Out of tons of accomplished female athletes, these ten are challenging the stigma of women in sports
By Ea Francisco | Lead photo from Instagram
If anyone’s ever told you that sports are for boys, tell them they need to get out more because we’ve clearly passed that mentality. The sports industry still has a long way to go when it comes to breaking gender barriers, but these inspirational female athletes are working hard to change that.
More than an accomplished surfer, Bethany Hamilton’s story is one of bravery and determination. She started competitive surfing as early as eight but at the age of 13, she was a victim of a shark attack and lost her left arm. Despite this traumatic experience, she resumed surfing a month after. Hamilton taught herself to surf with one arm and continued to win major competitions. “The hardships she overcomes to perform at the level she does in the ocean is arguably unparalleled in men’s or women’s sport,” said surfing legend Kelly Slater.
Considered as one of the best tennis players, Serena Williams is also notable for challenging gender roles in sports. Since she first reached number one in the Women’s Tennis Association tour in 2002, she has consistently maintained that ranking eight times. She’s won a total of 39 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. On top of that, she’s also the only tennis player (male or female) ever to have won Grand Slam singles titles six times in three of the four Slams. We can go on and on about Williams’ long list of achievements, but one thing that’s really worth noting is how she talks about body image and challenging male athletes.
One of the best female soccer players in history, Mia Hamm was a game changer in women’s soccer. She played a major role in the surge of popularity in women’s soccer. Up until 2013, she held the record for most international goals scored by any player (male or female) with 159 goals. Hamm also led the US team to gold in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, which basically had the most number of spectators in any women’s sport in history. She also became one of the youngest players (at 19) to win a World Cup on top of her numerous achievements. “Nike founder and chairman cited Hamm as one of three athletes that ‘played at a level that added a new dimension’ to their sports,” according to Forbes.
No doubt, Lindsey Vonn is one of the greatest alpine skiers of all time. She’s already had 81 World Cup victories, which leaves her only five wins short of all-time best Ingemar Stenmark. Though if anything, she’s already past Stenmark by claiming her 20th World Cup crystal globe title, an all-time record for both men and women.
As far as feminist sports icons are concerned, Danica Patrick is definitely high up on that list. She’s literally the most successful woman in the history of Indy Car racing. Her victory at the 2008 Indy Japan 200 makes her the first woman to ever win an IndyCar Series race. She also became the first female driver to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole. But more than her wins, Patrick’s greatest achievement has to be the fact that she’s made it big in a male-dominated sport.
More on the discussion of women making it into male-dominated sports, there’s also American jockey Julie Krone. She became the first female jockey to win a Triple Crown race in 1993 and was also the first to win a Breeders’ Cup race. With 3,704 wins in her racing career, Krone also became the first woman to be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
As far as the list of best competitive swimmers are concerned, Tracy Caulkins is widely regarded as one. In her time, she won three Olympic gold medals and was a five-time world champion. Caulkins was considered one of the most versatile swimmers there is because of her ability to excel in all four competitive strokes. She even managed to set records in all four strokes and even in Ironman events. By the time she retired, Caulkins had set five world records and 63 American records, more than any swimmer of either gender.
If anyone tells you that you fight like a girl, tell them to get in a ring with Ronda Rousey and see what they have to say about that. Up until 2015, she had a streak of 12 undefeated MMA fights. In that same year, she won the Best Female Athlete and Best Fighter Awards at the ESPY, where she beat a group of all-male athletes. Though there’s a lot of discussion about her views on feminism, her skills in mixed martial arts and judo are worth looking up to.
A lot of people say that golf is an old man’s game, but Taiwanese professional golfer Yani Tseng is anything but that. She was ranked number one in the Women’s World Golf Rankings from 2011 to 2013, holding the title for 109 weeks. Currently 29, she’s also the youngest ever golfer, male of female, to win five major championships. As of 2016, she was only four points short of getting into the World Golf Hall of Fame, but she doesn’t seem to slowing down any time soon.
When it comes to overcoming physical weakness, Jackie Joyner-Kersee is one athlete that every woman should look up to. She’s considered one of the greatest athletes of all time in heptathlon and long jump. In her time, she had won three gold, one silver, and two bronze in the Olympics for those two events. More than that, she’s also one of the most notable athletes to have overcome severe asthma. You can only imagine what it feels like to compete in a track-and-field event with your lungs giving in any second. After retirement, she became an active promoter of women’s rights and athletics. “I think it is so important for women of this generation to understand the history,” she said in an interview in 2009. “The history of where sport has come from and how it’s grown and the difference that the generation today can make in the lives of the generations that will come after them.”
Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest sports news and active lifestyle and fitness features you need