Female athletes who change the world for the better

LISTICLE | 03/01/2023
Uschi Horner

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.

Here comes Part 1 of 3 on female athletes who are changing the world.


Simone Biles, gymnast, 25 years

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


Gretchen Bleiler, snowboarder, 41 years old

The former snowboarder has been involved in 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 co-founder of Alex (Always Live Extraordinarily), a company that produces reusable bottles and vacuum-insulated cups, among other things.


Nienke Brinkman, runner, 29 years old

It's a modern fairy tale: a hobby runner turned into a world-class athlete within two years. Nienke Brinkman put together an impressive series of runs (including first in the 2021 Zermatt Marathon, bronze medal in the 2022 European Athletics Championships in the marathon, victory in the 2022 Golden Trail World Series). In addition, the Dutchwoman holds the national record in marathon running. It remains exciting to see what else the doctoral student, who lives in Switzerland, will accomplish, because she could well imagine a professional career in running.

Nienke Brinkman at the 2021 Golden Trail World Series finals in La Frontera.

Kim Bui, gymnast, 34 years

Until now, only a few top athletes have dared to do this: The German gymnast speaks openly about her eating disorder and the pressures of competitive sports. She has made this topic a priority after her career ended: In the current documentary of the Bayerischer Rundfunk "Hungern für Gold" (to be found in the ARD-Mediathek) she takes up the topic with the former biathlete and cross-country skier Miriam Neureuther. The gymnast wants to sensitize the public and help young people and athletes to avoid the path of starving for gold in the first place.


Misty Copeland, dancer, 40 years old

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. That's why she supports dance initiatives for at-risk youth.


Courtney Dauwalter, ultrarunner, age 38

She runs, and runs, and runs. In 2020, the US-American received the George Mallory Award. This award is given to individuals who have pushed the boundaries of human experience and redefined what we think is possible. For the fourth year in a row, she also received the title of UltraRunner of the Year in 2022. And she keeps running, in oversized shirts and baggy shorts - true to her 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, 45 years old

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


Ann Meyers Drysdale, basketball player, age 67

According to Forbes, the California native has spent her entire life confronting the misconceptions behind the phrase "You're going to let a girl beat you?" In 1979, she landed her first job in the NBA; it didn't lead to a spot on the team, but the basketball player boldly opened the door for future female professional athletes. Currently, she is a vice president with the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA and the Phoenix Suns in the NBA.


Cathy Freeman, Leichahtletin, 50 years

In 2000, she won the Olympic Games in the 400 m race in Sydney, setting a clear example. Only a few days earlier, she was the first Aborigine 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 established in 2007, she continues to support indigenous children in particular and is still considered an icon of the Aborigines today.


Sally Fitzgibbons, surfer, 32 years old

At the age of 14, Sally already won the ASP Pro Junior Open, an U21 competition. After her win at the 2019 Rio Pro, Sally Fitzgibbons was eventually ranked #1 in the world in women's surfing. "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."


Althea Gibson, tennis player, died at age 76 (2003).

The first black female Wimbledon winner (1957) also fought racism in her second sports career. She was the first black athlete to participate in major golf tournaments, starting in 1964. For the Williams sisters, she is still considered a pioneer today: "She opened so many doors for all the players who came after her."


Brittney Griner, basketball player, age 32

In 2022, Griner was imprisoned in Russia, was released via a prisoner exchange, and now wants to do more for Americans imprisoned abroad. She is a superstar in the U.S., regularly leading her team to victory, and is now poised for a comeback. But she also uses her fame to talk about her homosexuality: She wants to encourage the younger generation in particular to come out.


Eileen Gu, freeskier, 19 years old

She's bringing the U.S. and China together - at least in sports. Eileen Gu's decision to compete for China as a U.S. native 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," Gu said, explaining her decision. Time agrees, naming her among the 100 Most Influential People in 2022.


Bethany Hamilton, surfer, 33 years old

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. In 2014, she won the Women's Pipeline Championship, among other things, with a board that had been specially made for her. As a speaker, the topic of inclusion is at the top of her agenda, and she organizes retreats for people with disabilities.


Kristin Harila, mountaineer, 37 years old

She is a role model for equality and that women can achieve the same things as men. Even though the Norwegian had to abandon her attempt to climb all 14 eight-thousanders within half a year in 2022, she has big plans for 2023: The mountaineer wants to climb 14 plus 2 (i.e. secondary peaks above 8,000 meters).

Discover more women from the world of sports

Share article
Uschi Horner
Topics in this article