4 Inspiring Female Athletes Competing in the Tokyo Olympics

As the 2021 Tokyo Olympics kicks off, these talented athletes are serving as inspiration both on and off the field. 

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Posted in , Jul 22, 2021

Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix

From health scares, illnesses and other setbacks, the path to Tokyo’s Olympic games for many athletes wasn’t an easy one—especially for the following female athletes. But they’re demonstrating to the world, and the younger generation looking on, that with a little hope, time and their gold medal dreams, anything is possible. 

Track Star—and Harvard Grad—Gabby Thomas Overcomes Health Scare Weeks Before Olympic Trials 

Track star Gabby Thomas, 24, not only set a personal record during the U.S. Olympic Trials’ women’s 200-meter race, but also recorded the second fastest time in history, breaking long-time Olympian Allyson Felix’s record. Thomas crossed the finish line in 21.61 seconds, winning the race and securing a spot in the Tokyo Olympics. 

Thomas is a former Ivy League student, who graduated from Harvard University in 2019 with a degree in neurobiology and global health and health policy. She’s currently a graduate student at the University of Texas studying for her master’s degree in epidemiology.  

“Being in school really makes me appreciate what I am doing on the track,” she told Runner’s World. “Being able to compartmentalize two different things that I love doing really makes you appreciate the time that you love doing it.” 

In late May, Thomas faced a health scare when doctors found a tumor in her liver,  while performing an MRI for a hamstring injury. While waiting for test results, she recalls making a pact with God.

“I remember telling God that if I am healthy, I am winning trials,” she told NBC Sports. A few days before traveling to Eugene, Oregon for the Olympic track and field trials, test results revealed the tumor was benign. Now, Thomas’ goals are set higher as she aims to continue breaking records in the upcoming Olympic games.  

Gymnast MyKayla Skinner Battles Covid Diagnosis Before Competing for U.S. Olympic Team 

MyKayla Skinner earned a spot on the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team after competing in the Olympic trials in St. Louis, Missouri in June. But there was a time she didn’t think this moment would come. Back in December, Skinner battled Covid-19 for two weeks and was forced to halt her training.

“I felt like I couldn't move off the couch," the 24-year-old athlete told KSL Sports. "I was sick, tired and exhausted. It was so weird having my body feel so weak, and there was nothing I could do about it." 

Although she recovered and returned to the gym after the holidays, Skinner faced another setback—pneumonia. It took the athlete nearly six weeks after her Covid diagnosis to resume training. Now, after much perseverance, the gymnast, who served as an alternate for the 2016 Olympic team, is headed to the Olympics this summer.

“I'm really glad that I never gave up my dream, and I kept going,” she told TODAY. “Some dreams take time.” 

Allyson Felix Qualifies for Her Fifth Olympics After Life-Threatening Pregnancy 

Track and field star Allyson Felix finished second place the women’s 400-meter run at the U.S Olympic Track and Field Trials, securing a spot in her fifth Olympic Games, her first as a mother. This was a big accomplishment for Felix, who overcame a life-threatening pregnancy in 2018 after undergoing an emergency C-section at 32 weeks due to preeclampsia. Her two-year-old daughter, Camryn, spent a month in the neonatal intensive care unit.  

"It has been a fight to get here,” the 35-year-old athlete told NBC. "Today I thought about all the things. I thought about us fighting in the NICU, fighting for my life, fighting to get on this track.” 

The six-time gold medalist is now helping other moms by partnering with Athleta and the Women's Sports Foundation to create “The Power of She Fund: Child Care Grants,” a grant program designed to help female athletes with children. The grant will provide $200,000—for childcare costs—to professional mom-athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics. Felix is aware of the lack of support moms have when participating in athletic endeavors and is ready to advocate for them to make a difference.  

 “Here I am, using my voice to create change for us as women, and for us as mothers, and for all the women who want to be mothers,” she said in an Instagram post. “So here I am.” 

Softball Star Cat Osterman Comes Out of Retirement to Compete in the Tokyo Olympics 

Softball pitcher Cat Osterman announced she’ll be coming out of retirement to compete for gold once again. The 38-year-old star will be competing in the Olympics for the third time, 13 years after winning a silver medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 17 years after winning a gold medal in Athens.  

When softball was voted out of the Games in 2012, Osterman believed her chances of winning gold again were gone—until now. With softball back in the Olympics, she has her eyes set on redemption.

“The more I thought about it, I thought I could still throw at an elite level,” Osterman told PEOPLE. “And if I was able to prove that I could compete with the best of the best in the game right now, I thought I should un-retire and come back and help this younger generation make a run at a gold medal.” 

Osterman is one of only two players on the team with Olympic experience and the oldest player ever to play for Team USA, allowing her to serve as a mentor to her younger teammates. “I can tap into both Olympic experiences and share it and talk to them about what you want to make sure you remember,” she said.  

She plans to finish her career with Athletes Unlimited later this year, before working with youth from underserved and diverse communities to give them opportunities to play baseball and softball.

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