2023 Sportswoman of the Year Award – Individual Recipient

Claressa Shields

(Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for WSF)

“My goal is to go down as the best women’s fighter in history.” Since stepping into the professional ring in 2016, Claressa Shields has proven to the world she is a formidable force and can excel in the squared circle with confidence, power and dominance no matter what combinations are thrown her way. At only 28 years old, Shields has a long list of accomplishments to be proud of. Largely considered one of the best pound-for-pound women boxers in history, her impressive brawling style — paired with her agility to move from the ring to the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting cages, all while adding wins to her undefeated boxing record — has earned her the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Individual Sportswoman of the Year Award.

Shields is determined to go the distance and continues to show her opponents she is a qualified contender by clinching 14 wins (two by knockout) and zero losses since going pro. The past year, she showcased her prowess by participating in some of the most significant fights in women’s boxing history, including her bout against Savannah Marshall in October 2022, which sold out the O2 Arena in London and drew 2 million viewers on Sky TV, and her one-sided fight in June 2023 against Maricela Cornejo at the Little Ceasar’s Arena in Detroit, Mich. Both were won by unanimous decision.

Shields sparred her way onto the sport’s world’s largest stage when she became the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing at the 2012 Olympic Games, where for the first time the 10 men’s boxing events were joined by three women’s events: flyweight, lightweight and middleweight. Four years later, Shields won a second gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games. She is the only American — male or female — to win back-to-back gold medals in boxing. She is also a two-time world championship gold medalist and a Pan American gold medalist.

Looking for a new challenge in the combative sports universe, Shields is working towards becoming a two-sport star. In 2021, while still defending her boxing titles, she made her much-anticipated MMA debut, scoring a jaw-dropping come-from-behind knockout her first time in the octagon. Most recently, she signed another multiyear deal with the Professional Fighters League (PFL) and is expected to return to the PFL’s SmartCage in 2024. To date, she holds a 1-1 record in MMA.

Shields’ journey has been far from easy. From poverty to abuse to bullying, she has overcome many obstacles to get to where she is today. As she points out, “boxing saved my life,” and she often thanks the strong influences who helped guide her along the way, never letting circumstances dictate her actions. She is the first member of her family to graduate from high school, and her story of overcoming adversity to become the greatest women boxer in the world fuels her advocacy work in her hometown of Flint, Mich., where she is deemed a local hero and global sports icon. 

Winning titles in three weight classes, Shields has proven time and again that no matchup is too great for her as she continues to build her legacy as a pioneering athlete, inspiring young girls to keep jabbing until they reach the top. 

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2023 Sportswoman of the Year Award – Team Recipient

Natalie Schneider

Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for WSF

“The fast-paced action of the game and comradery with the team filled a void that I didn’t even know was there.” Throughout her professional career, Natalie Schneider has proven she is one of the “greatest threats” competing on Team USA’s Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team. As a four-time Paralympian with her eyes set on Paris 2024, Schneider continues to prove the sky’s the limit and no goal is too great for her to achieve. From a women’s world championship victory to an MVP win, her incredible athletic performance this past year paired with her ability to push herself and her team to new heights is why she is this year’s Women’s Sports Foundation’s Team Sportswoman of the Year. 

From buzzer beaters to epic free throws and assists, Schneider has been captivating audiences on the court for 15 years. Winning three Paralympic medals, seven National Championships and landing on the podium at two Parapan American Games, she has shown the world what is possible when you continue to fine-tune your athletic-skills and remain determined to stay at the top of your sport. 

Scheinder’s story is more than triumph, it is one of persistent perseverance. The summer following her sophomore year of high school where she helped lead her basketball team to the state tournament, her life was quickly turned upside down when she was diagnosed with bone cancer (osteosarcoma) in her distal femur. She spent the next 10 months undergoing chemotherapy and limb-salvage surgery that replaced the bottom half of her femur and knee-joint with a titanium prosthesis. She was told she would never run, jump or play the sport she loved again, which according to her was “a million times worse than finding out she had cancer.”

It took six years, but Schneider rebounded back into sport after reading an article in her local newspaper, which informed her that her implant qualified her for a local sitting volleyball league. Through that sport experience, she discovered wheelchair basketball, playing with her local team while obtaining her Masters in Statistics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Shortly after graduating in 2007, she was invited to try out for her first USA team and had an extraordinary start to her career by assisting the team to a gold medal win at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. 

Schneider went on to compete in the 2012, 2016, and 2020 Paralympic Games and came in and out of retirement throughout the years as she built a family with her husband. She is now the mother of three daughters, two of which got to witness her secure her second gold medal in the Rio Games. Remaining a top player on Team USA, Schneider is vying to compete in her fifth Paralympics before officially retiring. 

Between matchups and training sessions, she is working towards a personal training certification so she can coach her daughters’ sports teams and other young athletes in her community. She hopes to pass along everything she has learned throughout her basketball career to help others discover their limitless potential on and off the field of play.

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2023 Billie Jean King Leadership Award Recipient

Stacey Allaster

Photo Credit: USTA

Chief Executive of Professional Tennis at the USTA and Tournament Director of the US Open

“I have always found a way. No matter what the challenge is.” For over 30 years, Stacey Allaster has demonstrated that no obstacle is too great for her to overcome. Despite never having played professional tennis, she is one of the most competitive, visionary, and successful leaders in the sport. Allaster has helped grow tennis on an international level while advocating for equality and has paved a path to the C-suite that other women can follow. For her dedicated advocacy and achievements on behalf of women athletes in one of the world’s most popular sports, she is being honored with the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 2023 Billie Jean King Leadership Award.

A native of Canada, Allaster began working in tennis at age 12, cleaning red clay courts for pocket change at a community club. By 16, she became a certified teaching professional to pay for her own lessons, eventually competing at the University of Western Ontario while earning her bachelor’s degree (and where she later received an MBA and Honorary Doctorate of Law). After being rejected three times for positions at Tennis Canada, she finally got her foot in the door in 1991, and became VP of Sales & Marketing, and the Tournament Director of the Canadian Open.

Joining the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) as president in 2006, she became Chairman and CEO in 2009. Under her leadership, the WTA grew the brand globally: doubling prize money, securing over $1 billion in revenue and creating one of the largest media rights and production ventures in women’s sports history. Allaster also ensured women athletes received equal prize money at 11 events, including the Grand Slams.

For these achievements, she was named one of the “most powerful women in sports,” a “50 over 50 Visionary” by Forbes, and a “Top 50 Hero in the past 50 years” by Tennis Magazine. In 2022, Allaster was named Companion of the Order of Canada, her native country’s highest civilian honor, for her trailblazing contributions to women’s equality in professional sport and for her dedicated mentorship.

Allaster now serves as Chief Executive of Professional Tennis at the USTA and Tournament Director of the US Open, the first woman director in its 140-year history. Only four years after her USTA tenure began, her leadership and crisis management skills were tested by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when, with focus and determination, Allaster was a driving force helping to put the entire tennis industry back to work, not only in New York City but around the world. The 2020 US Open became a blueprint for how professional tennis could stage events during the pandemic. Most recently, Allaster was part of the team that staged the hugely successful 2023 US Open, celebrating Billie Jean King and the USTA’s commitment to awarding equal pay for 50 years.

Allaster has often reflected on the role that Billie Jean King played in her life and has often said that the best way she can express her gratitude and honor BJK is to “pay it forward;” to serve as a role model and inspire the next generation of women to accept no limits on their dreams, and to become leaders in the male-dominated world of sports business.

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2023 Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Recipient

Rosalie Fish

(Photo by Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

University of Washington’s long-distance runner and Indigenous people’s advocate

“Running with the paint changed my life.” Long-distance runner and activist Rosalie Fish first made international headlines when she ran a high school track & field event with a red handprint painted over her mouth, symbolizing the Indigenous women who were silenced by violence and “MMIW” painted on her leg to raise awareness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic impacting her community and the country. What makes her deserving of the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Wilma Rudolph Courage Award, is her persistence, resilience and bold determination to get society to pay attention to a crisis often cast to the shadows and her desire to be a face of change for a safer, more just world.

Born in Auburn, Washington, Fish is a member of the Cowlitz Tribe, of Muckleshoot heritage, who grew up on the Muckleshoot Reservation. She first began running in middle school and quickly discovered its unique power to connect to her surroundings and ancestral roots. Running also helped her cope with the violence ravaging Indigenous women in the United States – with murder being the third leading cause of their death, acts of violence reported at alarming levels, and perpetrators often not being held accountable. Fish is a survivor of violence who attempted to take her own life when she was 14. She credits her family’s love for helping her through that difficult time and running for giving her a sense of purpose to live for others when she didn’t have the strength or confidence to live for herself. 

Inspired by Boston Marathon runner and Lakota activist Jordan Marie Daniel, Fish first donned the handprint and MMIW lettering at her state championships in 2019, where she dedicated all four of her races to Indigenous women who have gone missing or have been murdered, providing photos and information about them on a poster. One of them was her aunt, Alice Ida Looney, who disappeared when Fish was two-years-old and was found dead 15 months later. Fish won each of her races that day. Though her victories did not change what happened to the women she chose to honor, it did place a national spotlight on an issue that receives minimal visibility. 

Over time, racing for MMIW has become a form of empowerment for Fish who is now more comfortable and confident using her platform to bring attention to this epidemic that has directly impacted her and her loved ones. 

Fast forward to today and 22-year-old Fish has a long list of accomplishments to be proud of. In 2019, she became the first member of her tribe to sign a National Letter of Intent for college athletics when she committed to Iowa Central Community College following numerous Washington state track titles at the 1B level. In 2021, she was recruited by the University of Washington’s (UW) track & field team and in 2022 she became the first Husky student-athlete to win a Truman Scholarship, awarded nationwide to students based on leadership skills and who have demonstrated civic engagement, academic potential and a desire to pursue a career in public service. 

From the track to the classroom, she plans to continue her advocacy for all Indigenous people at UW by pursuing a Master of Social Work and graduate certificate in American Indian Studies. 

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Learn more about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women MMIW epidemic and take action. Visit and support the Urban Indian Health Institute at

2023 Champion For Equality Award Recipients

Jon Patricof and Jonathan Soros

Photo Credit: Athletes Unlimited

“What would happen if we started with a blank sheet of paper?” So began the genesis of a revolutionary new approach to professional women’s sports leagues. Jon Patricof and Jonathan Soros sought to put the power in the hands of athletes by building an innovative platform for women’s sports when they co-founded Athletes Unlimited (AU). Tossing the traditional sports model aside, these bold business disruptors have built an extraordinary partnership with pro athletes that puts individual players in control of the game – taking head coaches, club owners and locked rosters out of the equation. From player-led executive committees to creating unprecedented pathways for long-term equity and ways to give back to athletes’ chosen nonprofits, Patricof and Soros have truly created something transformative. For their unwavering commitment to elevating the voices of women athletes by building a more equitable and inclusive model for professional sports, they are the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 2023 Champion for Equality Award recipients.

Patricof and Soros launched AU’s cutting-edge model with softball in 2020, adding volleyball and lacrosse in 2021, and basketball in 2022. The leagues consist of a never-before-seen competition format, scoring system, and a player-led organizational structure. Forgoing bouncing back and forth between cities and stadiums, players compete in one place throughout a five-week season. At the beginning of each season, four captains are appointed to draft the first week’s teams and the one-of-a-kind scoring system rewards players for peak performance where they can earn points (and monetary bonuses) for winning as a team, their individual stats and being voted MVPs of the game. At the end of each week, the top four players become the new captains and draft a team from scratch for the next week. This model is tailored towards sports fans who follow athletes and not teams, providing a unique experience for them each week.

From Patricof’s experience growing the Disney, ESPN and ABC brands across emerging channels, leading the Tribeca Film Festival then the NYC Football Club to Soros’ experience founding JS Capital, co-founding Give Lively LLC, and sitting on the boards of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and GivingTuesday; these co-founders have demonstrated a visionary approach throughout their careers. AU’s game-changing model was built on this solid foundation and from day one, Patricof and Soros were prepared to dive in and disrupt the women’s sports ecosystem and it is paying off. In just three years, AU has had 13 seasons across 4 sports involving over 350 world class athletes and announced it had secured more than $30 million in new capital from investors both inside and outside of the sports ecosystem. Other notable milestones include becoming the first ever pro sports league to organize as a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) and becoming carbon neutral in the United States. These are a few of the reasons why Fast Company recognized AU as one of the ‘world’s most innovative companies’ in 2023, making them the first women’s sports organization to receive the tribute.

Through AU, Patricof and Soros are out to prove that women’s sports, which have historically been undervalued in our society, can be successful by doing things differently. By striking deals with consumer brand powerhouses like Nike, Gatorade, and ESPN, they are helping give some of the world’s best athletes a platform to thrive like never before. It is their hope that AU’s model provides a roadmap for the future of all sports and shows what is possible when we upend conventional power structures and center athletes as decision-makers and stakeholders, ultimately reshaping attitudes and expectations around women as professional athletes and establishing new norms for how businesses show up in the world.

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2022 Sportswoman of the Year Award – Team Recipient

Maggie Steffans

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

If you look up legendary athletes competing in women’s water polo, you’re bound to see Maggie Steffens’ name at the top of every list. Steffens is a 29-year-old “utility player” who has competed on the U.S. Women’s National Water Polo Team since 2009. Steffens scored a total of 18 goals during the Olympic Games in Tokyo, helping her team win their third consecutive gold medal and becoming the all-time leading scorer in Olympic women’s water polo history with 56 goals. Her incredible performance, ability to push herself and her team to new heights, and determination to stay at the top of her sport is why she is this year’s WSF Team Sportswoman of the Year.

Steffens has dreamed of being an Olympian since she was a child, and it is no surprise water polo is how she got there. Her father played for the Puerto Rican National Team and collegiately, while her mom is part of an extensive water polo family. Steffens grew up the youngest of four water-polo-playing siblings. Talk about “everybody in the pool,” her direct and extended family have helped fuel her competitive drive and passion for the sport. 

Starting out, Steffens’ journey wasn’t easy. The lack of junior leagues where she grew up in Northern California had her playing against girls who were twice her age and size. This was a blessing in disguise as it helped lay the foundation for her to become one of the youngest athletes to compete on the U.S. Women’s National Water Polo Team.

At just 16 years old, she was asked to play in her first Team USA match — a call-up with special significance to her and her family, since she would be playing alongside her sister Jessica, who was already established on the team. The duo went on to play together in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and Maggie’s Olympic debut did not disappoint. Not only did the team win gold, but she was named MVP, tying a record of 21 goals scored during a single Olympic Games and the most goals scored during a single game. 

Following her standout performance, she landed the team captain position, helping the team win gold in the 2016 and 2020 Games. Her leadership skills were on full display in Tokyo, where she helped the team rebound from their first loss in the Olympic Games since 2008 — going on to win four straight games to land at the top of the podium once again. Even more impressive, Steffens did it all with a broken nose, showcasing her unwavering resolve. 

Beyond the Olympic Games, Steffens led the U.S. women’s national team to their seventh consecutive title at the FINA World League Super Final in Greece and was named the 2021 FINA Women’s Water Polo Athlete of the Year for the third time in her career (2021, 2014, 2012). She is a member of the Quadruple Gold Club, earning Olympic gold, FINA World Championship gold, FINA World Cup gold and FINA World League gold, an accomplishment only a handful of other athletes have claimed. Collegiately, she competed at Stanford University where she helped the team win three NCAA championships (2017, 2015, 2014) and was named the NCAA tournament MVP in 2017. 

Steffens’ passion for her sport is transcending the pool. She is the co-founder and owner of 6-8 sports, a performance analytics company designed to take a data-driven approach to evaluating athletes’ strengths and weaknesses to help them improve over time. She takes pride in her Puerto Rican heritage, and though she has planted roots in Long Beach, Calif., she considers Puerto Rico to be her home. Most recently, she has taken on a GlobalGiving campaign to raise money for those in communities across the country recovering from Hurricane Fiona. 

Whether she is scoring goals, setting records or traveling around the world to introduce and inspire young girls and women to play water polo, Steffens’ love for her sport shines bright. She dreams big and plays big up against the shot clock — in and out of the pool —  and will go down in history as one of the best to ever play the game.

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2022 Sportswoman of the Year Award – Individual Recipient

Sunisa Lee

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

She is known as an uneven bars specialist, but Sunisa “Suni” Lee has proven to the world she is unshakeable and can excel at all four categories in women’s gymnastics — and the global spotlight — with poise, strength, and agility. At only 19 years old, Lee has a long list of accomplishments to be proud of. Her impressive skill set paired with a grace-under-pressure performance during the 2020 Olympic Games earned her this year’s WSF Individual Sportswoman of the Year award.   

Lee’s story is more than just triumph, it’s one of representation. She is the first Hmong American to compete in an Olympic Games, a historic moment that has given a voice to a community that she says often goes unseen. She is also a first-generation American who dedicates her success to her parents, especially her dad, who have made countless sacrifices to fuel her dream of being an Olympic gymnast. 

One of the most talked-about moments of the Games was the way Lee rose to an unexpected challenge. She put her talents on full display when she quickly filled in during the team competition following Simone Biles’ withdrawal, which drew global attention. Lee said it was the most pressure she had ever felt, but she went on to fearlessly nail her bar and floor routines, helping the team win silver. Two days later she took home the esteemed gold medal as the all-around champion, making her the fifth consecutive American to win gold in the category. She also clinched a bronze medal in uneven bars. 

There were many moments leading into the Olympic Games that showcased the young gymnast’s perseverance, grit and determination. She has overcome many obstacles, including ankle and foot injuries and deeply personal struggles to make it to sport’s biggest stage. In 2019, her dad, John Lee, fell off a ladder, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. Two days later, she went on to win silver at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships and later in the year, she won three medals at the World Championships. Soon after, she earned the second guaranteed team spot for Tokyo, her dad serving as inspiration even amid his own challenging recovery — pushing her to keep doing what she loved.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Lee’s journey has now taken her to Alabama, where she is in her sophomore year at Auburn University. So far her budding collegiate career has gotten off to a great start. She was crowned balance beam champion and placed second in the all-around at the 2022 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships. She also was named the 2022 Southeastern Conference (SEC) uneven bars champion and SEC Freshman of the Year. 

From the start of each routine to her dismount, you can’t help but watch Lee in awe as she makes the hardest skills look effortless. As she continues to compete, she hopes to inspire and empower her peers and the next generation to work hard toward their passions and achieve their dreams, like her dad did for her.

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2022 Champion For Equality Award Recipient

Alexis Ohanian

Founder of Seven Seven Six; Co-Founder of Reddit; lead founding investor in the professional women’s soccer team Angel City FC; outspoken advocate for paid family leave

Alexis Ohanian is amplifying women’s sports for what it is, “damn good business.” As co-founder and lead founding investor in Angel City FC, he issued a call-to-action for society to follow his lead and invest in women’s sports, confidently challenging all to “check the receipts in a decade.” A visionary entrepreneur, he invests in the future of girls and women through sports, venture capital and family leave advocacy. For his unwavering commitment to level the playing field – on the pitch, in the boardroom and in the halls of Congress – and inspiring a whole new generation of male leaders to become allies and take the smart bet on women, he is the 2022 Champion for Equality Award recipient.

Ohanian was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, M.D. He is an entrepreneur and investor widely known for knocking his business deals out of the park. He co-founded Reddit, one of the largest websites in the United States, which was funded by Y Combinator in 2005 and sold to Conde Nast in 2006. He returned as executive chairman in 2014 to help lead the turnaround of the now independent company that today is valued at over $10B. In 2016, he left Reddit to run the venture capital firm he co-founded, Initialized Capital, and built it to $100B in market value through early investments in companies like Coinbase, Opendoor, Instacart, Patreon, and Ro. 

He is a husband and has become one of the most recognized ‘girl dads’ – roles that encourage him to use his entrepreneurial skills to build a better world for all. After the murder of George Floyd, he considered a future conversation he’d have with his daughter, Olympia, about what he did to create a more equitable world online and offline for her. He resigned from the board of Reddit in June of 2020 in protest – relieved that Reddit fulfilled his wish to have his seat filled by a Black director and started taking steps to curb hate on the platform. 

In 2020, Ohanian also left Initialized Capital to launch Seven Seven Six, a firm built like a technology company that deploys venture capital. Since its inception, Seven Seven Six has already grown to oversee $769 million in assets. Fast forward to this year, he has officially launched the 776 Foundation to support marginalized individuals and announced a $20M commitment to climate action through his new 776 Fellowship Program

His advocacy on behalf of paid family leave demonstrates that his commitment to gender equity goes beyond women’s sports. Ohanian has lobbied for federal legislation that mandates quality paid family leave for all – birth parents, adoptive parents, and caregivers. As he penned in a 2019 New York Times opinion article, “All people deserve fulfilling work and close family ties.” He is especially focused on normalizing paternal paid time off, challenging a generation of dads to take the full opportunity if they get the chance. It’s an issue he dives into on his podcast, “Business Dad,” where he interviews other fathers about what it means to be a dad in today’s world and how they balance their careers and families.

Whether he is catching an Angel City home game at Banc of California Stadium or advocating for change on Capitol Hill, this savvy start-up investor strives to devote his time and skills to build a more equitable world, not only for women in sports but for families and the communities they live in.

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2022 Billie Jean King Leadership Award Recipient

Dawn Staley

Head Coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, 2017 and 2022 NCAA Champions; Naismith Hall of Fame basketball player and coach; five-time WNBA all-star; advocate for gender and racial equality

There are billions of people in this world, but there is only one Dawn Staley. Certainly, the accomplishments Staley has achieved during her decades-long basketball career are significant, but her leadership goes beyond statistics and sports highlights. She is fierce, unapologetic and tenacious in using her platform to speak out against inequities, advocate for increased opportunities for women in sports, and leads with purpose. That is why she is the 2022 Billie Jean King Leadership Award recipient.  

Catapulting South Carolina into the national spotlight, Staley has made the Gamecocks a mainstay in the battle for Southeastern Conference (SEC) and national championships since starting with the university in 2008. Under her leadership, the Gamecocks have reached many firsts: Staley made history as the first Black woman to win two NCAA National Championships as head coach, in addition to guiding the team to NCAA Final Fours, No. 1 rankings, SEC regular-season and tournament titles, SEC Players of the Year, National Players of the Year, WNBA No. 1 Draft picks and No. 1 recruiting classes – to name a notable few. 

In her 22nd season as head coach, Staley has led her college teams to 12 25-win seasons, a total of 18 postseason appearances, two Women’s National Invitational Tournaments and 147 weeks in the Associated Press top 10, including 44 in the No. 1 spot – the sixth most number of times in the top spot in the history of that poll.

Staley is an advocate to her core. With over 30 years of experience in the spotlight, she does not hesitate to teach, speak out and hold institutions accountable for the inequities in sports and beyond. When the ‘madness’ of the NCAA’s tournament in 2021 showed glaring disparities between the women’s and men’s facilities, she used her platform to bring national attention to the issue – which went well beyond barbells and swag bags – urging the NCAA to re-evaluate how they value women. She continues speaking out to this day, calling out institutions for how they market women’s sports and how they could be doing more to create an equitable playing field for all women in sports. 

While we celebrate Staley’s historic coaching milestones, let’s not forget she was an outstanding player as well. She was an integral part of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team – whose success and popularity helped pave the way for the creation of the WNBA – and is still recognized today as one of the most decorated players in the U.S. women’s basketball history. She broke out on the international scene in 1989, making her first appearance in a USA Basketball uniform as a member of the 1989 Junior World Championship Team and 15 years later played her final international game after assisting the organization to a 196-10 record. She also has quite an impressive medal collection – as an athlete she won three Olympic gold medals, two FIBA World Championship gold medals, one bronze and seven international invitational titles from 1989-2004. Flash forward to her USA Basketball coaching career, and Staley continued to land on the top podium, serving as an assistant coach on the 2008 and 2016 Olympic gold medal teams and leading the U.S. to gold in the 2020 Olympics as the head coach. 

Following the 1996 Olympic Games, Staley joined the Richmond Rage of the ABL, one of the two women’s basketball professional leagues started in the wake of USA Basketball’s success on the world stage. After two all-star seasons with the organization, she switched leagues, beginning with the WNBA in 1999 – playing for the Charlotte Sting and Houston Comets before announcing her retirement in 2005. Following her retirement, the WNBA began awarding the Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award in 2007, honoring the player who best exemplifies the characteristics of a leader in the community in which she works and lives. 

From then to now, Staley encourages her teams to be active members in their community and is the co-founder of INNERSOLE, an organization that provides new sneakers to children who are homeless and who are in need.

Staley has built her success on a foundation of discipline and vision. She’s a leader on and off the court, using her platform to encourage others to get out of their comfort zone, challenge things that they know are wrong, and not be afraid to talk about hard hitting issues in and outside of sports.

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2022 Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Recipient

Elana Meyers Taylor

(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Four-time Olympic bobsledder and flag bearer for 2022 Team USA; most decorated Black athlete in Winter Olympics history; advocate for mom-athletes and disability inclusion

Elana Meyers Taylor has brought the heat to bobsled since beginning her career 15 years ago, proving she is a force to be reckoned with and a fierce competitor that handles each awe-inspiring run with courage and determination. From concussions to a partially torn Achilles to testing positive for COVID-19 at one of the global pinnacles of sports, Taylor has proven time and again that she can overcome any and all obstacles thrown her way, for an opportunity to compete that she never takes for granted. What makes her deserving of the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award is not only her grit, determination and undeniable impact she has made within the sports community, but also her efforts to show the world that mom-athletes can compete and win, while using her platform to advocate for racial justice and disability inclusion. 

She is a four-time Olympic bobsledder and was flag bearer for Team USA in the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. After earning two historic podium finishes in 2022, Taylor has become the most decorated Black athlete in Winter Olympic history with five medals. Her ability to pilot the d-rings have landed her three silver and two bronze medals since her first Winter Games in 2010. In addition, Taylor is a four-time World Champion, eight-time World Championships medalist, and 2015 World Cup Champion in bobsled. In fact, she has medaled at every single bobsled competition she has ever competed in.

Taylor is a naturally gifted athlete with a knack to compete in many sports. She knew from the young age of nine that she wanted to be an Olympian. Her athletic career began on the softball field, attending George Washington University on a softball scholarship and playing professionally for the Mid-Michigan Ice. She tried out for the U.S. Olympic Softball Team, calling it ‘the worst tryout ever in the history of tryouts’ and thought her long-time Olympic dream was over. It was her parents who saw bobsled on TV and encouraged her to give it a try. That turned out to be great advice. 

Her courage to trade in her cleats for spikes has allowed her to accomplish many firsts in the sport of bobsled. In 2015, she made history, becoming the first woman to earn a spot on the U.S. National Team competing with the men as a four-man bobsled pilot. Additionally, she went on to become the first woman to win a medal in international competition in a men’s event. 

She is a champion on and off the ice, never yielding and always striving to find ways to remain competitive. She has strong ties to the Women’s Sports Foundation, serving as our President in 2019 and being a former grant recipient. She also served a six-year term as an athlete director on the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Board of Directors and is currently a mentor for Classroom Champions.

Taylor’s most rewarding role is mother to son, Nico, who was born with down syndrome and profound hearing loss. Using her platform, she advocates for equity and inclusion in sports and society. Taylor joined the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities to advocate for inclusive education for children with disabilities. And as the nation learned of COVID-19 impacting her ability to carry the flag into the 2022 Winter Games opening ceremony, she shared the daily challenge and journey to recovery, citing the inspiration of her son to push herself through the obstacles. Carrying the flag in the closing ceremony was a well-deserved and powerful conclusion to that journey.  

From bobsled tracks to motherhood, Taylor deftly navigates the twists and turns with courage and determination. She inspires and encourages reaching for your best, and the need for equity and inclusivity for all.

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