Celebrating Women’s History Month, Week #4

March is Women's History Month
March is Women’s History Month

Michelle Kwan (Figure Skating) – Is a two-time (1998 and 2002) Olympic medalist, a five-time (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003) World Champion, and a nine-time (1996, 1998–2005)  U.S. Champion, the all-time record. She competed at a high level for over a decade and is the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history. Known for her consistency and expressive artistry on ice, she is widely considered one of the greatest figure skaters of all time. For more than a decade she maintained her status not only as America’s most popular figure skater, but as one of America’s most popular female athletes. She has also experienced a very impressive career after her retirement.  On November 9, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named her as a public diplomacy ambassador. In this position she represented American values, especially to young people and sports enthusiasts, and traveled the world.  Her diplomatic position as an envoy has continued in the Barack Obama administration where she has worked with Vice President Joe Biden  and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Martina Navratilova (Tennis) – Is a former number one player in the world. Tennis legend Billie Jean King once called her “the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who’s ever lived”.  In 2005 She was selected by Tennis magazine  as the greatest female tennis player for the years 1965 through 2005. Tennis historian and journalist Bud Collins has called her “arguably, the greatest tennis player of all time.”  She was World No. 1 for a total of 332 weeks in singles, and a record 237 weeks in doubles, making her the only player in history to have held the top spot in both singles and doubles for over 200 weeks. She holds 167 singles, 177 doubles and 15 mixed doubles titles.  She is currently involved with various charities that benefit animal rights, underprivileged children, and gay rights.

Diana Nyad (Long Distance Swimming) – Over two days in 1979, she swam from Bimini to Florida, setting a distance record for non-stop swimming without a wetsuit that still stands today. She broke numerous world records, including the 45-year-old mark for circling Manhattan Island (7 hrs, 57 min) in 1975. In 2013, on her fifth attempt and at age 64, she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage swimming from Havana to Key West (110 mi or 180 km).

Renee Powell (Golf) – Was the second African-American woman ever to play on the LPGA Tour. Althea Gibson was the first African-American LPGA Tour member, joining in 1963. Powell joined in 1967, and played on Tour from 1967–1980. She is one of the  first seven women to be granted membership into the exclusive, and formerly all-male, Royal and Ancient Golf Club. After leaving the LPGA Tour in 1980, she devoted her life to introducing life skills and growing the game among underprivileged children, members of the military and golfers from the U.S to Great Britain to Africa. She currently operates the Clearview Golf Course started by her father in 1948.

Mary Lou Retton (Gymnastics) – Competed in the 1984 Summer Olympics and won the individual all-around competition, as well as two silver medals and two bronze medals. She was the first American woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics.  Her performance made her one of the most popular athletes in the United States, and won her the cover on General Mills’ Wheaties cereal box, becoming the first female athlete to be featured. She is currently a motivational speaker promoting proper good nutrition and exercise.

Wilma Rudolph (Track & Field) – Was considered the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s and competed in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games.  In the 1960 Games in Rome, she became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games. As a track and field champion, she elevated women’s track to a major presence in the United States. She became an international star due to the first international television coverage of the Olympics in 1960.  Her achievements are even more remarkable given that she contracted infantile paralysis from polio at the age of four. She recovered to realize her goal to be an Olympian. In 1996 The Woman’s Sports Foundation established the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award that is presented to a female athlete who exhibits extraordinary courage in her athletic performance, demonstrates the ability to overcome adversity, makes significant contributions to sports and serves as an inspiration and role model to those who face challenges, overcomes them and strives for success at all levels. This award was first given to Jackie Joyner Kersee.

Joan Benoit Samuelson (Track & Field) – Won the gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the year that the women’s marathon was introduced. As a result, she was the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon champion. She still holds the fastest times for an American woman at the Chicago and  Olympic marathons. Her time at the Boston Marathon was the fastest time by an American woman at that race for 28 years. Since her retirement from competitive running, she has written books including Running Tide and Running for Women, and has opened a running clinic. She is also a coach to women’s cross country and long-distance athletes.

Monica Seles (Tennis) – Was born in Yugoslavia and became an American citizen in 1994. She was the youngest-ever French Open champion at the age of 16. She went on to win eight Grand Slam singles titles before her 20th birthday and was the year-end World No. 1 in 1991 and 1992. But everything changed on April 30, 1993.She was the victim of an on-court attack, when a man stabbed her in the back. She did not return to tennis for over two years. But she staged a comeback when she rejoined the tour in 1995 and won the Australian Open. After her attack, she was credited with increasing the security at all tennis tournaments. She retired in 2008 and has become the spokesperson for the Binge Eating Disorder (BED) organization.

C. Vivian Stringer (Basketball) – Has one of the best records in the history of women’s basketball. She holds the distinction of being the first coach in NCAA history to lead three different women’s programs to the NCAA Final Four. Rutgers in 2000 and 2007, the University of Iowa in 1993, and Cheyney State College (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania) in 1982. She is the third winningest coach in women’s basketball history, behind only Tennessee’s Pat Summit and North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell. She is tied at 900 wins with former University of Texas coach Jody Conradt. She was honored as the Naismith College Coach of the Year for women’s basketball in 1993, and has been inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Basketball Hall of Fame. She is currently the head coach of the Rutgers women’s basketball team. 

Pat Summitt (Basketball) – Holds the record for the most all-time wins for a coach in NCAA basketball history of either a men’s or women’s team in any division. She coached the Lady Vols basketball team from 1974 to 2012, winning eight NCAA championships, surpassed only by the 10 by UCLA coach John Wooden and the 9 titles won by UConn coach Geno Auriemma. She was the first NCAA coach, and one of four college coaches overall, to achieve 1,000 victories. She was named the Naismith Basketball Coach of the Century in April 2000, an in 2009, the Sporting News placed her at number 11 on its list of the 50 Greatest Coaches of All Time in all sports; she was the only woman on the list. In 38 years as a coach, she never had a losing season. In 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama and she received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2012 ESPY Awards. She currently serves as the head coach emeritus of the University of Tennessee.

Lynette Woodard (Basketball) – Made history by becoming the first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters and was successful playing overseas before finally achieving her dream of playing in the (newly formed) American women’s professional basketball league at age 38. She was a member of the 1984 Gold medal Olympic team at the Los Angeles Games.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias (Basketball/Track & Field/Golf) – Gained world fame in track & field and All-American status in basketball. She played organized baseball and softball and was an expert diver, roller-skater, and bowler. She won two gold medals and one silver medal for track and field in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. She started playing golf in 1935 as latecomer to the sport that made her famous. But when she was denied amateur status in 1938, she competed in 1938 she competed in a men’s (Professional Golfers’ Association) tournament, a feat no other woman tried until Annika Sörenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie almost six decades later. She went on to become America’s first female golf celebrity and the leading player of the 1940s and early 1950s. After gaining back her amateur status in 1942, she won the 1946 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 1947 British Ladies Amateur – the first American to do so – and three Women’s Western Opens. She turned 1947, and dominated the Women’s Professional Golf Association and later the Ladies Professional Golf Association, of which she was a founding member. Serious illness ended her career in the mid-1950s. She died in 1955. At the time of her death, she was still a top-ranked female golfer. The Babe Zaharias Fund to support cancer clinics was established in her honor.