This month, EBONY.com is celebrating Black women with our editorial series, Women Up: Black Women Rising. Here's a look at 10 Black Women on the rise in sports.
10. Bianca Knight
Track and Field boasts some pretty powerful personalities and it's easy to get lost in the crowd among heavyweights like Dawn Harper, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards-Ross and LoLo Jones. But it's time to take notice of up-and-comer Bianca Knight. During the last year's Olympic Games, Knight helped her team win Gold in the 100m relay. But that's what you expect from an athlete who competed in her first track event at the age of 12 and won 15 individual state titles by the age of 18. Now 24 years old, Knight remains on the rise and should be a force to be reckoned in the 100m and 200m events going forward.
9. Fallon Fox
Fallon Fox is the first African American transgendered woman to compete as a Mixed Martial Artist. Fox, who had gender reassignment surgery about 6 years ago, made national headlines when the secret she'd been keeping about her sexuality was revealed. But Fox didn't let the hurtful media cycle slow her down. She has continued to power through in a sport where female fighters are underrepresented and African American female fighters are almost nonexistent. With her determination to rise through the ranks and fight full time at the elite professional level, Fox has become a woman to watch.
8. Lia Neal
The saying "black folks can't swim" certainly doesn't apply to 18 year old swimming sensation Lia Neal. Neal, who competes in freestyle events, helped the U.S. Women's swim team win a Bronze medal in the 2012 Olympic games. Though most of the media attention was focused around Neal's teammate Missy Franklin, there's lots of reason to believe Neal is next up. Keep an eye on the pool the next few years as we find out whether Neal will be a top prospect going into Rio.
7. Dylan and Dakota Gonzalez
There are plenty of siblings who play the same sport, but the Gonzalez twins Dylan and Dakota take sibling rivalry to a new level. Both girls are basketball players and committed to play for the University of Kansas starting this fall. Not only are they solid basketball players, they've used a combination of good looks, personality and beautiful singing voices to make a splash on social media. Soon we'll find out if they can justify the hype on the court and, also, if the NCAA will let them continue to keep their Instagram and YouTube game tight.
6. Nicole Lyons
Just last month, Nicole Lyons became the first African American woman to complete a NASCAR Whelen Series LLMS race finishing 15th out of a total of 19 competitors. But that's not the first race in which she can claim the title of first to do it. Lyons has been methodically building a career in a sport where women are few and Blacks are even fewer. Finally, the public and major brands are beginning to take notice. Unfortunately, sports media spent the last year giving a lot of attention to a woman who was found to be posing as the first African American female NASCAR racer. Now it's time to show some love to the real deal.
5. Skylar Diggins
While fans were obsessing over her looks or which rapper was shouting her out on Twitter, Skylar Diggins was busy racking up points and steals and leading Notre Dame to a conference title. Even though the Fighting Irish couldn't pull out a national championship (they lost to Brittney Griner's Bears), Diggins proved she was a star and worthy of the #3 pick in the WNBA draft. We know Diggins is a leader and can turn on the charm, but can she achieve the ultimate goal of turning the Tulsa Shock's luck around? Stay tuned.
4. Uneku Atawodi
Polo is known as the "Sport of Kings" but Uneku Atawodi was undeterred by the exclusive nature of the sport even as a teen. Nigerian born Atawodi started out cleaning the horse stables and 10 years later at the age of 25 is the only black female professional polo player on the globe. Atawodi is such a dynamic competitor and person, she has recently been the subject of numerous profiles in publications both overseas and even in the U.S. where Polo is rarely watched or acknowledged. If you're looking to keep up with a woman breaking new ground in sports and also working to help others do the same (she has a not-for-profit aimed at introducing the sports to Nigerian orphans), Atawodi is definitely one to watch.
3. Sloane Stephens
Sloane Stephens is woman at a crossroads. Sure, the relative newcomer is talented … but she's also more known for her recent spat with Serena Williams than she is for her tennis accomplishments. Stephens' biggest achievement to date is pulling out a tough win over an injured Williams in the quarter-finals of this year’s Australia Open. Currently, Stephens is the #17 ranked women's player in the world with all signs pointing to her having the drive to make it to number 1. The only question is will she capitalize on her current momentum and win a Grand Slam or let the pressure and comparisons cause her to fizzle out.
2. Elisabeth Akinwale
In the last decade crossfit has become a favorite workout of fitness buffs around the country; however, few are fit enough to participate in the Crossfit Games. Elisabeth Akinwale is one of those few. She has competed in the Crossfit Games twice finishing 13th in 2011 and then upping her game to finish 7th in 2012. A quick glance at her blog shows the beautiful Akinwale and her gorgeous curls are training hardcore and likely to compete in next year's games. Will the third time be the charm?
Grabbed photo: http://www.girlswithmuscle.com/251876/
I love this one more though!! http://www.girlswithmuscle.com/221889/
1. Brittney Griner
At 6'8 Brittney Griner is one of the tallest female athletes ever and looks poised to become one of the most celebrated too. The Phoenix Mercury selected the former Baylor Bear first overall in the WNBA draft and one NBA GM said he believed in her talent so much he'd be happy to let her try out. But Griner isn't just impressive off the court she's quite a woman off of it as well. Whether she's standing up for LGBT rights, shaking off mean spirited comments with an elegant swing of her trademark braids, or simply stepping out in one of her stylish suits, Griner is making fans everywhere she goes.
Jessica Danielle is a professional speechwriter and blogger who covers sports with wit and ardor at Playerperspective.com.