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Lady Warriors: 8 Athletic Women who Inspire Greatness

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Perhaps once upon a time male athletes were the stars and women just watched from the sidelines, but that’s not the case today when it comes to athletic women. The USA Women’s Soccer Team just won the 2015 FIFA World Cup, beating out Japan and making long-time fans, new spectators and young girls everywhere believers. In fact, the Women’s World Cup final was the most-watched soccer match (men’s or women’s) in US history with 25.4 million viewers on Fox.  Women’s sports are no longer seen as an afterthought; they are often the main event.

In addition, female athletes are breaking records, breaking boundaries and setting a new standard for what an elite athlete looks like. Hint: being a male is no longer a requirement. While most of us can only dream of accomplishing some of these incredible physical achievements, the attitudes and actions of these powerful female athletes are an undeniable source of inspiration for girls and women everywhere. As American tennis great Billie Jean King (who fought for equal prize money for female and male athletes) once said, “champions keep playing until they get it right.” And these women athletes sure are getting it right.

1. Misty Copeland, ballet dancer for the American Ballet Theater

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Unless you’re living under a rock you know who Misty Copeland is. She’s the groundbreaking ballet dancer who just became the first African American female principal dancer in ABT’s 75-year history. It’s a big deal, and she totally deserves it. Copland is a prodigy who overcame a lot of obstacles to get to where she is today. She didn’t start ballet until she was 13, which is considered to be late in life for an aspiring ballet dancer. She experienced several moments where she wanted to quit because she feared there was no future for an African American woman in ballet, but she pushed through, hungry for success and thinking about the next generation of dancers.

2. Dara Torres, Swimming

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This U.S. swimmer has won 12 Olympic medals and is the first swimmer to ever qualify for five Olympic Games. Perhaps her most amazing accomplishment, she came out of retirement at age 41, two years after the birth of her daughter, to compete in the 2008 Olympic games where she was the oldest Olympic swimmer in history.

3. Danica Patrick, Auto Racer

Who says that only boys can drive fast cars? Not Danica Patrick, who is the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing. In a sport dominated by men, Danica competes against men and holds her own. Oh, and did we mention that she’s a model too.

4. Bethany Hamilton, Competitive Surfer (and shark attack survivor)

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Who could forget the story of Bethany Hamilton, the 20-year-old surfer who survived a shark attack where she lost an arm, and didn’t just survive, but came back stronger than ever and still surfs today. Hamilton was determined to overcome the accident and get right back on that surfboard–something most of us would never have the guts to do. Her determination and strength has made her an American icon, and we can’t help but be inspired by her spirit. Hamilton just gave birth to her first baby, and she and her baby bump were spotted on a surfboard before she added the title of “mommy” to her resume.

5. Mia Hamm, Soccer Player

Named FIFA’s World Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002, Mia Hamm was an incredible athlete that was the youngest American woman to win a World Cup championship at the age of 19. She also led the USA women’s soccer team to 2 gold medals at the Olympics in 1996 and 2004. Not a bad rap sheet. And after all that success on the field, she retired to raise a family, and has dedicated her time to the Mia Hamm Foundation.

6. Serena Williams, Professional Tennis Player

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Arguably one of the best athletic women, and even among the best athletes of our time, of any gender, Serena Williams has won 20 grand slam tennis tournaments to date; and she’s also won the most prize money to date, EVER. She’s ranked #1 in the world and has been for a large chunk of her career, and beyond all that, she’s one of the most feared players in the game. But we love her most because while she’s a beast on the court, when the game is over she is grateful, humble and honored to be able to do what she does each match.

7. Kerri Strugg, Gymnast

At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, gymnast Kerri Strugg had a big challenge: she had to nail her final vault routine in order to beat the Russians, and she had torn 2 ligaments and sprained her ankle. Somehow, despite everything stacked up against her, Kerri did it and brought home the gold medal for her team. She was in pain, she could have given up, but she didn’t and her success is one that fans, athletes, coaches and spectators will never forget.

8. Lindsay Vonn, professional alpine skier

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After a number of successful competitions (4 World Cup championships, the 2010 Olympic gold medal…), Lindsay Vonn suffered several knee injuries and had to undergo surgery, leaving her unable to compete in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Despite that setback, Vonn is the most successful American ski racer in history, and she’s not done yet.

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