It’s hard to be a female athlete. Often in our world, women and their accomplishments are overshadowed by those of men. Athletics is an area in which this is a huge issue. It’s partly because men have participated in sports for so long, going back to Ancient Greece, but now more and more women are becoming rising stars in all different types of sports. However, media tends to focus on specific types of women when it comes to athletes and we aren’t always presented with all the amazing ladies out there. So here’s to appreciating all of the badass women who are defying conventions, working hard, and kicking major booty!
Cris “Cyborg” Justino is a Brazilian MMA fighter known for her jiu-jitsu, muay-thai, and striking capabilities. She’s incredibly successful! This fact is demonstrated by her record of 17 knockouts of her 20 fight career. She’s an amazing champion who has been a long-time athlete. She began as a handball player in Brazil before moving to the U.S. to train for MMA fights.1 Not only is she an amazing athlete, but she’s also incredibly passionate about animals. She’s even said that after her MMA career she’d like to go back to school to work with them.2
Natasha Badmann has the nicknames “Swiss Miss” and “The Smile”,3 which must be from her Swiss heritage and incredible enthusiasm. She is the first European woman to have won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship. For those of you who aren’t aware of what an Ironman is exactly, it’s a triathlon composed of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles.4 I can barely take my dog on a walk in the morning without getting winded, so imagine how fit this woman is to have won, not just one, but SIX Ironman World Championships. She’s also a mother, can speak four languages, and serves the public with a career as a social worker. Jeez, she’s amazing… a great athlete and person? That’s something hard to find.
Rowing is a sport that’s close to my heart. The women’s rowing platform is limited and it’s very expensive, so it’s hard to be selected to compete at high levels. Emily Regan is a phenomenal rower. She shows great persistence in her endeavors. She was rejected from Michigan State’s under-23 women’s team but ended up earning a gold medal at the World Rowing Under 23 Championships just a few years later. She’s also an advocate of how women continue to grow as athletes. She even says, “There is a stigma that women’s sports are less competitive and entertaining than men’s sports and therefore our accomplishments are not as impressive.”5 Honestly, I don’t think any of us could have said that better.
Florence Griffith Joyner
Where does one even begin to describe the individual Florence “FloJo” Griffith Joyner was? She revolutionized women’s track and field by not only winning 3 gold medals but also STILL holding the World Record for the women’s 100-meter dash. She was an icon, both in athletic skill and fashion. Defying conventions, she designed many of her competition outfits and sported incredibly artful manicures. Who says athletic girls can’t look smokin’ too? After her Olympic career, she continued to pursue her love of fashion by designing uniforms for the Indiana Pacer’s basketball team.6 Other athletes accused her of using performance-enhancing drugs due to her musculature and success as a sprinter, but she always denied it, passed her drug tests, and stayed true to her passions.
This lady here, let me tell you: she is amazing! Oksana Chusovitina is a gymnast from Uzbekistan. She has five gymnastics skills named after her on the vault, uneven bars, and floor. In 2016 she competed in her seventh consecutive Olympic Games and plans to compete again in 2020. In addition to being the first woman to participate in this many Olympic Games, she’s also the first woman to continue competing after being inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.7 Think all this is incredibly impressive? Well, on top of it all she was forty-one years old during her last Olympic performance and continues to improve. She shows immense strength in her competitive drive as well as her life as a whole. We should all be watching to see what amazing feat she will succeed at next in Tokyo!
Now I don’t know much about water polo. It does look fucking hard though. You have to play handball, while treading water, with people occasionally trying to drown you… Jeez. As the captain of the US Olympic squads that brought home Gold in 2012 and Silver in 2008, Brenda Villa has my utmost respect. She began playing water polo in high school. Without a girl’s team available she played with the boy’s team, but still earned the title of Girls All-American four times. She participated in the first women’s water polo event in the Olympics and has earned too many international championships to count. Her favorite food is Mexican cooked by her mother, she loves Beyonce, and she supports a women’s sports foundation to help get us all moving.8 The fun facts compiled about her make her into not only an amazing athlete but also a really awesome person.
Caterine Ibargüen is a Columbian athlete who holds one of Columbia’s four Olympic gold medals. She was the first woman to hold an Olympic gold medal in track and field and the first Columbian overall!9 She also holds the record for Columbia’s high, long, and triple jumps. In 2004 she actually failed to make the Columbian Olympic team and went through a bout of depression, but you’d never know due to her extreme perseverance. Not only does her athletic record show this, but also her entire life. At a young age her parents became victims of the unrest in Columbia and moved to separate countries, leaving Ibargüen and her grandmother behind. Through the hard work and support of her grandmother, she was able to begin training in track and field.10 Empowered women empower the women close to them and I couldn’t think of a better example.
Allyson Felix is a sprinting star! She is the most decorated athlete in World Championship history and says she’s always trying to be better. Many describe her as humble and down to earth, something I totally believe. She’s part of Project Believe, which helps protect drug-free athletes, and also an advocate for children being active through the organization Right to Play. In her spare time she loves baking and is very close to her family. Her brother, Wes, is even her agent!18
First, can we just appreciate this woman’s arms? (Google her – you won’t be disappointed.) She works hard to earn these muscles, too. Step over Michelle Obama! Tia Clair-Toomey is a Crossfit champion and an Olympic weightlifter. These two sports have earned her the title of “Fittest Woman on Earth” and she uses this to help motivate others to train and be healthy. She attributes many of her achievements to the love of her family and partner. If you’re searching for your own inspiration, check out her motivational blog here!17
Nafissatou “Nafi” Thiam is a Belgian heptathlon and decathlon champion. These two events require different types of skills including javelin, long jump, and 200m dash, to name a few. Even though she’s new to the international stage, she’s been competing nationally since she was seven! Already she’s the fourth woman in the world to score 7000 points or higher in competition.16 She’ll be in Tokyo, so just wait for her to run hard, throw far, jump far, and show you how worth cheering for she is!
Lindsey Vonn is one of the American media’s favorite female athletes. She’s definitely hard not to adore! As one of only six women to win World Championships in all five disciplines of alpine skiing, she has a ton of accomplishments – 82 victories so far!15 This year we hope to see her beat the record of 86! She’s a small town girl with big dreams to achieve. When she isn’t training she’s normally with her dogs and family. Who doesn’t love an athlete that’s down to earth and relatable, right?
Gwen Jorgensen is a trailblazer! She’s the first American to win a gold medal in an Olympic triathlon. She shows amazing discipline in her everyday life and her training. She even logged 100 miles a week when she was seven months pregnant! Postpartum, she fuels herself with amazingly nutritional goodies and also makes sure to go to bed by 9 pm each night.14 I’m NOT a morning person, and this as well as all of her other accomplishments has my attention.
Ballerinas are perceived to be petit and are stereotyped as having eating disorders, but Misty Copeland is aiming to change that! She is the first black female to be a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre. Her talent is nearly unheard of. After only a year of pointe training she began performing professionally. She’s written three books: Ballerina Body, Life in Motion, and Firebird that all focus on her experiences as an artist. Some of the awards she’s received include: an honorary doctorate from the University of Hartford, induction into the Boy’s and Girl’s Hall of Fame, and a seat on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition. Her focuses are mainly on mentoring children, positive nutrition and fitness, and creative dance.13 She’s breaking barriers and definitely making a difference in many ways!
Kerri Walsh Jennings
Next up, we have Kerri Walsh Jennings! She’s received lots of attention because she’s won three olympic medals in beach volleyball despite a ton of injuries! She continues to compete despite the fact that she’s had six surgeries on her right shoulder alone. She and her partner, Nicole Branagh, will compete in the Tokyo Olympic games as the longest standing partners in the U.S. Together they’ll also be the oldest partners competing, both mothers, and will hopefully bring home some hardware for their skill.12
I’ve saved, in my opinion, the most inspiring woman of all for last. Tatyana Mcfadden was born with a hole in her spine from spina bifida. This left her paralyzed from the waist down. She spent the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage before being adopted and brought to the United States. Her first wheelchair was given to her after she was adopted, and she spent her time in the orphanage crawling on her hands. This allowed her great upper-body strength at a young age, and definitely translates to her athletic career as a marathon champion. She holds a gold medal in all four major U.S. marathons, seven Paralympic gold and six silver medals, and has repeated grand slam wins three times. In addition to her fitness, she’s very passionate about the right’s of those with disabilities. She’s even helped to create and pass federal legislation for those with special needs. This law mandates that students with disabilities have the same athletic opportunities in public schools.11
There definitely wasn’t room in a singular article to praise all of the accomplishments of these athletes. In no way do my selections state that one athlete exceeds the prowess of any other. I wish I could demonstrate the respect that I have for so many other ladies out there who work hard and prove to the world how strong we all are through their mental and physical strength.