The Best Plot Twist: When the Celebrity Athlete Is A Woman

I play a sport called Water Polo. It is not very well known around Florida, but it is popular in California and Europe.  When people ask what it is, I usually say it’s like extreme soccer mixed with basketball in the water.  It sounds complicated but learning the rules of the game is probably the easiest part.  It’s a tough sport to play, for sure.

Although this sport, similar to many tough sports, is dominated by men, there are still quite a few women as well.

Last weekend, I went with my team down to Coral Springs, Florida, for a water polo tournament. It’s a beautiful aquatic center with three pools and plenty of room to host all the teams that come every year. There are multiple men’s and women's teams ranging from splash ball, 14 years and under, to the open division, that have people from all ages.  

At the beginning of the tournament, we had heard rumors that a certain alum of a team in Miami, who had gone on to become a gold medalist goaltender for the USA in the 2016 Rio Olympics, Ashleigh Johnson, would be making a guest appearance for her old team, Ransom.  

The second she walked onto the pool deck, the rumors became a reality. She commanded the attention of everyone just by walking into the complex. She was 6’1”, made of pure muscle, and just beautiful.

She is the best in the world at the sport she loves AND she’s pretty? Hmm, must be nice. 

My team had the privilege to play Ransom as our second game in the tournament.  Ashleigh Johnson and her team spanked us, 17 to nothing.  In fact, she switched out of goal at the half and scored four of those 17 just to demonstrate that she could do anything.

She was like a beautiful goddess of water polo.

After the game, we got to meet her outside of the pool.  She was sweet and courteous to all her fans.  She talked to us like normal people and made time for everyone who had come to see Ashleigh Johnson sweep the floor with some hopeless Central Florida team.

As she signed autographs for young, aspiring athletes, I thought to myself how refreshing it was to have a female celebrity athlete on deck, in a sport dominated by men.

She had worked harder than most men and woman in the world to achieve something, an Olympic gold medal, only a handful of people will ever get to hold in their lives. And, although we were bitter that we, amateaur club water polo athletes, had to go head to head with one of the best athletes in the world, I’m glad she played. How many times have you gotten the opportunity to play against the best in the world? Just by showing up at a tournament like that, with such young prospective athletes, she allowed little girls to look up to someone strong and driven. She showed them it’s okay to be bigger than the boys and it’s okay to strive to unlock your potential and be the best you can be.  

Times are changing.  Woman are no longer held to the strict standards they once were.  However, sports are still mainly monopolized by men.  We need more woman, like Ashleigh Johnson, Serena Williams and Missy Franklin, to step into the spotlight and pave the way for all the little girls that look up to them.

Photo Credits: 1, 2, 3