Our female sporting heroes - from shark attacks to angry officials…

Posted on June 04, 2015

Women’s sport has never been so popular and the inaugural Women in Sport Week stands testament to that fact. All week we have been swapping inspirational stories from the world of women’s sport and they are so incredible that we thought it was our duty to share them with you.

Kathrine Switzer, born in 1947

Imagine entering a marathon and two miles into the race having officials try to haul you off the course, shouting “Get the hell out of my race!”, simple because of your gender. This is exactly what happened to Kathrine Switzer.

Switzer registers for the 1967 Boston Marathon under a gender-neutral alias, five years before women were officially allowed to compete. Once race director, Jock Semple realised she had got through the screening process he attempted to remove her from the course only to be met by a cross-body block from Switzer’s boyfriend, a 235-pound American Football player.

Switzer was allowed to finish the race and became the first woman to do so.

Billie Jean King, born in 1943

Billie Jean King was an absolute force in the world of tennis. She was ranked no.1 in the world for five years, winning six Wimbledon singles championships and four US Open titles. Although the reason we love her is for her public ‘Battle of the Sexes’ spat with Bobby Riggs.

Riggs, an ex-pro tennis player and regular critic of female participation in the sport, challenged King to a televised match in an attempt to prove his point. King subsequently humiliated Riggs in three sets, winning 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 and taking the profile of the women’s game in to the stratosphere.

Wilma Rudolph, born in 1940 

Wilma Rudolph story is incredible! She overcame pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio to become the fastest woman in the world aged just 20. She was also the first American woman to win three gold medals at an Olympic Games, taking home the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay in Rome in 1960. Today she is recognised as one of the most celebrated track stars of all time and one that paved the way for future African-American athletes.

Bethany Hamilton, born in 1990 

At the age of 13, Bethany Hamilton lost her arm and 60% of the blood in her body as a result of shark attack whilst surfing off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. Most people would have conceded their dreams of becoming a professional surfer, but not Bethany. Just four years after the attack she was back on her board competing, and was ranked in the top 20 female surfers in the world. Her inspirational story has since been made in to a Hollywood blockbuster starring Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid.

Tanni Grey-Thompson, born in 1969 

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson is hailed as Britain’s greatest ever Paralympic athlete. Her trophy cabinet is pretty impressive – she’s picked up 16 Paralympic medals, including 11 golds in her illustrious wheelchair racing career. She also held over 30 world records and won the London Marathon six times.

After her illustrious sporting career, Baroness Grey-Thompson has used sport as platform to campaign for issues close to her heart. As a Parliamentarian and TV personality, she has and continues to make great strides for disability rights. A true inspiration. 

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