In honor of Women’s History Month, we thought we would present some of the extraordinary women athletes who have influenced sports in America. Some you will know but there are others who represent non-traditional sports for women whom you may have never heard about. This is by no means a complete list, but it is our way of honoring women athletes who, through their sacrifice, determination and dedication to their sport, have made it possible for most, if not all, of our present-day athletes to enjoy their current success. We will present a group of these athletes each week throughout the month of March. We hope you will be inspired by their stories!
Michelle Akers (Soccer) – Starred in the historic 1991 and 1999 Women’s World Cup victories by the United States. She won the Golden Boot as the top scorer in the 1991 tournament. She is a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame and was named FIFA Female Player of the Century. After she retired, she became an author and has dedicated herself to rescuing horses.
Tenley Albright (Figure Skating) – Was the first woman to win the Olympic gold medal in figure skating. After she retired from skating, she went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School (one of only 6 women in the class of 130) and became a surgeon. In 1976 she was the first woman to be appointed to a seat on the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Susan Butcher (Iditarod-Sled Dog Racing) – Was a four-time winner of the Iditarod, the world’s most famous dog sled race that takes place in Alaska and spans 975-998 miles. A trained veterinarian technician, she devoted herself to breeding huskies after she retired . She died in 2006 of leukemia. In 2008 she was honored by the state of Alaska by having the first Saturday of every March as Susan Butcher Day.
Bonnie Blair (Speedskating) – Is one of the top speedskaters of her time, and one of the most decorated athletes in Olympic history. She competed in four Olympics and won five gold medals in her career. When she was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, she was the most decorated United States Winter Olympian of all time with five gold and one bronze medal. She is currently third.
Florence Chadwick (Long-Distance Swimming) – Was the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions setting a time record each time. She was also the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel, the Straits of Gibraltar, the Bosporus (one-way), and the Dardanelles (round-trip).
Nadia Comaneci (Gymnastics) – Was the winner of three Olympic gold medals at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, and the first female gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event. Since her retirement she has devoted herself to many charitable ventures most notably the Nadia Comaneci Children’s Clinic in Romania. She is married to former gymnast Bart Conner, and they own the Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy in Oklahoma.
Maureen Connolly (Tennis) – Ruled the women’s tennis world from 1951-1954 before a horseback riding accident ended her career. In 1953 she was the first woman to achieve the coveted Grand Slam of tennis by winning the Australian, French, and U.S. Opens, as well as the Wimbledon in the same year. After retiring, she started the Maureen Connolly Brinker Foundation and devoted herself to teaching junior players.
Donna de Varona (Swimming) – Qualified for her first U.S. Olympic team at the age of 13. She went on to win the gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Italy. She won another gold medal in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. At the age of 17 she appeared on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, becoming the youngest and one of the first women broadcasters for the national network. She currently spends her time as an advocate for women’s sports.
Gail Devers (Track & Field) – Is an Olympic gold medalist in hurdles. Her story of having survived Graves’ Disease in 1990 to become a decorated Olympian captured the hearts of all Americans. Two years later she was competing in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. She went on to compete in three Olympic Games winning three gold medals. Her signature feature was her exceptionally long nails. They grew so long that she had to adjust her starting-line position. Yet she was known as one of the fastest starters in the world.
Jean Driscoll (Track & Field-Wheelchair Racer) – Won the women’s wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon eight times, more than any other female athlete in any division. Her Boston wins included seven consecutive first place finishes from 1990-1996. She also participated in four Summer Paralympic Games winning five gold, three silver and four bronze medals in events ranging from 200 meters to the marathon. She is currently an advocate for those with disabilities.
Camille Duvall-Hero (Water Skiing) – Is one of the greatest female water-skiers in the history of the sport. She won 14 U.S. National titles and 43 victories on the professional tour. She was the reigning World Professional Slalom Champion and the U.S. Overall Champion five times, and a member of the undefeated world champion U.S. Ski team from 1975-78 and from 1983-87.
Patty Berg (Golf) – Was a founding member and then leading player on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour during the 1940’s-1960’s. She won 15 major titles in her career, the most of any female golfer and an all-time record.
Teresa Edwards (Basketball) – Is the first female basketball player to have competed in five Olympics. She was the youngest gold medalist to compete in women’s basketball at the 1984 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. She is currently an assistant coach for the Atlanta Dream of the Women’s Basketball Association (WNBA).
Janet Evans (Swimming) – Is a two-time Olympian known for setting and breaking world records. In the 1988 Games in Seoul, she set world records in the 400 meters freestyle event. The record stood for eighteen years. She then went on to set records in the 1,500 and 800 meter freestyle events. The 800 meter record was the longest-standing ever in swimming. It went unbroken through four Olympic Games (1992-2004).