Adventure Women

10 Badass Women Who Changed History Forever

From swimming the English Channel to running the Boston Marathon, these female athletes are truly inspirational

Photo: Reddit

There have been hundreds of badass women throughout history who have broken the mould – whether it’s inventing the submarine telescope or swimming the English Channel.

We’ve decided to pick out just a handful of the most inspirational women in sport – from Kathrine Switzer completing the Boston Marathon (despite being chased by the organiser for being a woman) to Annie Smith Peck for climbing the Matterhorn despite risking being arrested for wearing trousers.

These stories are guaranteed to leave you feeling inspired…

1) Annie Smith Peck, Famous Mountaineer

She wasn’t the first woman to summit the Matterhorn (she was the second). She did however complete one of the most technical climbs of the era.

Unfortunately, all anyone could argue about back home was whether they should arrest her for making the climb – in trousers.

Annie spent her entire life fighting for women’s rights – for the right to be educated to breaking numerous climbing records across South America.

She even has a peak named after her in Peru!

 2) Gertrude Ederle, First Woman To Swim English Channel

On 6 August 1926, 19-year-old Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim across the English Channel.

Just two years earlier, she won an Olympic gold medal in the 4 x 100m relay and a year before became the first woman to swim the length of the New York Bay.

She swam the English Channel in an amazing 14 hours and 31 minutes after tackling heavy storms and swells.

Afterwards she told the New York Times, “I knew it could be done, it had to be done, and I did it.”

She damaged her hearing while attempting the feat, but spent most of her life teaching deaf children how to swim.

3) Alice Coachman, First Black Woman To Win Olympic Gold

She was born in the American state of Georgia when segregation was well underway.

Alice wasn’t allowed to train or compete in official sports events, instead she trained barefoot in field, using old equipment for practice.

Her talents were eventually recognised and she went on to compete nationally for many years.

Finally, in 1948 at the Olympics in London, she won a gold medal in the high jump after clearing 5ft 6 1/8 inches.

“I didn’t know I’d won,” Coachman said later on. “I was on my way to receive the medal and I saw my name on the board. I glanced over into the stands where my coach was, and she was clapping her hands.”

4) Women’s League Roller Derby, 1950

While these women weren’t renowned for breaking records or winning Olympic golds, they were taking part in the sport of roller derby in the 1950s.

In fact, roller derby competitions have been held since the early 20th century. By the 1940s, they were televised across America with viewers tuning in to watch brutal crashes.

5) Agatha Christie, Crime Writer & Britain’s First Female Surfer

Who would have thought that Agatha Christie, the famed murder mystery writer, would be the first female surfer in Britain?

In 1922, Christie and her husband Archie went on a trip to South Africa, where it’s thought the Devon-born writer took up the sport.

“It was occasionally painful as you took a nosedive down into the sand, but on the whole it was an easy sport and great fun,” she wrote.

Later that year, in Hawaii, Agatha took to her board once again.

“I learned to become expert – or at any rate expert from the European point of view – the moment of complete triumph on the day that I kept my balance and came right into shore standing upright on my board!”

6) Kathrine Switzer, First Woman To Run The Boston Marathon

Photo: Reddit

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon – but it didn’t come without a fight.

As Switzer later wrote in her memoir, she wasn’t trying to make history. She was just a 19 year old girl who wanted to run her first marathon.

The race got off to a quiet start, Switzer keeping a low profile among her male teammates.

At around mile four, one of the race organisers jumped into the road and tried to physically stop Switzer running.

He tried to pull her participant number off her jumper, yelling “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!”

It didn’t say anywhere in the rulebooks that women couldn’t enter the race. Anyway, the full story is amazing – you can read it here.

7) Andrea Mead Lawrence, Legendary Skiier

Andrea Mead Lawrence – or Andy as she preferred to be called – was one of the most legendary ski racers of all time.

Her parents brought her up under the principle:  “If the weather’s good, you ski. If it’s bad, you go to school.” Certainly, it paid off.

“Her only interest in boys is how well they ski,” said Life Magazine when they interviewed the 15 year old prodigy in 1947.

By 1952, she became the first American alpine skier to win two Olympic gold medals.

“There are few times in our lives where we become the thing we’re doing,” said afterwards. How right she was.

8) First Women’s Basketball Team, Smith College, USA, 1902

Did you know that women were playing basketball as early as 1893? Yes, really!

Sandra Berenson – otherwise known as the Mother of Women’s Basketball – officiated the very first women’s basketball game on 22 March, 1893 at Smith College in Massachusetts, USA.

This photo was taken a few years later in 1902 but shows just how popular it became.

9) Elspeth Beard, First Englishwoman To Ride A Motorbike Around The World

While training to be an architect and working part-time in a pub in London, Elspeth was planning a motorbike ride.

Not just any ride – but one that involved travelling around the whole world solo. It took her a whopping three years, riding and working along the way, driving 48,000 miles on her bike.

She’s now been featured in a number of TV programmes, articles and even two Japanese documentaries dedicated to her life and work. How cool is that?

You can a more extensive version of her story here.

10) Ellen O’Neal, One Of The First Professional Female Skateboarders

We could do a whole article just on what makes Ellen O’Neal so rad.

Back in Southern California in the 1970s, she was arguably the greatest female freestyle skateboarder on the planet.

Images of her riding her wooden board have become iconic around the world. She’s even been inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame in Los Angeles, California.

How cool is that?

Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.