Magazine article USA TODAY

100 Sports 100 Women 100 Inspiring Athletes

Magazine article USA TODAY

100 Sports 100 Women 100 Inspiring Athletes

Article excerpt

SUPERWOMEN: 100 Women-100 Sports is an eye-opening coffee table book that inspired a subsequent photo exhibition that shows female athletes at their best: passionate, determined, and strong. Each of these fearless females offers a unique tale of triumph, excellence, and courage.

Consider the sheer willpower that infused Jackie Joyner-Kersee's performance at the 1996 Olympic Games. Recognize the glorious confidence displayed by Janet Guthrie when she pulled up at the starting line of the Indianapolis 500 in 1977. Spend a moment appreciating the perseverance of Rachael Scdoris, a top competitor in sled-dog racing despite being legally blind. The exhibition showcases sports superstars viewers will recognize immediately, as well as athletes who may not be so familiar--but all are exceptional and extraordinary individuals.

These portraits, as well as the candid and personal interview text that accompanies each, are the work of photographer Jodi Buren. "I wanted to document the beauty of the woman athlete--to remove her helmet and focus on her spirit," she says. Buren explains how she sought to find the person inside the athlete, to discover that particular individual's thoughts, dreams, goals, and desires. She found herself inspired by this group, by their strength, energy, and sheer love of the game. Her ultimate objective, she emphasizes, was to give girls across America an opportunity to learn about sports and the women who compete in them.

"It was an incredible journey. With each shoot, the momentum and excitement for the project escalated," Buren recalls. "The athletes were eager to share their stories and seemed honored to be recognized. I was an audience of one and, as I sat on track fields, in parking lots, and in kitchens around the country, I laughed and cried--and was forever changed. I saw what sports can do for women. I [witnessed] this over and over again. [They] were confident, driven, powerful, determined ... in control of their bodies and their lives. I am in awe of these women. I am inspired and humbled by them.

"I left each interview wanting to achieve more, wanting to be a better person, wife, mother, photographer. It was no longer just about sport: it was about being a woman, about giving all that you can, about fulfilling your dreams."

While the photographs are appreciated for their artistry and originality, "SuperWomen" also is an educational tool and a platform for women's athletics. Audiences are introduced not only to uncommon sports such as wakeboarding, down hill mountain biking, mono-skiing, and open water distance swimming, but to athletes who have overcome obstacles and broken down stereotypes. Scdoris recently became the first legally blind athlete to complete the famed 1,100-mile Iditorad Trail Sled Dog Race. In 1967, Katherine Switzer was the first woman to register for the Boston Marathon in a time when it was considered impossible for a woman to run the grueling 26.2 miles. At age 12, Lisa Fernandez was told that her arms were too short to be a successful softball pitcher; she now is the proud owner of three Olympic gold medals and is the record holder for striking out 25 batters in an Olympic game.

Observes Buren: "Each time I met female athletes, I saw a common thread of vitality and passion for their sport and in their outlook on life."

On the media front, however, less than eight percent of all sports coverage is granted to female athletics. Women's Studies scholar Lea Ann Schell notes that, "When female athletes are the focus of media attention, the images often sexualize and trivialize their efforts. …

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