10 Of The World’s Most Inspirational Female Athletes

Call it dedication, call it sweat-soaked passion, but don’t call it talent. These influential athletes have regularly re-defined their respective sports, and each has paved the way for other aspiring Olympians in their own unique way. Watch Jordan’s #RISEABOVE EXPECTATIONS video about an amazing Iraqi girl who overcomes cultural challenges all in the name of basketball.

1. Lisa Leslie

One of the most recognizable faces in women’s basketball, Lisa Leslie has repeatedly blazed trails both on and off the court. This four-time US Olympic team participant has broken numerous records in the WNBA, and holds the honor of winning the regular season MVP, All-Star Game MVP, and playoff MVP all in the same season. She’s also a mother, an author, a professional sports commentator, and the co-owner of her former team, the Los Angeles Sparks.

2. Bethany Hamilton

It’s hard to get more inspirational than 22-year-old Bethany Hamilton, who overcame a devastating shark attack to return to the professional surfing circuit. Hamilton later penned an autobiography, which would serve as the basis for the 2011 feature film, Soul Surfer.

3. Sheryl Swoopes

The first player to ever be signed to the WNBA, Sheryl Swoopes remains one of the league’s shining stars. Regularly referred to as the “female Michael Jordan,” basketball superstar Swoopes has won three Olympic gold medals, an NCAA championship, three MVP awards, and four WNBA titles during her time on the court.

4. Alice Coachman

Not only did high jumper Alice Coachman overcome the adversity inherent to being an African American athlete in the then-segregated south, she made history as the first female to win an Olympic gold medal when she participated in the 1948 competition. This fiercely dedicated athlete and eight-time Hall of Fame inductee is widely considered one of the nation’s most respected Olympians, and still actively encourages young athletes through her nonprofit organization, the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation.

5. Dara Torres

Influential international swimmer and twelve-time Olympic medalist Dara Torres is hailed as one of the most renowned athletes to ever attempt the sport, and rightfully so. Torres made waves a few years back when, at the age of 40 and having just delivered her first child fifteen months prior, she swam home with the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.

6. Anne Donovan

Basketball Hall of Famer Anne Donovan’s impressive résumé casts her as a three-time Olympian (and two-time gold medalist), the women’s basketball coach at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a superstar professional basketball player, and a well-respected full-time coach for the Seton Hall Pirates. Few players are able to make such an indelible impact both on and off the court, but Anne Donovan remains as one of the sport’s most influential figures.

7. Mia Hamm

How about this for a national record: soccer superstar Mia Hamm has scored more international goals than any other player — that means male or female — in the entirety of American soccer. This World Cup winner has consistently shattered records and elevated the sport of soccer in every game she played in, leading FIFA to name her as one of the 125 best living soccer players, as well as their FIFA World Player of the Year in both 2001 and 2002.

8. Serena Williams

The name Serena Williams has all but become synonymous with the sport of tennis since her professional debut in 1995. This super-athlete has held the title of world no. 1 on five different occasions, and is the most recent player — and only the fifth woman in history — to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles at the same time.

9. Michelle Wie

This golf course prodigy made headlines when she won the U.S. Women’s Open at the ripe age of 13, and she continues to be one of the most talked about female athletes to grace the green. Nicknamed “The Big Wiesy” for her beanstalk 6’1” stature, Wie is widely considered to be a golf wunderkind, though the sport has recently taken a backseat to her studies at Stanford University.

10. Teresa Edwards

Cited by Sports Illustrated as one of the 100 greatest female athletes of the 20th century, Teresa Edwards is widely applauded as one of the best female basketball players to ever step foot on a court. Holding the honor of being both the youngest and oldest Olympic gold medalist in women’s basketball (she took the gold at the age of 20 in 1984, and at 36 in 2000), this five-time medalist and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer still holds the national record for most points scored in a women’s basketball game.

Inspired by: Laylan

Jordan Presents #RISEABOVE EXPECTATIONS: An Iraqi girl falls in love with basketball in a country where tradition says she shouldn’t.

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