7 Epic Female Athletes Changing the Game in 2020
Updated: Sep 29
There is no denying the pervasive problem of exclusivity within the outdoor industry and the often overlooked glass ceiling for women. Women have been sending climbs, summiting peaks and dropping in on waves for years, but often their stories are not publicized or are seen as exceptions. These limitations are tenfold for BIPOC and LGBTQ athletes.
As the industry is making much needed headway to make the outdoors more accessible, highlighting women’s achievements within the community is critical. Below is the beginning of a non-exhaustive list of epic female outdoor athletes changing the game in 2020. The intention is to uplift and honor the vital place of women of all races, shapes, and gender identifications within the great outdoors.
Chances are by the end you’ll be seriously inspired and racing toward your local crag or surf break....
“The path has not been easy. The reward is the possibility of inspiring other women of color. If they can see something in me that they relate to, then that is enough.” Sabrina Chapman
Sabrina Chapman is a professional sport climber trailblazing a path for Black women in the rock climbing world as she and a handful of other Black women send elite grades around the world. Sabrina’s family is originally from Mauritius although she grew up in Hamilton Ontario. In a sport where professional athletes start competing soon after they can walk, Sabrina did something almost unheard of--she began climbing at age 26. Sabrina is currently based in Toronto, Canada. Her latest project, Titan, is a 5.14 climb featured in the film, “Titan Project'' produced by Melanin Base Camp and Beast Fingers Climbing. As Melanin Basecamp writes, Sabrina hopes to set an example for women, especially women of color, who are not represented enough in the outdoors, “by climbing hard, pushing limits and taking up space outside.”
"I always thought I had the same strength as guys, and knew I was capable of showing what was possible. "That's the beauty of climbing – you can all climb the same routes. It's something girls can show they're badass at." Ashima Shiraishi
Ashima Shiraishi is a Japanese-American climber described as both a prodigy and the “Gretzky of granite,” pursuing her passions on and off the walls and encouraging others to do the same. Ashima began climbing with her father at Rat Rock in Central Park at age 6. She has gone on to send a series of elite climbs around the world and logged the second female ascent of a 9a/9a+ (5.15d/5.15a) at just 13 years old. At age 14, she became the first female climber and youngest person to climb the V15 on Horizon at Mount Hiei Japan. Ashima, like Sabrina, was drawn to climbing, because of its therapeutic and balancing effects between mental and physical strength. Climbing is one of Amisha’s passions, but she is also an avid photographer, published author and has dabbled in the fashion industry. Climbing helped Amisha find her passion and she uses her platform to encourage others “to find something they love and follow that passion.”
Dominique (Nique) Miller
“I want kids that look like me to see that your dreams are valid and you can achieve anything you put your heart in…and it doesn’t matter how you look.” Nique Miller
Nique Miller is a half-Black, Half-Mexican pro surfer shredding waves in Waikiki Hawaii, while encouraging fellow women of color to step onto a surfboard. Nique grew up on the mainland in both Michigan and Texas before moving to Hawaii for college with a cross-country scholarship. Nique’s self-taught pro career began during a single paddle out with friends. Hooked, she dedicated herself to the sport of surfing and after almost two years of practicing placed second in a local competition. Nique has spoken out about the challenges of being an AfroLatin surfer in an industry that is predominantly white despite its Polynesian origins. Nique explains in an interview with Lessons in Badassary, “that it is very hard in the surf community for athletes of color to get fair treatment and funding.” Nique’s dream is to be the first AfroLatin woman of color to win a world title so that she can inspire young girls “to see that it is possible.”
“It's good to listen to the fear, but there's nothing like conquering it and coming out the other side.” Paige Alms
Paige Alms is a professional surfer shaking up the world of big wave surfing and carving out a place for women within its line up. Born in Victoria B.C., Paige moved to Maui at age 9 with her family where she developed a love for the ocean that inspired her to start surfing. Among many things, Maui is known for its world class surfing including the wild 60ft beast of a wave known as Jaws. At age 17, Paige became the first woman to ride Jaws and remains the only woman who has gotten barreled on it. In 2018, Paige was among 6 women who were included in the line-up for the renowned big wave competition in Northern California known as Mavericks. This historic feat was only possible because Paige and a small group of female surfers pressured the organizers to include women in the event. Paige is an advocate and a bit of a maverick herself, making sure that the world of big wave surfing recognizes the power and vital role of women within its waters.
“Forward motion is the only way to get to the finish line. You can do it if you just decide that there are no excuses good enough to make you stop.” Courtney Dauwalter
Courtney Dauwalter is a professional ultra runner calling into question whether men’s typical strength advantages apply to endurance sports. In 2019, Courtney gave up her job as a high school science teacher to pursue ultra marathons professionally. Courtney’s list of unparalleled running feats is extensive. For one, Courtney finished the 2017 Moab 240 Mile Endurance Race (with 8,981m of elevation gain) in two days, 10 hours before the second-place finisher (a man). It usually takes three to five days to finish the race. Courtney’s unmatched victories have opened up a gender debate in the running community concerning whether psychological strength can surpass “men’s innate strength advantages in endurance sports.” Courtney explains that mental fortitude is a big determiner in the outcome of ultra marathons. During her first 100-mile attempt, Courtney dropped out near mile 60 because she hadn’t figured out the mental shifts she needed to make when the physical pain hit hard. Courtney explains that now when the inevitable pain kicks in she reminders herself that “by staying tough in my head, by not giving up on myself and by continuing to push forward, I can overpower the physical pain.”
“Running is a cleansing, life-changing, and deeply fulfilling odyssey that continues to bring me to new heights and new lows. During this journey, I approach the human being that I am meant to be.” Mirna Valerio
Mirna Valerio is an ultrarunner and founder of the body positive group Fat Girl Running challenging biased stereotypes of who can be a runner and what they look like. Mirna, a jack of all trades, is a spanish teacher, a choral director, a diversity practitioner, and a cross-country running coach. The rest of the time, Mirna is running in or training for races ranging from 5ks to ultramarathons. Muscle cramps and exhaustion aren’t the only obstacles Mirna faces on trails. Mirna is frequently body shamed by individuals whose own prejudices deem her a liar and a fraud. Mirna explains that “serious running and being seriously fat just don’t go together in people’s minds,” if she were lean she’d be “one more number at the starting line.” Through it all, Mirna keeps running and documents her impressive feats on her facebook page Fat Girl Running. Mirna wants “to show people that it’s possible” and inspire those who don’t fit the stereotypical image of a lean muscular runner plastered across magazines and ads to hit the trails, believe in their bodies and follow their passion.
“People ascribe all of these gender norms immediately to you and say, ‘Well, girls don’t like hiking or backpacking.’ Those gender norms are part of what we’re fighting against. Not just ‘women can be climbers’, but ‘trans women can be climbers’.” Erin Parisi
Erin Parisi is a mountaineer currently sending the 7 highest summits around the world while uplifting transgender voices in the outdoor community through her recently founded non-profit TransSending7. In 2017 at age 40, Erin came out as a woman and went through her transition during which she was silent for a month following her larynx reconstruction surgery. During this period of silence, Erin was inspired to become the first transgender woman to complete the 7 Summits. Since Dick Bass came up with the idea of the 7 Summits in 1983, 416 people have completed them, 71 of whom are women. While she was an active mountaineer before her transition, pursuing the 7 Summits as a trans woman brings its own challenges. For one, Erin has been documenting her lowered testosterone levels since transgender women’s participation in sports is often a heated debate.
So far, Erin has bagged Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mount Elbrus in Europe and Mount Aconcagua in South America. Describing her reason for pursuing the 7 Summits, Erin explains in an interview with Westwold Magazine, that “these mountains are metaphorically where the world can’t push you into the shadows anymore.” Erin hopes to not only be the first transgender woman to complete this epic feat, but also to uplift and inspire members of the LGBTQ community to pursue their passions within the great outdoors.