Female athletes who change the world for the better

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These 45 female athletes inspire us: they fight for the climate, for the rights of female athletes, for gender equality and show with their daring adventures that they are in no way inferior to men. From B for gymnast Simones Biles to Y for swimmer Fu Yuanhui.


Simone Biles, gymnast (born 1997)

Simone Biles bei der Medaillen-Zeremonie der Olympischen Spiele 2016 in Rio de Janeiro
Image credit:
Agência Brasil Fotografias/Wikimedia

Simone Biles does gymnastics like no other, is a multiple world champion and Olympic champion. The US-American uses her fame to inspire young people to work towards their goals. As a brand ambassador for the "University of the People", among other things, she is committed to facilitating access to education for children from foster families. In 2018, as part of #metoo, she made it public that she had been sexually abused by Larry Nassar, the former doctor of the US gymnastics team.


Gretchen Bleiler, snowboarder (born 1981)

The former snowboarder has been committed to sustainability issues for years. She is particularly concerned with climate change and the future of outdoor recreation. She is not only a member of the POW (Protect Our Winters) initiative, but is also the co-founder of Alex (Always Live Extraordinarily), a company that produces reusable bottles and vacuum-insulated cups, among other things.


Nienke Brinkman, runner (born 1993)

It's a modern-day fairytale: an amateur runner became a world-class athlete within two years. Nienke Brinkman put together an impressive running streak (including first place at the 2021 Zermatt Marathon, bronze medal at the 2022 European Athletics Championships in the marathon, victory in the 2022 Golden Trail World Series). The Dutchwoman also holds the national record in the marathon. It remains exciting to see what else the doctoral student, who lives in Switzerland, will achieve, as she can well imagine a professional career in running.

Nienke Brinkman at the 2021 Golden Trail World Series finals in La Frontera.
Image credit:
Lars Gebraad/Wikimedia Commons

Kim Bui, gymnast (born 1989)

Until now, few top athletes have dared to do this: the German gymnast speaks openly about her eating disorder and the pressure of competitive sport. She has taken up the topic after the end of her career: In the current Bayerischer Rundfunk documentary "Hungern für Gold" (available in the ARD media library), she addresses the topic with former biathlete and cross-country skier Miriam Neureuther. The gymnast wants to raise public awareness and help young people and athletes to avoid starving for gold in the first place.


Misty Copeland, dancer (born 1982)

In 2015, the American Ballet Theatre named her prima ballerina, making her the first African-American to receive this title. For Misty Copeland, however, dancing not only offers physical benefits, but in her eyes can change children's mindsets and change their lives for the better. This is why she supports dance initiatives for young people at risk.


Courtney Dauwalter, ultra runner (born 1985)

She runs, and runs, and runs. In 2020, the US American received the George Mallory Award. This prize is awarded to people who have pushed the boundaries of human experience and redefined what we think is possible. She was also named UltraRunner of the Year for the fourth time in a row in 2022. And she continues to run, in oversized shirts and baggy shorts - true to the motto: "Let's keep seeing what's possible when we put one foot in front of the other, with a backpack full of snacks and a brain full of power (plus jokes)."


Minda Dentler, para-athlete (born 1978)

"With every turn of the wheels of my racing wheelchair, I made progress for the many polio sufferers who would never get this chance." The Indian is the first wheelchair athlete to complete the Ironman World Championship. As a speaker, she inspires people around the world with her life story and motivates them to "tackle their own personal Ironman".


Ann Meyers Drysdale, basketball player (born 1955)

According to Forbes, the California native has spent her entire life confronting the misconceptions behind the phrase "You'll let a girl beat you?". In 1979, she landed her first job in the NBA, which didn't lead to a spot on the team, but the basketball player boldly opened the door for future female professional athletes. She is currently Vice President of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA and the Phoenix Suns in the NBA.


Cathy Freeman, track and field athlete (born 1973)

In 2000, she won the Olympic Games in the 400 m race in Sydney, making a clear statement. Just a few days earlier, she was the first Aboriginal woman to light the Olympic flame. As an ambassador for the indigenous people of Australia, Cathy Freeman drew attention to their situation. With the foundation she set up in 2007, she continues to support indigenous children in particular and is still considered an icon of the Aborigines today.


Sally Fitzgibbons, surfer (born 1990)

Sally won the ASP Pro Junior Open, an U21 competition, when she was just 14 years old. After her victory at the Rio Pro 2019, Sally Fitzgibbons was finally number 1 in the women's surfing world rankings. "Being a professional surfer is the greatest job in the world. The ocean is my office, nature is my business partner, and the industry is the best it's ever been."


Janja Garnbet, climber (born 1999)

Frau in der Boulderhalle
Image credit:
Suguru Saito / Red Bull Content Pool

At the 2023 World Championships in Bern, top climber Janja Garnbret won two gold medals, taking her collection of titles to eight world titles. Her intention to defend her 2021 gold medal in Paris is testament to her tireless passion and desire to continue to shine despite her numerous successes. Garnbret loves the competitive spirit, the pressure and the energy. Alongside her sporting career, Janja is also committed to protecting the environment, as demonstrated by her partnership with a Slovenian manufacturer of energy-saving houses. Despite a busy schedule, including international tours and photo shoots, she remains true to her passion for sport and her commitment to the planet.


Eileen Gu, freeskier (born 2003)

She brings the USA and China together - at least in sporting terms. Eileen Gu's decision to compete for China as a US native has inspired millions of young fans. "The opportunity to help inspire millions of young people during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, my mother's birthplace, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to promote the sport I love," said Gu, explaining her decision. Time agrees, naming her one of the 100 Most Influential People in 2022.

Image credit:
Christian Pondella / Red Bull Content Pool

Bethany Hamilton, surfer (born 1990)

In 2003, a tiger shark bit off the surfer's left arm, and just four weeks later, the then 13-year-old was back on the board. She won the 2014 Women's Pipeline Championship, among others, with her custom-made board. As a speaker, inclusion is a top priority for her and she organizes retreats for people with disabilities.


Kristin Harila, mountaineer (born 1986)

She is a role model for equality and that women can achieve the same as men. Even though the Norwegian woman had to abandon her attempt to climb all 14 eight-thousanders within six months in 2022, she set a new record in 2023 by conquering all of them in 92 days. eight-thousanders within 92 days climb them all.


Anne Haug, triathlete (born 1983)

Even at 40, Germany's best triathlete is still not thinking about retiring - "I don't think age is a limit," she told Stern. She won the Ironman in Hawaii in 2019 and came third in 2022. However, she is not only a role model for women of all ages in terms of sport, but after a corona infection she developed diabetes, after a change in diet she is fit again and thus encourages other sufferers.


Margo Hayes, sport climber (born 1998)

At just 20 years old, Margo Hayes set out to close the gender gap in climbing. In 2017, she became the first woman to climb a 9a+ route that only around 60 men worldwide have climbed. And after this female first ascent of the Spanish La Rambla, she immediately followed up with the French biography. As a high fashion model, she also brings sport and fashion together.


Sarah Hunter, rugby player (born 1986)

The Englishwoman has a long history of suffering behind her: for five months, doctors were unable to find a reason for the nerve pain in her neck. It took 13 months before she was able to return to professional league. Giving up was not an option for her, and Hunter triumphed at the 2021 Women's Rugby World Cup: in her 138th international match, she overtook Rochelle Clark as England's rugby player with the most appearances of all time.


Ana Ivanovic, tennis player (born 1987)

The Serbian-born UNICEF ambassador was appointed in 2007 during her active career. Today, Bastian Schweinsteiger's wife still works in this role to promote the interests of children. The former world number one is also an ambassador for the British Quercus Foundation, which works to improve the living conditions of children and young people.


Piper Kelly, climber (born 1999)

The talented US speed climber Piper Kelly has made a name for herself with her unexpected qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games. Piper said after her performance at the Pan American Games: "I'm totally overwhelmed ... I can't believe I actually did it." She beat her personal best time, highlighting her determination and anticipation for the competitions in Paris. Her story proves that dreams can become reality with passion and hard work. We love it!


Billie Jean King, tennis player (born 1943)

In the 1960s, the US-American fought for financial equality for women in professional sport, and in 1981 she came out as homosexual. Together with other female tennis players, she founded the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) in 1973, which still exists today. And she recently promoted women's flag football at the Super Bowl.


Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita, mountain climber (born 1984)

No mountain is too high for her. Pasang has already climbed K2 and Mount Everest, following in the footsteps of her namesake Pasang Ljamu Sherpa, the first Nepalese woman to climb Everest. Both women stood out for their social commitment and their love of mountaineering. For her efforts for Nepal, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Aktik was named Adventurer of the Year by National Geographic in 2016.


Amazin LeThi, bodybuilder

The Vietnamese woman experienced sexual discrimination at an early age and wants to inspire others with her story. She is currently the first and only Asian LGBTQ athlete to simultaneously hold multiple roles as a sports ambassador in the world. She advises governments, Fortune 500 companies, sports and international organizations around the world (including the United Nations).


Tegla Loroupe, marathon runner (born 1979)

Running to school every day laid the foundation for this extraordinary talent from Kenya. Tegla Loroupe is a member of the "Champions for Peace" club, a group of famous top athletes who are committed to promoting peace in the world through sport. In addition to running a school, she also runs an orphanage, is an ambassador for the Special Oympics and Unicef, has her own foundation and is involved in many other social projects, including refugee aid. She was awarded the ISPO Cup in 2020 for her commitment.

Image credit:
Messe München GmbH

Manuela Mandl, snowboarder (born 1988)

The city girl from Vienna is Austria's first snowboard freeride world champion - and loves nature. That's why she is not only a POW ambassador (Protect Our Winters) and is currently campaigning for a climate protection law in Austria, but is also doing her bit for climate protection herself: the snowboarder traveled to every Freeride World Tour competition using public transport.


Sarah McNair-Landry, adventurer

Sarah McNair-Landry is the youngest person to have reached both poles under her own steam, and she is the first woman in the world to be able to call herself a Master Polar Guide. She was born on Baffin Island, an island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, and grew up with many sled dogs as the daughter of two polar guides. In 2018, the Canadian and her partner Erik Boomer repeated an epic journey that her parents had undertaken decades earlier - the circumnavigation of Baffin Island by dogsled.


Martina Navratilova, tennis player (born 1956)

She is one of the best players of all time. She was a fighter on the tennis court and in real life. Her outing over 40 years ago (1981 - just like Billie Jean King) caused a sensation, and she is still fighting for LGBTQ rights with determination and commitment today. It was recently revealed that she has been diagnosed with cancer again.


Nouria Newman, kayaker (born 1991)

The Frenchwoman is a unique athlete: dedicated, very humble and always ready to take on the craziest challenges. For example, she is the first female kayaker to plunge down a 30-metre waterfall - that was in early 2021, when she crossed the Don Wilo waterfall, breaking the world record for women. Her social commitment is of course linked to her passion: she teaches children in Morocco, Argentina and Iran how to kayak.


Naomi Osaka, tennis player (born 1997)

Naomi Osaka is the rising star in tennis heaven: the Japanese player is considered an exceptional talent (the first Asian woman to be ranked number one in the world) and is a style icon with millions in advertising revenue every year. At the same time, she takes a political stand against racism and police violence and openly admits to suffering from depression. All this makes her a role model and figurehead for her generation.

Naomi Osaka mit dem Laureus World Sports Award als Sportlerin des Jahres 2020.
Image credit:
Laureus World Sports Awards

Asisat Oshoala, footballer (born 1994)

The Nigerian recently celebrated her 100th goal, is under contract with FC Barcelona and is one of the best-paid female footballers in Europe. She was banned from the sport as a girl, but today she is a star not only in her home country. With her Asisat Oshoala Foundation, she wants to ensure that sporty children get a chance - especially girls.


Laura Philipp, triathlete (born 1987)

The multiple Ironman winner is a strong advocate for a topic that is still underrepresented in Germany: cycle-based training. The topic of femininity is therefore also at the top of her website and she lives by the motto: Work Hard. Have Fun. Kick Ass. On her YouTube channel, the world-class German triathlete talks openly about cycle issues and sport based on her experiences and shares her knowledge.


Milly Pickles, runner (born 1997)

The passionate content creator and runner has never lost heart despite a life-changing accident at work in 2017 in which she lost her right leg. Thanks to her determination, she took part in the Red Bull 400, the steepest race in the world up a ski jump. Her dream is now to take part in the Paralympic Games. Whether this will happen in 2024 is still unclear, but the London Marathon is definitely on the cards for the Englishwoman this year. Together with her motivating presence on social media, Milly proves that no challenge is insurmountable.


Megan Rapinoe, soccer player (born 1985)

Since coming out publicly in 2011, the professional athlete from the USA has tirelessly campaigned for the rights of the LGBTQ community as well as for equal pay and gender equality. She also raised her voice recently when the Supreme Court overturned abortion rights: "It's sad and cruel," said Megan Rapinoe in a press conference, and continues to fight.


Elnez Rekabi, climber (born 1989)

The world admired her courage: the Iranian became famous as a climber without a headscarf and was celebrated as the prominent face of the protests in her home country. However, after the competition in South Korea in October 2022, things went quiet for the climber. Her last Instagram post also dates from this time. However, Sportschau reports that the Iranian is taking part in a leadership program run by the International Olympic Committee. She was selected for the so-called Wish project, which aims to increase the number of female coaches at the Olympic Games.


Alicia Schmidt, track and field athlete (born 1998)

The track and field athlete is striving for top performance this year and dreams of taking part in the Olympic Games in Paris. Alica Schmidt has been supported by sponsor Hugo Boss since 2021 - and almost five million followers on her Instagram account. This makes her probably the German athlete with the widest reach. But her focus is on the 400-meter run, which makes her a pioneer for female athletes worldwide who are successful in both sport and the digital space. "I just want to be recognized as an athlete, I want to inspire young people and give insights into my beautiful sport," she says. We are delighted that her presence in the media has brought more attention to athletics.


Kimi Schreiber, trail runner (born 1995)

Kimi Schreiber is a true multi-talent: successful trail runner, Adidas TERREX athlete, communication scientist, blog author - and together with her trail running colleague Ida-Sophie Hegemann, she now also hosts the podcast "Höhenmeter pro Kilometer". Her topics include her everyday life as an athlete, as well as female empowerment, body positivity and climate change and its impact on outdoor sports. And in June, another task will be added: Kimi Schreiber will then accompany OutDoor by ISPO as a testimonial. We are looking forward to it!

Läuferin Kimi Schreiber beim Trailrunning

Caster Semenya, track and field athlete (born 1991)

The South African intersex runner has been fighting with the world governing body for years over her right to take part in competitions. The two-time 2021 Olympic champion filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights against the ruling of the International Court of Arbitration for Sport regarding a testosterone cap: to "fight for the dignity and equality of women in sport".


Mikaela Shiffrin, skier (born 1995)

The US American has just been crowned the best female skier in World Cup history. Environmental issues are important to her: Shiffrin recently signed an open letter to the FIS in which well-known skiers called on the federation to do more to protect the climate. And in addition to her sporting ambitions (ABFTTB - the abbreviation on Shiffrin's helmet means "Always Be Faster Than The Boys"), she also has a great sense of humor, as she shows in an Instagram video about her period: Previously, in an interview, an Austrian commentator had translated "cycle" as cycling.

2. Mikaela Shiffrin, 607.200 Instagram-Follower: Mikaela Shiffrin ist der aufstrebende Stern der Wintersportszene. Die US-Amerikanerin ist mit ihren 23 Jahren schon jetzt zweimalige Olympiasiegerin und dreimalige Weltmeisterin. Die in der Öffentlichkeit eher ruhige und bodenständige Shiffrin ist schon jetzt Werbegesicht für Weltmarken wie Oakley, Bose, Longines oder Barilla. Die Zukunft des Skisports gehört ihr.
2. Mikaela Shiffrin, 607.200 Instagram-Follower: Mikaela Shiffrin ist der aufstrebende Stern der Wintersportszene. Die US-Amerikanerin ist schon jetzt zweimalige Olympiasiegerin und sechsfache Weltmeisterin. Die in der Öffentlichkeit eher ruhige und bodenständige Shiffrin ist Werbegesicht für Weltmarken wie Oakley, Bose, Longines oder Barilla. Die Zukunft des Skisports gehört ihr.
Image credit:

Santhi Soundarajan, track and field athlete (born 1981)

A childhood in abject poverty, later success as an athlete - until she was stripped of her medal at the 2006 Asian Games because a sex determination test revealed too many male hormones. A year later, she attempted suicide and then worked as a day laborer in a brick factory. The Indian woman's life only changed in 2016 when the "Justice for Santhi" campaign was launched to draw attention to the discrimination against the athlete. She now works as a trainer and encourages others.


Kathrine Switzer, marathon runner (born 1947)

She is considered the pioneer of marathon running. In 1967, she competed over this distance for the first time in Boston, although women were not permitted. When a steward tried to tear off her race number, she got help, and the result was massive discussions about women's sport. She inspired women all over the world with this run - and later, as a TV commentator, she also campaigned for a change in women's rights in sport.


Lia Thomas, swimmer (born approx. 1999)

In 2022, the World Swimming Federation decided that only trans people who have undergone gender reassignment surgery before the age of twelve will be allowed to take part in competitions of their new gender. This decision was preceded by heated discussions - fueled by trans swimmer Thomas' historic title win at the college championships in the USA. The Olympics will therefore remain an unfulfilled dream for Lia, but she courageously fights on: "Even though there have been difficulties along the way, transitioning and self-realization has brought me so much joy and peace of mind. All people deserve the opportunity to be their authentic selves, free from harassment and discrimination."


Maria Toorpakai, squash player (born 1990)

Until the age of 16, the Pakistani woman dressed like a boy so that she could play squash. To overcome discrimination and cultural barriers, the Canadian by choice has set up a foundation. The Maria Toorpakai Foundation encourages families to educate their daughters and enable them to play sport.


Lindsey Vonn, skier (born 1984)

She is one of the most successful female skiers of all time - the American Lindsey Vonn. With the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, she supports disadvantaged girls with camps and scholarships. She also offers them the opportunity for "life-changing experiences". Recently, the Olympic champion was the first woman to race down the Streif in Kitzbühel at night from the original start, and wrote to her followers afterwards: "And to everyone who has a dream: Never stop believing in yourself, you never know what you can achieve!"

Auch Speed-Königin Lindsey Vonn gehört zum „Rebelsclub“ von Head.
Auch Speed-Königin Lindsey Vonn gehört zum „Rebelsclub“ von Head.
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Serena Williams, tennis player (born 1981)

Venus' little sister was just as successful and has earned the highest career prize money of any female tennis player with around 95 million US dollars. She also campaigns for women's rights. In 2017, the vegan showed impressively what pregnant women are capable of: She played her way to the final at the Australian Open and won against her sister. More about Serena Williams.


Venus Williams, tennis player (born 1980)

She was the first woman of color at the top of the world rankings. During her first Wimbledon victory in 2000, the US American noticed the differences in prize money between women and men and has been fighting for equal pay for female athletes ever since. With her #PrivilegeTax campaign, she also supports a foundation that promotes educational programs for girls.


Fu Yuanhui, swimmer (born 1996)

In 2016, the swimmer explained her fourth place at the Olympics in Brazil as being tired due to her period. In doing so, she broke a taboo (especially in China), spoke from the hearts of many female athletes and was celebrated for it. But her cheerfulness and warmth also make her a role model for many young Chinese women and women worldwide.

Swimmer Fu Yuanhui at a competition 2015
Image credit:
Oleg Bkhambri/Wikimedia Commons

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