-grown, star-studded athletes

Natalie Gulbis

Natalie Gulbis

They’re incredible! They’re intrepid! They’re in the news! They’re some of the world’s most amazing athletes, and they got their start here in Sacramento.

Beware the killer swing of golf pro Natalie Gulbis and the form she shows off. While most of us were learning to dot our i’s and cross our t’s, this power swinger was teeing off with her father at local courses. At the age of 14, she became the youngest player to qualify for an LPGA event, a record she held for five years. Nowadays, this former Granite Bay High School student can be found looking great on the course, promoting golf clothing, and on the pages of her somewhat controversial 2005 calendar, which the United States Golf Association frowned upon for its revealing nature.

Keep both eyes on Onterrio Smith, for this man is a true escape artist. As a senior at Grant Union High School, Smith proved he had all the right moves, setting single-season school records with 3,154 rushing yards and 60 touchdowns. Now, entering his third year as a running back for the Minnesota Vikings, Smith continues to elude defensive players and gain more ground. Unfortunately, he can’t evade the NFL drug testers and the media’s eye; he’s been suspended for the first four games of the season.

American swimmers gaining gold in the Athens Olympics saw in the stands perhaps the greatest living Olympian. Certainly, television viewers were reminded of his presence. It was a still-handsome Mark Spitz. Considered one of the fastest swimmers ever, Spitz received his first competitive-swimming instruction at a local YMCA. This “aqua man” has come a long way since his youth in Sacramento, racking up seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and setting world records in all seven of those events. Spitz quit swimming for years, picking it up again when he began training for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona—he didn’t qualify, but we’re still proud of our local-boy-made-gold.

But wait! Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water or turn on the tube, another Sacramento-area swimmer goes for the gold on television. Summer Sanders not only qualified for the 1992 Olympics; she also brought home four medals: two golds, a silver and a bronze. Can her success be attributed to the fact that she held a summer job at Water World USA? We may never know, but we’ve certainly seen her enough times on television selling cars.

In 2002, Auburn resident Scott Lindgren, a world-renowned kayaker and Emmy-winning cameraman, teamed up with seven fearless individuals to conquer the deepest river gorge in the world, the Tsangpo River in Tibet. Facing life-threatening challenges, this group of thrill-seekers traversed a 50-mile stretch of what many call the “Everest of rivers.” See it all in Lindgren’s awe-inspiring documentary Into the Tsangpo Gorge.

These courageous adventurers have achieved greatness around the globe, making those at home proud. Applaud! Gasp! Above all else, show some respect for our very visible hometown heroes and heroines!