It was after one of my inspirational speaking presentations (to a high school girl's volleyball program) where I solicited feedback from the coaches attending about what they felt I might change or add to the presentation. All were very complimentary of the message given and thought it exceptionally motivating for their athletes.
However, I persisted, digging a little deeper by asking if there was anything at all, no matter how slight, that would bring even more meaning to the inspiration I provided.
After a moment or two one coach spoke up, asking if I had any stories of female athletes who had inspired. She even brought up my own 5'4" daughter playing volleyball for a top Division I volleyball program (and the adversity she faced in doing so) as an example of someone who their girls would certainly relate to, being that they are, well, all volleyball athletes.
Hmm, that had never really occurred to me. I simply had not given any thought to considering the gender of my audience since my central focus lies with the message conveyed through a story and not necessarily who the story comes from. To me, things like race, religion, and/or gender have no bearing on what one is capable of accomplishing, even though they may actually be part and parcel of the adversity one faces.
Of course, as this coach so eloquently pointed out, none of this changes the fact that my message might actually have more influence and relevance if I made this an important consideration.
So, with that in mind, I would like to present to you my top 6 female athletes' most motivating stories. And let me add that they are every bit as inspiring as any sports story you can find; male or female.
Rounding out my list at #6 is Brandi Chastain and the 1999 U.S. Women's Soccer Team as they win the cherished World Cup Championship by defeating China in the finals. The result ended with penalty kicks (China and the U.S. were tied at the end of regulation) as Brandi Chastain's PK was one heard around the World.
Next on the list at #5 is the famous Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, a story that epitomized equitability between the sexes. Billy Jean says it best:
Swimming in at #4 is Dara Torres. At age 41 in the following video, she is the oldest swimmer to ever compete in the Olympics. With 12 Olympic medals (3 Silver in Beijing) spanning 5 Olympics, here is Dara Torres:
Will we ever forget #3, Kerri Strug, as she defied the odds by competing on a badly sprained ankle bringing the Gold medal to the U.S. Women's Gymnastics team in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. As a former gymnast, I can tell you that performing that vault on that ankle was not an easy thing to do - not by a long shot, and, basically, landing it on only one foot, WOW:
We are getting close now, can you feel the tension building? So who is it that took the #2 spot in my heart, who truly pushes the inspirational envelope, and who may someday equal that coveted #1 spot? It is none other than the Hawaiian-born soul-surfer, Bethany Hamilton, who, at age 13, lost her arm to a tiger shark while surfing...yet is still surfing - PROFESSIONALLY! Ok, maybe you did not get that the first time so let me repeat it a little more forcefully - soul-surfer, Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm to a tiger shark while surfing... yet is still surfing today, only now as a PROFESSIONAL:
And my #1 pick for the most inspirational female athlete's story of all time (at least in my book), who might that be? Well, let me put it to you this way, say you were an African American girl born in the 40's (a time when racial inequalities and inequities were widespread) and at age 4 you contracted polio, a crippling disease that drained much of your physical strength, a disease that your doctors told you would leave you unable to walk correctly without braces, if at all, for the rest of your life. What would you do? I don't know about me, but I can sure tell you what Wilma Rudolph did. She taught herself to run - and boy did she run. Ran herself all the way to the Summer Olympics in 1956 and 1960 where she brought home a Bronze Medal (1956, 4x4 relay) and 3 Gold Medals (1960, 100m, 200m, and 400m relay). How is that for inspiration? Sure clarifies the idea behind "overcoming all odds" doesn't it:
Ok, anyone want to try and top these women's stories? Go right ahead!!! Equal in inspiration, yes - possibly, but better, good luck!!!