women in the Olympics

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics was highly anticipated for many reasons. One of the most historic reasons is that it was the most “gender-balanced” Olympics in the history of the global competition. With all 206 National Olympic Committees sending “at least one female and one male” athlete from their country, women made up just under half of all competing athletes at the Tokyo Olympics. This Olympics produced many role models for children across the world, but young girls are seeing firsthand the empowerment of women in sports.

Women from across the world broke barriers and became the face of change for women in sports forever. These Olympians left a lasting legacy in their respective sports and represented progress toward gender equality for their home countries. Hundreds of women broke barriers at the 2020 Olympics, but Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Hend Zaza and Yulimar Rojas were three women whose stories are just as notable as the history they are making.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Earning the nickname “second-fastest woman in history” is no small feat, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has left her mark on the world by doing more than just running. Growing up in one of the poorest areas of Kingston, Jamaica, she first discovered the sport by running to primary school every day while barefoot. Fraser-Pryce dedicates her life to more than her sport and has a passion for working with underprivileged kids. Even with a silver medal in the women’s 100m and a gold medal in the women’s 4x100m relay at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Fraser-Pryce’s legacy extends beyond the Olympic finish line.

Since 2010, she has served as a UNICEF National Goodwill Ambassador for Jamaica. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she coordinated a fundraiser through her resource center, The Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce Resource Centre in Waterhouse. As a result, the Centre supplied computers to allow education to continue during the pandemic for local children. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is a role model to more than just girls hoping to run as fast as her one day. She also proves to underprivileged kids with upbringings similar to hers that anything is possible when it comes to achieving your dreams.

Hend Zaza

Hend Zaza was the youngest person competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and was also the youngest since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. At 12 years old, the Syrian native left a mark on the world as a table tennis prodigy with invitations to train in China by the Chinese Olympic Committee. Zaza did not have a conventional upbringing, being born just two years before the civil war began in Syria.

Because of the conflict in Syria, it was difficult for Zaza to train or even travel between cities. Another barrier for Zaza was the lack of funding for competitions and equipment, like paddles and balls. This left her competition experience limited before her qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Her training for the Olympics occurred primarily at the Al Faiha Club in Damascus. With little or no air conditioning and frequent power outages, Zaza defeated many odds to make strides at the Olympics. While Zaza did not receive an Olympic medal this time around, her mark on the sport of table tennis and the story of her determination and passion will last for many years.

Yulimar Rojas

Awarded Female Athlete of the Year by World Athletics, Yulimar Rojas makes history as the first Venezuelan woman to win this honor. Rojas won the gold medal while breaking the world record for the women’s triple jump at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Born in a rural and poorer region of Venezuela’s capital Caracas, Rojas grew up in a house known as a “ranchito.” Aside from her impoverished upbringing, Yulimar Rojas was originally not allowed to compete and travel to international competitions due to her father’s disapproval. The societal standard of women competing in sports is a hurdle athletes like Rojas fight to overcome. Venezuela has a long way to go when it comes to gender equality, but Rojas continues to push for her change through her life and impressive athletic career.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics brought the world together during an unprecedented time. The women on this global stage were not just sources of empowerment to girls who look up to them. They were also representatives of resilience, passion and drive for the world. Gender equality and women’s representation in the 2020 Olympics is just another reason these historic few weeks were something to remember for generations to come.

Annaclaire Acosta
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Remember in “Forrest Gump” when Tom Hanks’ title character ran across the country? Everyone asked him why he did it and he said he just felt like running. So he ran.

Inspired by his favorite film, Barclay Oudersluys is currently on a run across the United States in an event he titled Project Gump. The 23-year-old began his trip in California and plans to end in Maine in less than 100 days, for a total of 3,200 miles.

But Oudersluys isn’t running simply for the sake of a good run; he is on a cross-country run to raise awareness and funds for the Hall Step Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to ending global poverty. Founded in 2009 by professional runners Ryan and Sara Hall, the organization fights extreme poverty by improving health. During his 100-day run, Oudersluys would like to raise $10,000 for the organization.

The journey quite accurately follows that of Forrest Gump’s. It began at Santa Monica Pier and will end at the famous Marshall Point Lighthouse, just like in the movie. Running about 32 miles everyday in five to seven hours, Oudersluys has covered over 2,000 miles in 68 days.

Fortunately, Oudersluys has some seriously awesome friends that are driving cross-country in a van full of food, water and clothes as he runs. He typically rests in the back of the van or drives to a hotel each night.

Running across the country surely means seeing historical landmarks and meeting interesting people and Oudersluys has definitely seen some cool things, including another runner journeying across the country in the opposite direction.

Documenting his journey on Twitter and Instagram, Oudersluys hasn’t forgotten what his run is all about–lending his voice (or legs) to the fight against global poverty. Check out Project Gump’s mission and fundraising progress at their website, or follow Oudersluys on social media.

Sarah Sheppard

Sources: Telegraph, 6abc, The Steps Foundation
Photo: Flickr

Pastor Runs Across the U.S. for Clean Water

Steve Spear never imagined that he would be running across the country for any reason. But this year he joined up with World Vision to raise money for clean water access in Africa doing that very thing. With more than 6,000 children dying every day because they lack potable water and access to sanitation, it is a very worthy cause. And with the 3,000 miles from Los Angeles to New York between Steve and his goal, it will be a very tiresome trek.

For most of his life, Steve could not stand running or even the idea of running, especially not a marathon. But after a few marathons in the U.S and a lot of encouragement from Reverend Paul Jansen Van Rensburg, he finally agreed to run the 56-mile marathon in South Africa for World Vision, a Christian global aid group, in 2010. At that time he raised $150,000 and he caught the fundraising bug.

Later that year the idea to run across America came to him while completing a 15-mile run. At first, he was inclined to dismiss the whole thing as crazy. But, after a year of consideration, he finally decided to quit the job he loved and make it all a reality. Steve trained and fund-raised for the upcoming event until April of this year when he was ready to start his journey. Ever since he left California he has been running or walking about 35 miles a day, the equivalent of a marathon, only taking weekends off to speak of different churches and events along the way.

Ultimately his goal is to raise 1.5 million dollars for World Vision, an amount that would provide $30,000 African people with access to clean water. In comparison, during 2012 World Vision provided enough money to help 962,650 people get clean water. So, if he reaches his goal, Spear will be doing 31% of World Vision’s fundraising for them.

This weekend he will be in Chicago, about 2,000 from his starting point, and so far he has raised a little over $130,000 towards his cause. This does not seem to interfere with his hope, though, Spear told the Chicago Tribune, “We still have a whole lot of ground to cover and a bunch of miles to still run,” he said. “We’re hopeful.”

– Chelsea Evans
Sources: Chicago Tribune, World Vision
Photo: Flickr