5 Unbreakable Women of the Rio Summer Olympics

by Megan Abdelnour
5 Unbreakable Women of the Rio Summer Olympics
Image via @NBCOlympics on Twitter Image via @NBCOlympics on Twitter
If you’re like me, you have been anxiously and excitedly awaiting the summer Olympics ever since the closing ceremonies in 2012. Every four years we get the opportunity to watch some of our favorite summer athletes participate in body-wrenching sports all the while getting their drive from equally talented competitors. The Olympics is like no other event. It combines national pride, incredible athletics, and a ton of different sports we love to watch. It was my dream once to play on the Olympic softball team, and many young girls have had dreams of being an Olympian. Some achieved that amazing dream against all odds, and have gone on to become an example of what hard work, dedication, and a little girl power can do. All around the world, inspiring women from different countries are coming together for this global event. So many of these unbreakable women have achieved their dreams, and are an inspiration. In fact, a record number of female athletes are making their way to Rio to compete. These are the women we should teach our children about, and encourage our daughters to become. Women who are already heroines of the Rio Olympics, no matter what happens in the games.

Jillion Potter, United States, Women’s Rugby Sevens

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Jillion is a true inspiration and has overcome both a traumatic injury and cancer to become the USA women’s rugby captain in Rio. Years ago, in a test match against Canada, Jillion was hit by another player and suffered a broken C5 vertebra, a destroyed disk, and torn ligaments throughout her body. She almost became a paraplegic, but surgery prevented that. Potter was told she would never play rugby again, but she didn’t let that stop her. After that, she competed in two World Cups before receiving some terrible news. She was diagnosed with stage III synovial sarcoma, a malignant tumor in her jaw. After surgery to remove the tumor, she underwent both chemotherapy and radiation which caused extreme weight loss and decreased strength. Through it all, she kept her head up in the hopes of getting back to her sport. After finishing radiation treatment in March 2015, and with her cancer in remission, she got right back to work. At this point, she was basically starting from scratch. After about a year she got her body and mind back to where she was at her peak, and she eventually rejoined her team. Potter made the 2016 Rio women’s rugby team as their captain as a symbol of resilience, dedication, and strength.

Yusra Mardini, Refugee Team, Women’s Swimming

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In March 2016, the International Olympic Committee declared that a refugee team would be included in the Rio Olympics, in response to the ongoing refugee crisis around the globe. These 10 athletes are a symbol of hope for refugees around the world, with one such athlete being Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee. Yusra was forced to flee her home due to civil war and for her own safety. In 2012, her home was destroyed in the war, and two of her teammates were killed. Her training center was also damaged by a bomb. Things were getting worse, so she decided to leave. Mardini and her sister travelled on a month-long journey from Lebanon to Turkey before attempting to get to Greece by traversing the Aegean Sea. They were finally on a boat crossing the sea when the boat began to take in water. Mardini and her sister, both swimmers, jumped into the water and pushed the boat to land. By the end of it, they had swam for about three and a half hours. After arriving at Greece, Mardini’s travels were only just beginning. She crossed through numerous countries (most of the time, she was walking!) before settling in a refugee center in Berlin. There she was finally able to train in a pool that was built for the 1963 Olympics. That’s where she was recruited, given a scholarship, and joined the refugee team. Mardini has overcome more challenges that many people experience in a lifetime. Swimming saved others, but it also saved herself.

Rani Rampal, India, Field Hockey

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In India, it’s not a priority to encourage women and daughters to play sports. However, Rani Rampal is not like many other Indian women. Her parents are cart drivers in an impoverished town in India, but that didn’t stop her parents from enrolling her in school as well as the town’s hockey academy. Their family received plenty of pushback from their relatives, and their sanity was even questioned! Women were not “supposed” to play field hockey. In fact, one of the coaches rejected Rampal due to her being “too frail,” but her parents brought her back again. The coach was finally able to see her skill and talent, and decided to let her into the team. At that time, Rampal was the youngest in the academy but her coach wouldn’t be disappointed. She eventually became the youngest woman to ever play on the Indian national team. Today, Rampal also works as a junior clerk in the railways, and hopes to eventually earn enough money to support her family. Rampal is hoping her participation in the Olympics will help her find a good job afterwards, all the while inspiring women in India to follow their dreams.

Eloise Wellings, Australia, Track and Field

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Eloise Wellings is a track and field star from Australia who has overcome a plethora of ongoing injuries in order to get herself to the 2016 Rio Olympics. As a teenager, Wellings suffered from anorexia, which, due to its severity, reduced her bone density to that of a 75 year-old woman when she was only about 13. Wellings spent years managing and recovering from her eating disorder, however, the disease left a terrible imprint on her bones since this occurred during a very important time in a young girl’s development. She was left with ongoing issues that caused several bone injuries throughout her track and field career. In fact, Wellings suffered 11 stress fractures and missed three Olympics Games in a row due to her injuries. She went through years of disappointments due to her injuries, but she pushed on and we now see her as part of the Australian Olympic team in Rio. She admits she wanted to quit many times, but her determination was fierce, and she pushed through all the setbacks. If that story weren’t inspirational enough, Wellings takes her passion for the field off the field. During a stint of rehab to heal a stress fracture in her foot, she met a Ugandan runner named Julius Achon, whose story inspired her to create the //www.lovemercyfoundation.org/" target="_blank">Love Mercy Foundation to financially support poverty-stricken families in Uganda.

Kristina Vogel, Germany, Cycling

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Kristina Vogel is a true inspiration and has one of the most amazing comeback stories. When she’s not biking, she is a German police officer. Yet in May 2009, during a training ride on her bike, Vogel was hit by a van and flew through the windshield. As a result, she had a double broken jaw, broken 5th vertebra, arm and hand fractures, and lost six of her lower teeth. Her helmet is a big reason why she survived, but her injuries were so severe, she was placed into a coma for two days in order to manage swelling in her brain. When she was awakened from the induced coma, one of the first things she spoke was asking about her bike. Vogel’s incredible determination kept her going even while she was lying on a hospital bed, enduring a grueling recovery that included surgeries and long-term rehabilitation. She never swayed despite the long road ahead. Vogel eventually went on to compete in the World Championships in 2010. Then, in the 2012 London Olympics, as a member of the sprint team, she helped Germany take the gold medal. I hope these unbreakable women gave you inspiration, and even more curiosity, for this year’s Olympics. I hope you’ll join me in watching these and the other rock star women participate in the summer games. Despite the teams and countries they represent, these unbreakable women are representing all womenkind.