19 of the most Awesome Pioneering Women in Sport
As I was growing up, I don’t remember many pioneering women in sport. One of my earliest memories is watching Venus Williams at Wimbledon, but I can’t remember which year. I think it may have been one of the first times she won the tournament.
It when I was around 12 that I started taking an interest in sport. My parents weren’t particularly sporty, occasionally my dad might go for a run but that was about it. But he was a boyhood Liverpool fan and that was where my love of sport started.
I played netball, hockey and football as a teen, but stopped playing when I came to university. One of my bigger regrets of my 20’s is that I didn’t carry on playing at least one sport. I tried out for the university netball team but didn’t make the team. There was a friendly league, but you needed to enter a team. As a woman in a new city studying a computing degree I’d barely met any women, let alone one who wanted to play netball.
Daddy and I are both big sports fans and have been to watch loads of live matches. We went to watch hockey, football and dressage at London 2012. We’ve also been to 6 Nations Rugby, Rugby League Grand Finals and a European Rugby Final. Most recently we went to the 2014 Spa Grand Prix in Belgium. Our bucket list is full of sporting events too including watching Barcelona play at home, tennis at Wimbledon, and Super League netball too. Let’s just hope Ragamuffin plays ball (pun intended) as she gets older.
Sports and Parenting
Since becoming a parent, sport has had to take a back seat in my life. The last time I went to watch live sport was the Belgian Grand Prix. At the time I was 10 weeks pregnant with Ragamuffin and suffering from Hyperemesis, so it was pretty awful.
I’m counting down the days until we can take Ragamuffin to watch sport. Often I think about the 3 of us all bundled up, sat on the terraces of a football stadium celebrating our team scoring. However, when the time comes that moment will be bittersweet for me.
When it comes to football daddy is a die-hard Manchester United fan and will not budge. So if we want to watch football as a family, it won’t be at my beloved Anfield. It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for this fantasy I have. Whether or not it will ever come to fruition I don’t know. Ragamuffin might not even like sport, only time will tell.
Between Ragamuffin and both my blogs (my new blog is over at The Blog Genie), I barely get time to watch sports these days or keep up with the latest news. I can barely remember what day it is most of the time, so it’s no surprise really. Even when there is a game on TV that I really want to watch, Ragamuffin as toddlers are entitled to do, barely gives me 5 minutes peace.
We often resort to letting her watch TV on the tablet to keep her occupied, because sometimes daddy just won’t do. A couple of weeks ago when Liverpool played against Manchester United, daddy and I both wanted to watch it. I however, ended up trying to keep Ragamuffin occupied in a way that meant I could see the TV. I can’t say I did very well.
Pioneering Women in Sport
As it’s women’s history month I decided to write about women in sport. Mainly because I love sport but also to find more women to potentially inspire Ragamuffin as she grows up.
Venus Williams – as I said before she is the first sports woman I remember watching on TV, so she’ll always be one of my favourites. Along with her sister she made tennis exciting for me.
Judy Murray – Judy Murray has given so much to British tennis. She was captain of the GB Fed Cup team for 5 years and she founded the Miss-Hits programme which encourages girls aged 5-8 to get involved in tennis. I think it’s really important get all kids, especially girls into sport from a young age which is why Judy makes it into my list of pioneering women in sport.
Serena Williams – just like her sister, Serena is also a favourite of mine. Whenever I find time to watch tennis I always look for one of Serena or Venus’ matches. For a long time they’ve dominated the sport together, Serena even won a Grand Slam while pregnant – how awesome is that?
Althea Gibson – she was not only the first woman of colour to win a tennis Grand Slam (3 in total), but also the first ever woman of colour to play professional tennis. She then went on to become the first woman of colour to compete on the women’s pro golf tour. Althea Gibson was not only a pioneering woman in sport, but in doing that she was a pioneer for racial equality too.
Steffi Graf – Steffi is the only tennis player to win all 4 grand slam tournaments and an Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year. She only lost one match that year! She was a dominant force in tennis during the length of her career and was ranked the best female tennis player in the world for 377 weeks.
Martina Navratilova – Martina is another of my favourite sportswomen. She was a force to be reckoned with in both single and double tennis. Navratilova is the only player ever to be ranked number one in the singles and doubles game for 200 consecutive weeks. As if that wasn’t enough she is one of only 3 players ever to have won every Grand Slam in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.
Jessica Ennis-Hill – Jess Ennis-Hill was the darling of British sport during the 2010’s. As an olympic gold-medal-winning heptathlete she deserves all the credit she gets. She is local to where we live and we actually saw her filling up her car at a petrol station a few months before the 2012 Olympics.
Hannah Cockroft – Hannah is a role model for all aspiring paralympians out there. In 2010, she broke 7 world records in 8 days, alongside studying for her A-Levels and competing in her first competition abroad! Awesome doesn’t even come close.
Jo Pavey – I love Jo Pavey. She’s been one of my favourite atheletes for as long as I can remember. For me, she’s the ultimate working mum, she has two young children but still competes and wins medals. In Rio 2016 , she became the first British runner to compete in 5 Olympic games and also the oldest too.
Baroness Grey-Thompson – growing up I don’t remember seeing many disabled athletes on TV. I do remember watching Tanni Grey-Thompson in the London Marathon. For a long time she was the face of British paralympics. After retiring from competing she carried on helping disabled sportspeople. Without her, I don’t think paralympic sport in the UK would have the profile it does today, making her one of the ultimate pioneering women in sport.
Susie Wolff – Susie Wolff is a test driver for the Williams Formula 1 team. In 2014 she made history by becoming the first woman to take part in a Formula 1 racing weekend in 22 years. I personally think that Formula 1 is the toughest of sports for women to break into; in the history of the sport only 5 women have entered a Grand Prix! So I want to give a massive shout out to Susie for flying the flag for women in Formula 1.
Danica Sue Patrick – she was the first woman to lead the Indy 500 and to win pole position at the Daytona 500. Danica is well and truly flying the flag for women in this heavily male dominated sport.
Jacqui Oatley MBE – Jacqui was the first female commentator on the iconic football highlights show Match Of The Day in 2007. Football coverage and commentary is still a very male dominated profession 11 years later. Thanks to Jacqui and other women like her it is slowly becoming less so.
Clare Balding – was an amateur jockey before she joined the BBC’s sports coverage team. She was awarded a special achievement award for her coverage of the Olympics and Paralympics. In 2010 Clare turned down the chance to present the Grand National in favour of the boat race taking place on the same day. It was because it was the first time the women’s boat race was being televised. She may not have been a prolific athlete but her skill as a presenter and her dedication to the promotion of women’s sport makes her one of the pioneering women in sport of recent times.
Other Pioneering Women in Sport
Nicola Adams – Nicola was the first woman to win a gold medal for Olympic boxing in 2012. She then won gold medals at the Commonwealth and European games before successfully defending her Olympic title in 2016.
Mia Hamm – at one point she held the record for the most international goals scored by any player, male or female. Mia partly gets her name on this list because of her famous quote – “My coach told me I run like a girl. And I said if he ran a little faster he could too”. Not only was she a talented athlete but she could hold her own in a sport dominated by men. This is why for me she is one of the pioneering women in sport.
Gertrude Ederle – Gertrude was the first woman to swim the English channel. It tooke her 14 hours and 31 minutes which was quicker than any of the men who had swam the channel before her. After her swimming career ended she taught swimming to deaf children.
Sheryl Denise Swoopes – Swoopes was the first woman to be signed up to the WNBA after it was started. She also has 3 Olympic gold medals and was a WNBA MVP 3 times too. When she retired to she went into coaching college basketball, she will go down in history as one of the great women basketball players.
Wilma Rudolph – her story is just amazing. Born prematurely, having double pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio, she beat the odds and became the fastest woman in the world. She became the first american woman to win 3 gold medals at an Olympics at the Rome Games in 1960. I am in awe of this woman. The fact that she became a professional athlete at all makes her a great, but 3 olympic gold medals makes her one of the most awesome pioneering women in sport.
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