I love the Olympics, I do. The Olympics helped me develop #ScaleFreeSummer, because nothing says commitment like competing for dominance on an international stage, and doing it for your country. It’s inspirational, but for way more than that.
Every time the Olympics roll around, there are incredible stories of protest, humanity, and compassion. Also? Black girl awesomeness. And, as much as Allyson Felix and Simone Biles and Gabrielle (she’s said before she’s not a fan of “Gabby”) Douglass deserve to be celebrated, there are a few other women who deserve a little shine, and not just for their competitive and athletic accomplishments:
1) The story of Flint, MI’s very own Claressa Shields, who holds every gold medal ever issued in the sport of women’s boxing, teaches us a little something about perseverance:
While most U.S. Olympians receive deep support from their parents, she grew up not knowing where she would sleep many nights, or where her next meal would come from. Now, on her income from modest sponsorships and about $3,000 a month from USA Boxing, she provides financial support to her family back in Flint. Emerging from a family afflicted with poverty, addiction and run-ins with the law, she became an honors student, an Olympic champion and the unofficial captain of the U.S. boxing team, whose corps of young men turn to her for counsel. [source]
Shields’ story has been turned into a documentary after her first Olympic gold medal in London’s 2012 games, called T-Rex, currently available on Netflix.(You can also check it out here using my Amazon affiliate link.)
— ❤ Mell ❤ (@GeekyMomz) August 22, 2016
What does Shields intend to do with the platform she’s earning? Well…
Outside the ring, too, Shields has vowed to succeed Ali. Attending his memorial service in Louisville in early June, Shields came to see the importance of his opposition to the Vietnam War, his pride as an African American and his quest for religious tolerance. “Boxing was just his platform, and it could be mine,” she says. “I don’t know God’s plan for me. But I know it’s bigger than boxing.” Noting that she overcame extreme poverty and neglect in Flint, Mich., she says, “I think he wants me to help those who feel broken to feel unbroken.” [source]
2) Bronze Medal fencing star Ibtihaj Muhammad, hailing from New Jersey, holds the honor and privilege of being the first American to compete in the Olympics while wearing a traditional head covering, known as a hijab. When she spoke on representing her country, she spoke of not only deference to those who came before her, but the need to be someone who inspires others to fulfill their dreams:
— New Day (@NewDay) August 21, 2016
“What I love about my experience here as a minority member of Team USA is that I’m able to encourage other youth to pursue their dreams, to not let other people dictate their journey for them,” she said.”Simone Biles … Simone (Manuel) in the pool even … we provide a different image than what people are used to seeing and we challenge the norm. We’re showing minority youth out there, we’re showing Americans that this is one of the beautiful things about our country.”
“People challenged them for the way that they looked, (for) them being different for their hair, for these really small things that we tend to challenge women on,” she said. “I love that they never changed who they were. They forced us as viewers, us as society to accept who they were.” [source]
And, when asked to speak on her country, Muhammad shared:
“This has been a beautiful experience,” Muhammad told Chris Cuomo on Tuesday on CNN’s “New Day.” “This is the America that I know and I love. The America that is inclusive, that is accepting and encompasses people from all walks of life.” [source]
3) The U.S. Women’s Gold Medal winning Olympic basketball team, who showed us what it looks like to ascend to international dominance… and use that earned platform to stand for something greater than ourselves:
— Tina Charles (@tinacharles31) July 21, 2016
Prior to the start of the Olympics, several WNBA teams were fined—and subsequently had those fines rescinded—for taking a stance with regard to the onslaught of police-involved homicides taking place in the United States.
— Breanna Stewart (@bre_stewart30) July 22, 2016
In an op-ed written for Sports Illustrated where she responded to the fines, Tina Charles made it plain:
On July 20, the league issued fines against the Liberty, Lynx and Phoenix Mercury for violating the uniform code—$5,000 for each team and $500 for each player. This struck me as odd. Our league has always been on the front line in rallying around causes beyond the arena: breast cancer awareness, LGBT rights, reducing gun violence in the wake of the Orlando massacre.
The day after the fines were announced, I accepted my award as conference player of the month, wearing my Liberty warm-up shirt turned inside-out. For me, this protest is personal. I believe I have an obligation to stand up, and it is not in my nature to shy away from using my voice.
Some people have wondered how I will continue my activism at the Olympics; if asked, I won’t hesitate to share my views. But in wearing USA on our chests—12 women from all walks of life, unified in the pursuit of winning a sixth consecutive gold medal for our country—we are already reminders of the diverse, inclusive and celebrated America we should all be striving for together.
4) Record-setting U.S. Olympic weightlifting competitor Jenny Arthur is the bawse in the sauce, who is gunning for an elusive gold medal. Arthur, 22 years old and hailing from Gainesville, Fla, has set her goals a little further each olympic season, getting closer and closer every time. She is the epitome of unyielding commitment:
— Lonny Landrum (@Lonny783) August 20, 2016
Arthur fell short of making the games in 2012 in London. But it made her that much more determined.
“Ever since then, it was every day. I’m gonna get better,” she said.
She moved from Gainesville to the training center in Colorado Springs. There she practices everyday lifting anywhere between 6,000-10,000 pounds.
Two national championships later, Arthur easily qualified for Rio. She was the first athlete named to the weightlifting team.
While her dream to be an Olympian has been life-long, it wasn’t always the dream to lift weights. Instead, she wanted to be the fastest in the world. Arthur was pursuing sprinting and hurdling, but it was her training for that made her realize she had a gift in another field.
In 2009, she received an invitation from the football coaches to lift at Chestatee High School, where she would eventually graduate.
“I began doing the lifts, and I thought this is hard, this is a challenge. I just fell in love ever since.”
Flash forward to today, Arthur will be the first American to compete at the Olympics in the 165-pound weight class since Cara Heads Slaughter in 2000. [source]
5) Two-time gold medalist Simone Manuel, upon being awarded her first gold of the season, took the time to speak on the meaning of her win, and displayed an incredible sense of selflessness in discussing what she hopes her win can mean for her country:
— SWIM1922 (@Swim1922) August 22, 2016
“It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality,” Manuel said. “This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory.”
“It is something I’ve definitely struggled with a lot,” Manuel said. “Coming into the race I tried to take weight of the black community off my shoulders. It’s something I carry with me. I want to be an inspiration, but I would like there to be a day when it is not ‘Simone the black swimmer.’ [source]
One of the first things that happened when Manuel won her first medal in the games, was the very necessary writing about black Americans and why so many of us cannot and do not swim. This particular article is worth checking out.
These are my five favorite most inspiring takeaways from this year’s Olympics. Inspiring stories that give us hope, teach us the benefits and glory of pursuing your dreams with dogged dedication, show us the beauty of inspiring others, and display for us what it looks like to carry the weight of your community on your shoulders and still blow away the competition.
These are my favorites. What are yours?
Bonus: Olympic-gold medal-worthy mojito stirring is in a strong 6th place on my list: