Wilma Rudolph Courage Award

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 www.uihi.org

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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2021 Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Recipient

Naomi Osaka

Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images

Tennis pro, trendsetter, activist, mental health advocate, and history maker, are just a few monikers that describe our 2021 Wilma Rudolph Courage Award recipient, Naomi Osaka.  

Since breaking into the professional tennis circuit with her powerful serve and strong forehand in 2013, Osaka has become a four-time Grand Slam champion – winning both the US Open and the Australian Open twice. Osaka is the first Asian player to hold the WTA world number one ranking in singles, and the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam. Representing her native country of Japan, Osaka was bestowed the prestigious honor of lighting the Cauldron at the opening ceremony for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Osaka has become known as a voice in activism on and off the court. She ceaselessly uses her platform and her voice to advocate for social change, gender equity in sport, and mental health. During last year’s Western and Southern Open she withdrew from playing, helping to raise awareness for the tragic deaths of Jacob Blake, Tamir Rice and many other Black men and women. Her powerful message on social media resulted in the tournament pausing play for 24 hours: “Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis.” 

Three days later, Osaka walked into Arthur Ashe Stadium wearing a black face covering. It bore the name Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was fatally shot by police. Over the course of the US Open, Osaka wore a different mask for each of her seven victories. Each mask commemorating a Black person who was a victim of violence. Osaka emerged as the champion of the US Open, lifting the trophy to honor Black lives and making a bold statement against racism and inequality.

Earlier this year, Osaka took a stand for her own mental well-being and in so doing, brought world-wide attention to the topic of mental health and the challenges elite athletes face. Expectations, constant demand, the weight of perfectionism, can all spur anxiety. Heralded by the fans as you rise, yet the cheers can turn in a moment, when you falter. The courage to put her mental well-being first, Osaka received accolades from health-care professionals, appreciation from fellow athletes across sports, and she spurred the general public to stop and think about mental health. Courage and character beyond her 23 years. 

Pursuing passion and achievements off the court as well, Osaka made her debut at New York Fashion Week in 2020, showcasing a collection she co-designed with Adeam, and just recently served as co-host of the 2021 MET Gala. Osaka is also an entrepreneur, recently launching a skincare brand named KINLO, in homage to her bicultural heritage (Kin and Lo meaning ‘gold’ in Japanese and Haitian Creole, respectively.) 

Osaka is a three-time member of Time’s annual list of the100 most influential people in the world, and was named one of the 2020 Sports Illustrated Sportspersons of the Year, an Ad Week Most Powerful Woman in Sports. 

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Wilma Rudolph Courage Award Recipient

The Players of the WNBA

(Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

For their bold courage and unity in the face of some of the most turbulent times in this country’s history, the Players of the WNBA have shown grace, poise and power in an unconventional 2020 season by dedicating themselves and their season to social justice and racial equality. For their strength, unity and bravery, the Players of the WNBA as a collective are this year’s Wilma Rudolph Courage Award recipient, to be awarded at the Women’s Sports Foundation annual Salute to Women in Sports livestream event on October 14. The Players of the WNBA are joining a long list of accomplished past honorees that includes Marta Vieira da Silva, Caster Semenya and Tatyana McFadden. The award will be presented during the live broadcast 2020 Annual Salute to Women in Sports on October 14 at 8 PM ET.

In early July, just a few weeks before the teams entered the ‘Wubble’ at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for their shortened season, the league and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association announced The WNBA Justice Movement and the creation of the WNBA/WNBPA Social Justice Council, setting the stage for a bold, first-of-its-kind commitment from the players to advocating for social justice.

In a league that is comprised of 80% Black women, players utilizing their voices and platforms is nothing new. WNBA players have historically been at the forefront of issues they are passionate about and have been unapologetically themselves as they continue to speak out about issues facing the LGTBQ+ community, racial and gender equality and mass incarceration, among other causes.

Though the season is dedicated to the Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name campaigns, the mission of the Social Justice Council — led by players like WSF Ambassador Layshia Clarendon, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson, Satou Sabally, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Sydney Colson — is to be a driving force of necessary and continuing conversations about race, voting rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy and gun violence, as well as other societal issues.

The players have taken the initiative and put it into action. “Black Lives Matter” shirts are worn during warm-ups at every game — Clarendon’s New York Liberty have also worn “Black Trans Lives Matter” shirts — and players’ jerseys display Breonna Taylor’s name to “seek justice for women and girls who have been the forgotten victims of police brutality and racial violence.” Also, a moment of silence and remembrance is held before each game to honor Black women who have been killed as a result of the systemic, race-based violence that is the center of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In addition to the league-wide initiatives, teams and individual players have begun their own movements. The Indiana Fever players led the #Rebounds4Change campaign as a fundraiser for fans to donate to social justice causes for each rebound this season. The Atlanta Dream, Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky wore “Vote Warnock” shirts to support the Senate campaign of Raphael Warnock in Georgia, who is running against Dream owner Kelly Loeffler, an outspoken opponent of the Black Lives Matter movement. Maya Moore, Natasha Cloud, Renee Montgomery and others have taken the bold step of opting out of the season, in effect pausing their WNBA careers, to fight for social justice off the court. Further, several players, including Candace Parker, Devereaux Peters, Jonquel Jones, Wilson and Clarendon have penned pieces in The Players’ Tribune about their experiences as Black women in this country, and others such as Katie Lou Samuelson, Elena Delle Donne and Natalie Achonwa have publicly spoken out about their struggles with health, both mental and physical.

In 2020, the Players of the WNBA have set the bar for other professional sports leagues — men’s and women’s — looking to add their voices to the momentum around combatting police brutality and race-based oppression.