The New York Flash's loss was our gain. Traded to the Houston Dash in October 2014, New Jersey gal and regular starter Carli Lloyd soon separated herself from the pack, demonstrating a mental toughness that has led this two-time Olympic gold medalist to glory, including being named FIFA Women's World Cup champion and FIFA Player of the Year in 2015. It was no surprise when she was named to the 2016 Olympic roster; after all, she scored the winning goals in the finals of the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. We all winced when she sprained a ligament back in April, though she was quick to send out a reassuring tweet, "This won't stop me." The midfielder was true to her word, back in the saddle by July and proving that her not-so-secret weapon was working harder than everyone else.

If you ever sit down with Bill Brown to talk about Houston Astros baseball, you'll notice the remarkable ease with which he bounces between anecdotes from different generations. The man they call "Brownie" recalls stories about the Biggio-Bagwell-Caminiti nucleus just as easily as he recounts a Carlos Correa or Jose Altuve home run from this past summer. Brown brings this same storytelling skill to his play-by-play work on television, emanating that casual elegance in the games he calls for ROOT Sports Southwest. With 30 years announcing Astros games under his belt, Brown is the closest thing to a team historian currently working for the team. Now that the Astros appear ready for perennial playoff contention, it's great to see Brownie's voice attached to important games once again.

When DeAndre Hopkins was taken with the 27th overall pick in 2013, most people thought he'd be a pretty good player. Few saw him becoming one of the top five wide receivers in all of football, but that's precisely what has happened. What makes Hopkins's performance even more remarkable is that he did his damage last season (111 catches, 1,521 yards, 11 touchdowns) with four different starting quarterbacks, notching at least one 100-yard game with all four signal-callers. Hopkins is not especially fast, but he has an amazing knack for spectacular plays in traffic and superhero-quality body control. Hopkins will get to feel what it's like to play with a franchise quarterback this season now that the Texans have Brock Osweiler, a move that should only solidify Hopkins's status as an elite wide receiver in the NFL.

READERS' CHOICE: J.J. Watt

When we're looking to burn off some energy and log some miles, we head straight to Memorial Park. Spanning 1,466 acres, it is one of the largest urban parks in the United States and has been set up to offer everything a runner could want. The three-mile loop is always a satisfying jaunt, full of people-watching opportunities, as well as water fountains and bathrooms. At night the path is well-lit so you can still exercise after work in those dark winter months. And if crowds aren't your thing, Memorial Park offers plenty of other running paths and trails too.

Skydive Spaceland

There's nothing like launching yourself out of an airplane at 14,000 feet and free-falling at 120 miles an hour – safely, of course. Skydive Spaceland gives you the thrill of rushing towards death while being safely strapped to an expert who jumps out of perfectly good airplanes for a living. After you both pull on the parachute, you'll float above a private 134-acre drop zone about 30 minutes south of Houston. On a clear day you might even see the H-Town skyline in the distance.

Out of all the fun runs in the Bayou City, this one takes home the gold because it's sexy and doesn't take itself too seriously. Benefiting local charity Girls on the Run Greater Houston, this two-mile run starts and ends at the Gorgeous Gael Irish Bar, and participants race in bras, panties and Speedos. Our favorite part? The costume contest, bringing us a naughty Catholic schoolgirl, the Captain America collective, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and many other characters. It's good clean fun — in a sweaty, hot and bothered sort of way — with a nice cold beer chaser at the end.

Congressman Bill Archer Bark Park

Inner Loop dog owners have precious few parks where Fido can really cut loose. That's why we suggest going the extra mile (or 20) and taking your furry friend to Congressman Bill Archer Dog Park, where he can gallivant across 17 acres, finding new and interesting ways to get dirty. Whether your pal likes agility courses, ponds, woodsy areas or just wide-open spaces, he's guaranteed to have a blast. And you're guaranteed to have some peace and quiet once he gets home and crashes.

READERS' CHOICE: Buffalo Bayou Park

Our weather being what it is, the time comes for Houston parents to exercise their demons indoors. And Wonderwild is just the place, ­spacious enough to run the little horses and affordable enough to visit as needed. The attractions include a huge kiddie habitrail, various chutes and ladders, non-­mechanized go-­kart tracks, a ropey habitat, assorted toys, foam sundries and a general bounce-­area with an enduring popularity. The staff is friendly; they stay within sight but out of the way, observing the strange, almost self-­governing social systems of children at play.

It's rare to have a player about whom you can say, "He is the reason the Rockets finished as the eighth seed in the Western Conference," and have it be simultaneously an insult and a compliment. Last season Harden's slow start dug the Rockets into a hole that got Kevin McHale fired. But with two months left, Harden was spectacular, showing the form that made him the runner-up for the MVP in 2014-2015, and helped the Rockets sneak into the playoffs. This season, with Dwight Howard gone to Atlanta, the Rockets are building exclusively around Harden, who will look to regain his near MVP form with new teammates Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon turning his kick-out passes into three-pointers.

READERS' CHOICE: James Harden

Hermann Park

One of Houston's oldest and most beautiful parks is also one of its most useful. In addition to the zoo, the golf course, the museums across the street, Miller Outdoor Theatre, the train and the brand new McGovern Centennial Gardens, this park has beautiful old oak and pine trees and plenty of spots to lounge and enjoy a picnic. We prefer the hill overlooking the theater during one of the many performances, but, really, anywhere in the sprawling metropolitan green space is ideal for a picnic for the entire family.

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