Sports

2019 Sportswoman of the Year, Team

Megan Rapinoe

When the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) captivated the world during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Megan Rapinoe, the team’s co-captain, was front and center both on and off the pitch.

The Olympic gold medalist, two-time Olympian and two-time FIFA World Cup champion, is a driving force for change. It was during the lead up to the tournament, the spirited matches in France, the highly-debated goal celebrations, and the animated media scrums where Rapinoe cemented her legacy as one of the greatest soccer players to ever play for the USWNT and champion for equal rights.

Heading into the 2019 FIFA World Cup, all eyes were on the USWNT after the team filed a wage-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. The stakes were high. When the tournament kicked off, the athletes were motivated to win, and fans around the world were inspired.

Rapinoe and her teammates rose to the occasion, leaving their mark on the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. With six goals and three assists in seven games, Rapinoe was awarded the Golden Ball as the most outstanding player at the World Cup, while also earning the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer. She scored the team’s only two goals against Spain in the round of 16 and went on to do the same against France in the quarterfinals.

While the World Cup may have provided the biggest stage for Rapinoe to shine, her performance in France followed an impressive season in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), during which she played for the Reign FC in Seattle. During the 2018 season, she scored seven goals with six assists, finishing fourth in the league for assists. She was also named the July NWSL Forward of the Month and announced as the 2018 NWSL Best XI. In addition, Rapinoe helped win the 2018 CONCACAF Women’sChampionship with the USA.

Rapinoe’s reach goes far beyond sport. From the “U-S-A! Equal pay!” chant that permeated the sold-out stadiums to the team’s on‐field statements and the all-out celebration of female athletes with a ticker tape parade through New York City, Rapinoe continues to be at the helm of the conversation.

2019 Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Recipient

Marta Vieira da Silva

World-renowned Marta Vieira da Silva of Brazil, who is widely regarded as the best female soccer player of all time, recently solidified her dominance at the 2019 Women’s World Cup by becoming the first soccer player (male or female) to score at five different FIFA World Cups as well as the highest-scoring player (male or female) in FIFA World Cup history with 17 goals scored. She currently plays as a forward for the Orlando Pride in the National Women’s Soccer League and on the Brazilian national team. Between 2006 and 2018, she was named FIFA’s Women’s World Player of the Year six times.

Dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment across the world, Vieira da Silva now inspires women and girls to follow their dreams as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for women and girls in sport as well as a UN Sustainable Development Goals Advocate.

Born in Brazil in 1986 and growing up in a poor family, Vieira da Silva played street soccer without shoes and was often shunned by the boys she could outplay. Until 1979, it was against the law for women to play soccer in Brazil, leaving Vieira da Silva’s generation to challenge stereotypes and overcome barriers despite the change in law.

Forced to find somewhere else to play, she left her family at 14, taking a three-day bus trip to Rio de Janeiro to join her first club, Vasco de Gama. This bus journey would eventually lead her all over the world: to European championships, World Cups, and the Olympic Games to play in front of tens of thousands, and most importantly, to make the game available to girls in a way that it wasn’t made available to her.

In her own words, “All over the world, there are other girls who feel the same. Girls who get stares, girls who get asked why they’re out there, girls who get pulled from tournaments and called names. But that loneliness, it won’t last. And it won’t be long before you’re all playing together. My message to girls everywhere in this world: believe in yourself and trust yourself, because if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.”

The 2019 Wilma Rudolph Courage Award was presented with the Richard and Pamela Ader Foundation.

2019 Billie Jean King Leadership Award Recipient

Sheila C. Johnson

Sheila C. Johnson is an entrepreneur and philanthropist whose accomplishments span the arenas of hospitality, sports, TV/film, the arts, education and community development.

As Founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, Ms. Johnson oversees a growing portfolio of luxury properties including the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia, which has been awarded the esteemed Forbes Five Star rating. The collection features two of the top golf resorts in Florida: Hammock Beach in Palm Coast and Innisbrook in Tampa Bay; the Henderson- in Destin, Florida; Hotel Bennett in Charleston, South Carolina; and Half Moon in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

As Vice Chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, Ms. Johnson is the only African-American woman to have ownership in three professional sports teams: the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, for which she serves as President and Managing Partner. She also served five years on the Executive Committee of the United States Golf Association.

In 2016, she co-founded WE Capital, a venture capital consortium to support and empower female-led enterprises. She also serves on the board of the Greater Washington Partnership, which seeks to strengthen the region’s global position as a center for commerce and innovation.

Ms. Johnson has long been a powerful influence in the entertainment industry, starting with her work as founding partner of Black Entertainment Television. She has served as executive producer of four documentary films, and also helped finance the Screen Actors Guild nominated feature film The Butler. She is founder and chair of the Middleburg Film Festival.

Ms. Johnson serves on the Board of Governors of Parsons The New School for Design in New York and the Jackie Robinson Foundation. She is a former member of the Leadership Council at Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.

Ms. Johnson served as the global ambassador for CARE, a leading humanitarian organization that combats global poverty by empowering women. She has received many awards in recognition of her humanitarian efforts, including being honored with the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal and the distinguished Lincoln Medal.

2019 Champion For Equality Award Recipient

John Burke

A leader by example, John Burke has spent his career advocating for women in sport.

Since 1997, John has been the president and CEO of Trek Bicycle Corporation. Founded in 1976 by his father, Richard Burke, John joined the family business in 1984. The company has been at the forefront of technological innovation in cycling since its inception, and, under John’s guidance, Trek has continued to blossom.

Trek made their targeted push for the women’s market in 2000, when they launched WSD (Women’s Specific Design) line of bicycles and accessories. Trek began an event called “Ladies Night Out” for women to learn about cycling, discover new products and ultimately, encourage them to ride by joining the Trek Ride Club.

Trek is deeply invested in creating parity between men’s and women’s cycling and brought the issue of inequality to the forefront in 2017 when it announced that it would become the first Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Cyclo-Cross World Championships organizer to offer equal payout to both fields at an event hosted at Trek’s headquarters in Waterloo, Wis. Responding to Trek’s leadership, UCI – the sport’s governing body – mandated that as of 2020, all World Cup races must offer equal payout to both fields.

With its new Trek-Segafredo women’s cycling team, Trek has shown the world what the future of professional women’s cycling can look like, with 13 riders from 10 nations. In addition to comprehensive maternity benefits, each rider receives the same level of support as the men, including equipment, coaching, logistics, management and nutritional and medical guidance.

Looking to close the gender gap in the business of cycling, John has led the push for Trek retailers to include more women in the hiring process. Trek has also created a team of women’s advocates who welcome and inspire more women to join cycling. The initiative began in 2016 at Trek’s inaugural Global Women’s Summit and has grown to over 100 women advocates internationally.

In addition to leading Trek, John served as chairman of President George W. Bush’s President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports and is a founding member of People for Bikes.

2019 Sportswoman of the Year, Individual

Claressa Shields, Boxing — USA

Claressa Shields continues to make history in 2019. At arguably the biggest women’s boxing bout of all time, the 24-year-old American emerged as the first undisputed women’s middleweight boxing world champion in the sport’s history, beating Germany’s Christina Hammer in Atlantic City, N.J., on April 13, 2019. Following her victory, she became one of the only seven boxers to simultaneously hold all four major world titles in boxing (IBF, WBA, WBO and WBC) in addition to claiming the inaugural Ring Magazine female middleweight title.

Shields’ professional career record is nine wins and no losses with two victories by knockout. In the last 12 months she not only notched three wins and remained undefeated, but also became world champion in her second weight division. She kept a remarkable professional winning streak as she entered 2019 after being named to the USA Boxing Alumni Association’s Hall of Fame in August 2018 and the Boxing Writers Association of America Female Fighter of the Year in December 2018.

These historic accomplishments have earned her the 2019 Sportswoman of the Year, becoming the first two-time recipient of the award since 1995. Shields was previously honored in 2016.

Shields 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 in Rio. She is the only American — male or female — to win back-to-back gold medals in boxing. Shields is also a two-time World Championship gold medalist and a Pan American gold medalist.

Shields points out that she has had strong influences who helped guide her along the way, and she has never let circumstances dictate her actions. The first member of her family to graduate from high school, her story of overcoming adversity to become the greatest female boxer in the world fuels her advocacy work in her hometown of Flint, Mich., and her passion to inspire more girls to participate in sports.

Riding High: Get to Know U.S. Show Jumper Lucy Deslauriers

At age 19, Team USA’s Lucy Deslauriers is making a name for herself as a world-class show jumper – with the help of Hester, her beloved 14-year-old Belgian gelding. Being an equestrian athlete is a longstanding family tradition. Her Quebec-born father Mario Deslauriers, 54, represented Canada at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, and is still riding. If everything goes perfectly, these two could compete against each other at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

We caught up with Deslauriers just before she took part in the Longine FEI Jumping Nations Cup of Canada at Langley’s Thunderbird Show Park on June 2. Facing experienced riders from Canada, Ireland, Israel, and Mexico, this University of Pennsylvania student, who hails from New York City, helped the U.S. qualify for the Nations Cup final in Barcelona in October. Deslauriers will also serve as the traveling reserve to the U.S. team at the Pan American Games in Lima in August.

WSF: What are your personal career highlights so far?

LD: Last year, I was selected for a number of Nations Cups on the senior team. I travelled to Dublin with the U.S., as well as competing at the Spruce Meadows Masters. Also, I competed at the Nations Cup final in Barcelona last year too and had a pretty strong performance. So I think those were some of the things I’m most proud of.

WSF: If asked, why would you recommend show jumping to other young women?

LD: First of all, the bond with the horse. The fact that we get to compete alongside these amazing animals is something you can’t replicate in any other sport, especially at an Olympic level. Also, there’s a lot to be said for getting to compete against men at the same level, especially in today’s day and age. I think that’s really empowering and important for young girls. And there’s a huge age range. I’m probably the youngest at this horse show, but when you get out there, we all have the same job.

WSF: How does it feel to compete against your dad?

LD: It’s so much fun. I’m really lucky. He’s taught me almost everything I know in this sport. I grew up traveling with him and my mom Lisa, as they both competed at the Nations Cup level and various championships around the world. So I saw firsthand what it was like for them. To be able to do it against him now is definitely a dream come true. We’re both fierce competitors, but it adds to the fun when we get to do it against each other.

WSF: What do you do for health and fitness besides riding?

LD: I think more and more, you’re seeing the top equestrians really focusing on fitness and health. So I take different Pilates classes. I like to box. I have a trainer when I’m home in New York City, and we work on interval training. I do all sorts of workout classes. Sometimes I go for a run or do stuff in the gym by myself. I just make sure that I’m feeling fit and strong and eating well. I am a pescatarian, so I don’t eat any meat. It’s a very plant-based diet for strength and overall health.

WSF: What would it mean to you to compete in Tokyo next year?

LD: It’s a huge dream of mine. I’ve watched probably all the Olympics since I was born! It would mean everything. Obviously, it would be surreal to happen for me at this age. At the same time, we’re lucky that you can do this sport for a really long time. Even if it doesn’t happen, there are more dreams and there are more Olympics down the road.

Lucas Aykroyd is a member of the WSF Digital Contributor Team. His work has appeared in publications that include the New York Times.

WATCH: WSF and ESPN Host Girls’ Basketball Clinic in Connecticut

On April 27, 2019, the Women’s Sports Foundation, ESPN Women’s Group and SOMOS volunteers combined forces to host a basketball clinic for 60 girls from our Sports 4 Life community program, Hispanic Coalition. WSF President and three-time Olympic medalist in bobsled Elana Meyers Taylor, WSF Athlete Ambassador and WNBA All-Star Layshia Clarendon, ESPN Reporter and Host Jen Lada and Waterbury Police Detective Andréa Saunders made up our stand-out panel prior to the clinic.

Good As Gold: Get to know Olympic ice hockey champion Lee Stecklein

At age 24, Lee Stecklein has accomplished more than many people do in a lifetime. Playing defense for the U.S. national women’s ice hockey team, she won a gold medal in her second Winter Olympics last year in PyeongChang, South Korea. It was the first U.S. gold since the inaugural 1998 Olympic women’s hockey tournament. Stecklein’s average ice time of 22:27 per game led the team.

Captaining the Minnesota Whitecaps in the team’s first NWHL season, Stecklein also scored the overtime winner against the Buffalo Beauts in the 2019 Isobel Cup final. The Roseville, Minn. native has also won three NCAA championships with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers and four straight IIHF Women’s World Championships. We chatted with her during the U.S.’s quest to five-peat at the Women’s Worlds in Espoo, Finland, in which she has helped the Americans qualify for the semifinal match after a 4-0 win over Japan earlier today.

WSF: What is the most important reward that Olympic gold medal gave you?

LS: Knowing we were growing women’s hockey overall was incredibly important to all of us. Being able to bring it back to our communities was really important, too. And accomplishing it with our special group – it was a long year of training together, so to have that pay off in the end was incredibly exciting.

WSF: How do you feel playing sports and being physically active has benefited you?

LS: Being physically active has been a huge part of my life. I’ve learned so much from sports in general. I think it’s really important that girls stay in sports. I saw a statistic from the Women’s Sports Foundation that girls are dropping out at twice the rate by the age of 14. And I just can’t imagine where I would be without hockey or soccer or any of those things in my life. I’ve learned a lot of lessons, and I have a lot of great friends through sports. It’s something I hope to keep in my life. I feel grateful to have had those opportunities.

WSF: During the NWHL All-Star Weekend in Nashville, Tenn., you spoke at the Play Like A Girl summit, along with other female athletes and executives, before girls aged 13 to 17. What was your message?

LS: Stay in sports for as long as you can. Learn as much as you can from them. The on-ice or on-court or whatever stuff you’re doing is important, but you’re learning so many other lessons. Just be open to those. Ask questions, and keep pushing yourself each and every day. It was really exciting to see the girls there. They had to sign up, and they were clearly engaged to listen to the panel.

WSF: Who are your heroes in hockey and in life?

LS: Someone who’s been a role model for me in both areas has been [two-time Women’s Worlds silver medalist and Whitecaps veteran] Winny Brodt. Growing up, she was someone I watched. She played at Roseville High School and for the Gophers, and then played with the U.S. national team. So as someone who had grown up right near me, who had a niece my age that I grew up playing with, Winny had a career that I always followed. She really gave back to the community. She’s still coaching and helping girls’ hockey in Minnesota today. Just to see how she used her career to help others is something I find inspiring.

WSF: Some people might see your hockey resume and say you’ve already done it all. What do you feel like you have left to accomplish?

LS: In this sport, I think we can always keep striving to make it better overall, to keep improving the level of women’s hockey. We’re doing amazing things, and I’d like us to continue to show that to the world. And then, to keep playing in gold medal games for as long as I can!

Lucas Aykroyd is a member of the WSF Digital Contributor Team. His work has appeared in publications that include the New York Times.

The Golden Goalie: Meet Olympic Hockey Star and 2018 Team Sportswoman of the Year Maddie Rooney

When Maddie Rooney headed to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, she was a relatively unknown 20-year-old hockey goalie. By the time the Winter Games ended, the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) Bulldogs star had become a household name.

Rooney made the iconic, deciding save in the gold-medal shootout versus four-time defending champion Canada. It came against 2010 Olympic MVP Meghan Agosta. It was the first Olympic women’s hockey gold medal for America since the inaugural 1998 tournament in Nagano, Japan.

This Andover, Minnesota native is just getting started. Rooney was honored as WSF’s Team Sportswoman of the Year at the 39th Annual Salute to Women in Sports awards gala  on October 17 in New York. We caught up with her at the 2018 Four Nations Cup in Saskatoon, Canada, where the U.S. earned its fourth straight title with a 5-2 win over the host Canadians on November 10.

WSF: What did it mean to receive the Team Sportswoman of the Year Award from the Women’s Sports Foundation?

Maddie: Just to be nominated for that meant so much to me. I was up against so many incredible athletes, and to go to the event was a super-humbling experience, with all those elite athletes coming together. We worked with young girls there the day before the event. To hear Billie Jean King speak both early in the day and at the event, it was so cool to be part of.

WSF: How has the Olympic gold medal changed your life?

Maddie: I guess I never really saw myself being on Jimmy Fallon or Ellen or all those crazy things we experienced! But again, it’s just been so humbling. Now, with the start of a new Olympic quadrennial, it’s about getting focused on the team again.

WSF: WSF strongly advocates for scholarships for female athletes. How has your UMD scholarship affected your ability to excel?

Maddie: Getting a scholarship has changed my life and given me the opportunity to play for Team USA. It’s given me so many life lessons, like time management and communication, that I can carry with me throughout my life, not just in the game of hockey, but outside as well.

WSF: What can you say about the importance of girls participating in sports for health, confidence, and leadership ability?

Maddie: When I was young, I participated in many different sports. That was huge for me to develop those skills and get involved with the community. I met some of my best friends. I think that’s just part of the development. It helps you be the best version of yourself.

WSF: Team USA has other top-notch goalies, including Alex Rigsby, who helped the U.S. win the 2015 and 2016 World Championship gold medal games, and Nicole Hensley, who won the 2017 World Championship final. What kind of relationship do you have with them?

Maddie: It’s all based on support of each other, and you’ve got to have fun with each other. You obviously compete too, but we’re all working for the same goal.

It’s given me so many life lessons, like time management and communication, that I can carry with me throughout my life, not just in the game of hockey, but outside as well.

WSF: In 2017, your national team famously announced it would boycott the Women’s Worlds in Plymouth, Michigan unless it received equitable treatment from USA Hockey. Ultimately, a deal was struck. What was that like?

Maddie: I was new to the team, and being told that we were looking at sitting out the tournament wasn’t ideal. But it was really powerful that we all stood together. I was proud to be part of that team. What we accomplished set a baseline for women’s hockey and women’s sports in general.

WSF: How optimistic are you that women’s hockey players will soon get the opportunity to earn a living in a unified top pro league?

Maddie: I think it’s really going to develop within the next two years, and I’m excited to see what opportunities I have once I graduate. It’s great to see how far it’s come.

Lucas Aykroyd is a member of the WSF Digital Contributor Team. His work has appeared in publications that include the New York Times.