Professional women’s sports are on the rise. Los Angeles added an expansion National Women’s Soccer League team, Athletes Unlimited created a new professional sports organization for softball and volleyball players, and the WNBA’s viewership has increased since beginning its shortened season. Like all athletes, some women have had to overcome obstacles to get to where they are today. From not being drafted to being the first woman from their country to compete at the Olympics, this list looks at inspirational women who have overcome obstacles in their respective sports.
After Erica Wheeler lost her mom to cancer in 2012, she was ready to leave Rutgers and stop playing basketball altogether. But Rutgers’ head coach C. Vivian Stringer convinced Wheeler to return. Her final year at the university wasn’t as successful as her first three seasons, and she went undrafted in the 2013 WNBA Draft. Wheeler didn’t let this derail her professional basketball career, and she played overseas in Puerto Rico, Turkey, and Brazil, before finally making her WNBA debut in 2015. She played 17 games for the Atlanta Dream before being cut from the roster, and then three with the New York Liberty that same season. The next season she joined the New York Liberty and appeared in only three games. She signed with the Indiana Fever on a training camp contract the next season, and impressed the coaches enough to keep her on the roster. In 2019, Wheeler earned a spot in the WNBA All-Star game as reserve. In just under 19 minutes of play, Wheeler recorded 25 points, seven assists, and four rebounds, and made seven three pointers, a game high. She earned All-Star MVP honors, which made her the first undrafted player to do so.
Jennifer Cohen grew up a huge University of Washington fan, but was waitlisted when she applied for college. This didn’t stop her from pursuing a career in athletics for Washington and neither did her lack of playing or coaching experience at the collegiate level. Cohen is the only female athletic director in the PAC-12 conference, and one of four women in leadership roles in the Power Five. According to an article by Crosscut, Cohen had the lowest annual guaranteed compensation relative to departmental expense for any athletic director among Power Five schools. With the help of a lawyer, she renegotiated and signed a contract amendment that extended her post until 2024 and increased her base salary by 63 percent.
Wujud Sharkhani is a martial art of judoka competitor for Saudi Arabia. At 16 years old, she was named one of two women to represent Saudi Arabia in the Olympics for the first time in the country’s history. She also competed in the 2016 Olympics, which featured three other Saudi Arabian female athletes. Shahrkhani participated in the martial art of judoka event. She attended school in the U.S. prior to competing in the Olympics, defying Saudi Arabia’s country wide cultural restriction that discourages women from competing in sports.
Lubna Al Omair
Lubna Al Omair was one of the three women alongside Shahrkhani to compete for Saudi Arabia in the 2016 Olympics. She became the first female international fencer from Saudi Arabia. Prior to competing in the Olympics, she co-founded a fencing club to train women in fencing. She also received her master’s degree in business information technology from DePaul University.
Rubab Raza was the first girl from Pakistan to compete in the Olympic Games in 2004 when she was 13 years old. At the Olympic Games she competed in the 50m freestyle. In her career, she’s won two silver medals and one bronze medal at the South Asian Games.