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Women’s History Month calls attention to barriers to entry in sports

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Odicci Alexander turned pro after a dominant softball career at James Madison. (Courtesy of Under Armour)

Today is the beginning of Women’s History Month, dedicated to highlighting women’s contributions to modern society. With that, we want to shine a spotlight on women who’ve helped increase opportunities and broken down institutional barriers for female athletes.

Before we get to honoring these exceptional female athletes, we want to acknowledge that while great strides have been made, the fight continues for equal access. Luckily, we are seeing large initiatives from leaders and brands. Under Armour, for instance, is increasing offerings for women’s sports through their grassroots program, UA Next, as well as creating footwear innovations that will improve performance for female athletes.

These initiatives might very well lead to more girls and women participating in sports and becoming the heroes of the next generation. Here’s a look at three women who’ve made it to the top despite a lack of access on their respective paths.

Lindsey Vonn won three Olympic medals and four World Cup overall titles during her career. (FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT/AFP via Getty Images)

Lindsey Vonn

Vonn grew up in Minnesota, but at a young age began taking trips to Vail, Colo. to perfect her craft as an aspiring skier.

Eventually, Vonn’s whole family moved to Colorado to accommodate her training schedule, and she turned into an international phenomenon. In 2010, Vonn won an Olympic gold medal, but her success did not come without heartache. The family’s move meant all of Vonn’s siblings had to leave behind their friends, leaving her with a sharp sense of guilt.

With more access to skiing in the Midwest, Vonn’s family likely wouldn’t have had to uproot their lives — and she might’ve still been an Olympic champion.

Odicci Alexander

Alexander was raised in small-town Boydtown, Va., and without access to formal training, she taught herself how to pitch by spray-painting strike zones on her grandparents’ water wells.

She was only discovered as a college prospect when a James Madison coach came to town to scout an opposing player. That coach offered her a scholarship, and Alexander went on to become a dominant force for the Dukes.

Alexander has grown into one of the sport’s most high-profile players, having been named Softball America’s Pitcher of the Year, but her ceiling might’ve been even higher had she been exposed to top-class trainers from an early age.

Ty Harris won a national championship at South Carolina before getting drafted into the WNBA. (G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images)

Tyasha Harris

Harris grew up watching her father play pickup basketball and decided she wanted to play the game, too. The local YMCA only offered a boys’ league, however. Harris joined anyway and excelled, and eventually joined a girls’ travel ball team.

The travel ball team helped Harris hone her skills and gain recognition, but required more resources than a local team would have. It was another example of Harris succeeding despite an extra burden.

It wasn’t until Harris got to high school that she immersed herself in the history of the women’s game, learning about legendary South Carolina coach Dawn Staley’s playing career. Harris went on to play for Staley, and after a record-setting college career, she was selected No. 7 overall by the Dallas Wings in the 2020 WNBA Draft.