Last Wednesday evening in New York City, the Women’s Sports Foundation hosted its 37th Annual ‘Salute to Women in Sports’ awards gala, which honored iconic female athletes and legends in the making, for their dominance in their fields and also for serving as inspiration outside of sports.
A diverse array of women’s athletics was on full display as 70 athletes from 20 sports with representation from 7 different countries were in attendance. The luxurious Cipriani Wall Street location was awarm with legends and luminaries, such as two-time Olympic softball medalist Jessica Mendoza, and Emmy Award-winning NBC Olympics announcer and former professional tennis player Maria Carillo, who served as gala co-hosts. Also in attendance was WNBA legend Tamika Catchings, WSF President and two-time Olympic soccer gold medalist Angela Hucles, track and field icon Sanya Richards-Ross, undefeated boxing royalty Laila Ali, and two women who need no introduction, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and WSF Founder Billie Jean King, just to name a few.
Billie Jean King founded the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974 with the goal to champion the right for women and girls to have equal access to sports. Today, the foundation plays a pivotal role in shaping the public’s perception of female athletes. King noted in a moving speech during the ceremony, “For over 40 years, we have recognized the accomplishments of the world’s greatest female athletes and leaders in sports. We are proud to do so again tonight after what was one of the most successful Olympic and Paralympic Games for women in history.”
Sportswoman of the Year honors was awarded to two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist, Claressa Shields, in the Individual Sport category. Shields is the only U.S. boxer, male or female, to repeat as the gold medalist in consecutive Olympics.
Water polo Olympic gold medalist Ashleigh Johnson, took home the Sportswoman of the Year Award for the Team Sports category. Johnson is the first African American to ever compete in the Olympics for water polo, and as goal-keeper for Team USA, she recorded 62 saves and finished first at the 2016 FINA World League Super Final and Olympic Qualification Tournament.
Val Ackerman, who has opened doors for so many women in sports — from receiving one of the first post-Title IX college scholarships to being the first president of the WNBA, and now, leading one of the nation’s esteemed intercollegiate athletic conferences, the Big East — took home the Bille Jean King Contribution Award for her devotion to progressing women’s sports.
Recipient of the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award, went to professional squash player, Maria Toorpakai Wazir, who was born in Waziristan, Pakistan, near the border of Afghanistan — considered “the most dangerous place on earth” by journalists because of its Taliban presence — grew up in a society where girls were not allowed to play sports or attend school.
Wazir’s compelling life story includes disguising herself as a boy as a child to compete in weightlifting, until having to produce a birth certificate at age 12, thus turning to squash. She competed without a veil and in shorts, which is taboo in her society, and when her competitions required travel — considering many girls where she is from are not allowed to leave their home — Wazir was labeled “un-Islamic” and locked herself at home for three years after having her and her family’s life threatened by the Taliban. Now, she resides in Toronto, Ontario, Canada as the top-ranking squash player in Pakistan and among the top 50 in the world. Today, Wazir is a staunch advocate for women’s rights and allowing girls to receive an education and play sports in Pakistan.
The night also payed special tribute to the late Pat Summitt — the legendary University of Tennessee Women’s basketball coach, who holds baseball’s all-time wins record at 1,098 and eight national titles — who was honored by her beloved former players Tamika Catchings and Kara Lawson.
Check out the rest of the ladies who slayed the gala’s red carpet:
What an epic night!
Photos: The Sportstyle