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Breaking Waves: Female Athletes Who Are Changing The Tides In Sport

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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CWU chapter.

The tide is turning for women and girls in sports. Just a few decades ago women were not accepted as athletes and not given the space to enjoy and cultivate a life through athletics. Honestly, it is hard not to become emotional while writing this article because I can’t imagine not only a life without being able to participate in sports but also not having incredible female athletes as role models growing up. As a young girl, I felt like I, and many girls, were always watching. We noticed. We paid attention to who was around us, how they acted, spoke, what they were doing, and we put those characteristics together like a puzzle to create who we thought we were. This process was ever-evolving as we grew older, not imitation but rather exposure. When I think about this process, our role models were our everything. I am not just talking of our parents, as much of an influence they had/have on us, I am talking about public figures or women we see achieving something amazing. As little girls, our eyes would have lit up and our brains would be firing on all cylinders wondering and contemplating how we could be like her. 

For me, this was Soccer, but it did not start that way. I vividly remember my dad handing me a magazine. On the cover was a World Cup Champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist, and the title was: Skiing Legend. This happened to also be a photo of a woman, named Milika Shiffrin, and I had never seen a female athlete being the star of any magazine cover, movie, or commercial. Of course, they were out there, but with so few, it had to take being shown actively by my Dad that, “this is possible.” Fast forward, I am not a world-class champion of skiing, but I will always remember the feelings I had when being exposed to the possibility. Through the years I fell in love with the game of soccer where I learned teamwork, grit, dedication, and leadership. I played with my heart and with the sense of belonging. Those things would not be possible without women who changed the tides for female sport. 

A magazine cover or not, female athlete representatives matter. For girls growing up into their adult years, our duty as women is to share with other women whom we can look up to in hopes of giving a sense of heart and belonging, like that of what sports give us. So, here are some women making waves and doing incredible things. 

  1. San Diego Wave FC 

San Diego Wave FC is a women’s football club located in California. The president is Jill Ellis, a past USWNT (United States Women’s National Team) coach who led her team to victory with 2 World Cup titles and has one of the highest soccer IQs to live, (in my humble opinion). Wave FC is committed to the prospect of being a visionary example of high-level soccer and also a force for good through the game of football. The Club wants this message to translate on the field but also to other women and girls off the field, at home, and in the workplace. This mission statement is put into action through their partnerships and donations called, The Wave of Good for All of San Diego. These partnerships allow for a higher quality of life for community members to be improved and uplift local members with the support and resources needed. As fans of the Club, people get to see the incredible role models of the Women’s National Team and build a community of their own supporting the beloved sport of soccer.

  1. Izze Gomez 

Izze is both a pro-surfer and a pro-stand-up paddle border. She is only 24 and has won multiple titles and a World Championship in her athletics. Born into a surfing family, Izzi would watch Blue Crush; a female surfing movie starring Kate Bosworth who recently collaborated with Roxy to create a beautiful and tasteful Blue Crush-inspired collection. Izze recalls having this movie on repeat growing up. “It inspired so many women,” she tells Marie Claire. It addressed the stigma that girls can’t surf, or “girls are scared of Pipe”, and “now you see so many women at Pipe – it’s amazing.” Izze Gomez prides herself on connecting with the ocean and nature as she has dedicated herself to making her waves in women’s surfing. She recalls, “It feels like you just have this freedom to draw lines on the wave and express whatever emotions you’re feeling at the time. It’s really beautiful – a form of art.” With her platform of being a world-class champion, she remains humble and grateful as she reminds us, “In the early days, there weren’t that many women surfing; I feel like as much as they were competitors, they kind of had to stick together and really fight for that equality and the recognition that they deserved. And I think that has also been passed down to the next generations. Myself and all the other girls that are coming after me can have all the opportunities that they didn’t have.” Although Gomez does not just use her platform to speak about equality, she also committed to the importance of advocating for climate change and sustainability, she states,  “As surfers, our job is nature so the thought of global warming and climate change and the planet just slowly deteriorating is a scary thought because so many of us find joy in the ocean and nature.” – very beautifully said Izze. 

  1. Fiona Wylde 

Fiona Wylde was one of my top female athlete role models growing up. She would compete in the Hood River OR Paddle Challenge for Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) racing. She is 3 time World Champion in Stand Up Paddle Boarding, a coach, ocean, and river ambassador, and an advocator for stepping outside of your comfort zone and being Wylde (wild). I grew up watching her and even met her while doing a Kai Lenny Camp by Go Pro Water Sports. Embarrassingly, I ended up in the top 2 for the dance competition portion…only because I was way too confident, (my poor enduring parents). Regardless, my main takeaway from the camp was Kai Lenny (a one-of-a-kind watersports master) and Fiona Wylde talking to us about being Happy. They explained they do their sports to be Happy, and they hope that teaching and showing what they love will make us Happy. Through the years, Fiona loved spending her time in Hood River when she was not competing in S.U.P. I always loved hearing the talk from surrounding Kite Boarders and Wind Junkies that she was around either teaching a class or getting some reps in on her board. It brought me a sense of belonging because she was competing and winning titles all while staying true to her Happy Place, Hood River, which also happened to be my own. I am not doing what she does and bumming out on the Hawaiian islands after just winning a World Championship, but yet I feel connected to her because of the impact she has had on me growing up. To this day, she is still in Hood River when I seem to be and one day I hope to tell her that she contributed to my sense of belonging as a girl on the Waterfront because she was always there doing what she loves in the place that makes her the most Happy. Now, she has a kids camp clinic of her own, called Wylde Wind and Water, in Hood River and is making waves, the Wylde way. 

  1. Jessie Diggins 

Jessie Diggins is an American cross-country skier for the US Team. She has won Olympic and World Titles as well as being a Speaker, Ambassador, and Writer of her book, Brave Enough. Diggins is one of the most dominant, and if not the most powerful cross country skier to date. Her consistency through winning titles has been more fluent than both Male and Female cross-country skiing achievements combined. Her bright spotlight from success has given her a platform to share her personal experience with bulimia, stress, and the compounding pressures of being a high-achieving athlete. She reveals her seemingly glamorously decorated life is less than perfect, but she works hard to be emotionally present to give her body what she needs. Her honesty and vulnerability go deeper than sharing her story, but also to hopefully help female athletes who struggle with body image, crippling performance pressure, and mental barriers to fully commit themselves to the “Blood and Gut demands of intense sport.” she says. While cross-country ski racing is a seemly individual sport, Diggins shares, “the best thing you can do in sport is to be a good teammate. At the end of my career, what will matter most will not be the results I had or how I celebrated, but the friends I made and the kind of person I was moments after a really bad race.” I think all athletes should pride themselves in sportsmanship, and Jessie Diggins is a beautiful example of just that with her humble and charismatic spirit. 

  1. Colleen Quigley

Colleen Quigley is a World Record Holder in the 4×1500 for female middle-distance runners. She is an Olympian, a National Champion, and a Lululemon Ambassador. Colleen is one of my favorite women to have shown up in my Instagram feed because of the raw, true, and positive journey she shares through running. She has had hardships such as injuries or mental barriers, but she has stayed real to the struggles of being an athlete. She does not have a second life on social media, it is her platform to be Her. I was fortunate enough to get a question answered from Colleen that had been pressing me all of my last track season. I asked her, “What do you say to yourself, internally, when you are not hitting your perfect goal split times during workouts?” She replied to me, “Ooo good question! Usually, I try to not let my negativity spiral when I’m just a few seconds off my goal. I know I’m still working hard and getting better, so I try not to throw it all away by giving in. It’s not easy!” I would be lying if I said I would not be Fan-Girling to my grave over those words she said to me. Since then those words have been in my head when workouts get tough and being an athlete isn’t easy. I believe it is so important to surround yourself with real and honest people. Whether they are your friends or those you see on your screens. It is the exposure that will either make you stronger or tear you down. Colleen Quigley is a perfect example of just that. Aside from her incredible achievements, she is a female athlete who is changing the tide for women in sports through her honest approach to what it means to be an athlete.

To make an impact in female athletics, you do not have to be a World Champion or Olympic Medalist. Just by supporting and sharing who you love is how you can be the change yourself. These women were once like you, a girl who looked up to another woman doing amazing things. These role models are not much different from you as an athlete. Yes, they might be a few inches taller, but aside from that, they are still girls who fell in love with a sport and called it their heart. I am so proud to be an athlete in women’s athletics today because it would not be possible without the community of women who work hard every day and manage to still be advocators, teachers, and competitors. 

Individually we are one Wave, but together we are the Ocean.

Kinesiology student - skier - soccer - runner