Few hockey players embody perseverance like Angela James. Despite opposition at every stage of her 20-year professional career, James has left a monumental mark on the hockey scene. Along with Cammi Granato, James was one of the first two women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010 and continues to inspire by coaching young girls.
Clara Hughes won a total of six Olympic medals between 1996 and 2010 in both cycling and speed-skating. A rare all-season athlete, she is tied with speed skater Cindy Klassen for the most Olympic medals earned by a Canadian. She also is a spokesperson for Bell Let’s Talk and is an excellent role model for young athletes. In her 2015 book Open Heart, Open Mind, Hughes opened up about her struggles with mental health issues and explained how sports helped her build a better life.
Manon Rhéaume shattered countless barriers over the course of her career: She was the first woman to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s regular season, the first and only woman to suit up for an NHL team in an exhibition game, and the first woman to play in a professional men’s league, the International Hockey League, during the regular season. Now, the hockey legend coaches a U12 girls’ team and helps young women in sports get scholarships through the Manon Rhéaume Foundation.
Serena Williams redefined what it meant to be a female athlete in modern society: Her athletic prowess, coupled with her dominance and longevity in tennis, propelled her to the top of the game and made her an international icon. Growing up as a young black girl, Serena Williams showed me that someone like me can achieve greatness despite the barriers placed in front of them.
Since her debut for the Canadian women’s national soccer team in 2000, Christine Sinclair has become the face of women’s soccer in Canada. Captaining her country to back-to-back Olympic bronze medals in 2012 and 2016, she is currently second in all-time goals scored in international play with 179. Sinclair has led by example throughout her career and will long be remembered as a Canadian sporting legend.
The power-hitting outfielder made her Team USA debut in 2004 and has since become a household name in softball. Mendoza is also paving the way for women in sports broadcasting: As a baseball analyst for ESPN, she sits alongside her male counterparts and challenges the antiquated notion that women cannot work in men’s sports media.
At the 2012 Olympics, Pandelela Rinong inspired an entire generation of young female athletes in Malaysia when she won a bronze medal in the 10m diving event. She became the country’s first female Olympic medallist as well as its first medalist in any sport other than badminton. With her success on the world stage, Rinong made a future in sports for Malaysian girls truly tangible for the first time.
Australian soccer star Sam Kerr is a name soccer fans should get to know. She represents the growth of women’s soccer outside of the historically-dominant European and North American spheres. Her signature backflip goal celebration has made her easy to recognize on the field, and her dominant offensive presence has marked her as a key member on both her national team and club teams over the years.
Elena Delle Donne
Boasting an awe-inspiring combination of post moves, outside shots, and ball-handling skills, Elena Delle Donne is everything that young female basketball players aspire to be. When Delle Donne announced her engagement to her long-time girlfriend Amanda Clifton in 2016, she became an idol for the LGBTQ+ community, too.
When Jen Kish won the bronze medal for Canada in Women’s rugby sevens at the 2016 Olympics, she showed the country that women’s contact rugby is a worthwhile sport. Watching Kish power through tackle after tackle reminded the world that women have a place in contact sports and that they are just as tough as men—if not tougher.