On Thursday, TIME launched its multimedia project called Firsts dedicated to celebrate women who pioneered in their field of work. The list included candidates from the arts, politics, science and the military. But to join them were also the women in sports who broke grounds in their arenas.
— TIME (@TIME) September 7, 2017
“It isn’t easy to be on the world stage and have people comment about your body. “It’s too strong.” “It’s too much.” There’s always criticism about what I wear. Is it too sexy? Is it too fashionable? Is it too much? When criticism happens, I try to take a moment to appreciate myself. There will always be criticism—you have to have so much self-confidence and love for yourself. Once you have that wall of confidence, the criticism can hit against that wall and bounce right off.”
First woman to lead in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500
“I started racing Indy cars when I was 23 and I’m 35 now. When I first started, people asked about being a role model—“What do you have to tell young girls?” And I was like, “I’m a young girl! I don’t know.” I moved to England when I was 16, in my junior year of high school. I was out of the house, I didn’t have my parents around. You learn in a crash-course style how to protect yourself, how to deal with the real world. It’s not all kittens and rainbows. My parents say when I came home from England, I was cold. But I had learned that you can’t just be super-nice to everybody—not everyone likes you back, or treats you well.”
First girl to pitch a shutout and win a game in a Little League World Series
“The first time I walked out onto the field to pitch, the other team said I wasn’t going to be good—that they were going to win. They were telling jokes; the parents were laughing. My team and I knew they could laugh all they wanted to … When they saw me face the first batter, they were shocked. You didn’t hear anything from that side of the field. It was fun for us and not fun for them. Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean anything. I kept getting better, and the game got better.”
First American gymnast to win solo and team all-around gold medals at one Olympics
“When I started this journey, I never knew what it actually took to get to the Olympics. I thought it was: Train. Make it on the team. Go to the Olympics. I had to sacrifice a normal kind of life for gymnastics, but I didn’t mind. The sacrifices meant moving from Virginia Beach to Iowa, getting a different coach. I sacrificed my privacy and my life. Gymnastics is what I was going to eat, breathe and sleep. I lived with a host family. I was so close with my own family, so that was a huge change for me. I’m the baby of my family. But when I went to Iowa, I was a big sister. How does a young person help even younger ones? So, it was different, and I missed my family a lot. It also felt like déjà vu—doing everything the same, every day, for 14 years is grueling. It takes a lot to be an Olympic athlete. You have to be amazing, and you have to work hard. You may have a talent, but the people who work harder than you will surpass you.”
First woman to become a full-time coach in the NFL
“I grew up watching football, going to college games when I was really young. It was something we did as a family. When I was in high school, I worked with my dad on the sidelines doing stats for high school games, and that really grew my love for that side of football—not playing but still being a part of it, the behind-the-scenes-type work. The Arizona Cardinals had Jen Welter with them in training camp in 2015 as an inside-linebackers coach. And there are so many females in the NFL. One of the Buffalo Bills owners is a woman, Kim Pegula. When the announcement of my position was made last year, Kim texted me, “Don’t let it be about being a female. Do the best job you can. Show them through doing a great job that you deserve to be in this spot.” Getting that support from her just really reinforced in me that I have the support of the team and the organization. Doing my job as best I could was going to be my focus. It really hit me how significant it was when the attention was so nonstop. It was a story that hung around. I wouldn’t say there’s one moment, but over time it settled in that, wow, this was something that was pretty unique and pretty special.”
To checkout ‘TIME Firsts’ in its entirety, you can click here.