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Former Olympic Champion Fights For Women In Sports

Overcoming adversity to win Olympic gold, swimmer and civil rights attorney Nancy Hogshead-Makar has dedicated her life to fight for equality.

Three-time Olympic champion and respected civil rights attorney Nancy Hogshead-Makar is a formidable opponent both in the pool and the courtroom. As a world-class swimmer, civil rights attorney, professor, and CEO, Hogshead-Maker continues to work tirelessly to advocate for women. 


The Duke University alumna won three gold medals and one silver medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, making her the most decorated swimmer at the 1984 games. She’s the recipient of Duke’s first-ever swimming scholarship, and she was the first woman inducted into the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame. 

After her Olympic career, Hogshead-Makar interned at the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1985, which had a big impact on her career path. She worked her way up the ladder for a 30-year career with WSF as board member, vice president, president, legal advisor, and senior director of advocacy. She then stepped away to create Champion Women, a nonprofit dedicated to providing legal advocacy for women in girls in sports, including issues of equal pay, Title IX compliance, sexual harassment, and abuse and assault in sports.

As the organization’s CEO, Hogshead-Makar uses both her skills as a civil rights attorney and legal scholar, in addition to her athletic experience at the collegiate and Olympic levels, to run Champion Women. 

For Hogshead-Makar, issues surrounding equality, sexual harassment, and sexism are personal. In 1981, while going for a run around Duke University’s campus, Hogshead-Makar was raped. She experienced post-traumatic stress disorder and took a break from swimming. Three years after her trauma, she was able to return to the pool and win Olympic gold.

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Photo Credit: Pexels, Google Reuse, Facebook

Photo Credit: Pexels, Google Reuse, Facebook

Decades after this incident, Hogshead-Makar struggled with its aftereffects and wanted to help others. Hogshead-Makar’s friend, human rights activist Richard Lapchick, encouraged her to speak about her experiences.

“He was right,” Hogshead-Makar said in an interview with Swimming World Magazine. “It made me a better advocate. My hope is that other, older women with great lives will disclose this part of their story.”

Hogshead-Makar was an influential advocate for the Safe Sport Act of 2018 and the resulting U.S. Center for SafeSport, which focuses on eliminating harassment, assault, and inappropriate relationships between coaches and athletes in sports. Coach Mitchell Ivey, one of Hogshead-Makar’s own coaches, was banned from swimming for having romantic relationships with his swimmers, which did not include Hogshead-Makar. This incident worried her, and later told Swimming World Magazine that SafeSport’s message still needs to be reinforced.

Both SafeSport and Champion Women are two of Hogshead-Makar’s many great achievements in the fight for women’s equality in sports. Though motivated by her own story, Hogshead-Makar told The Guardian that she not only fights to protect women, but to empower them.

“Sports are a way to unhinge women from gender stereotypes and ideas of what their life is supposed to be like,” she said. “Sports makes women stronger character-wise and the message of being subservient needs to end.”

Champion Women actively posts on Facebook, providing statistics, data, and images to educate their audience about unequal pay and opportunities for female coaches, NCAA scholarship disparities, and sexual harassment in sports.