Barrier-Breaking Women You Should Know - BRANWYN | Performance Innerwear

Barrier-Breaking Women You Should Know

Women have been breaking barriers since the beginning of time. From Cleopatra to Joan of Arc, history is full of incredible women who push the boundaries of what’s possible—and inspire others to do the same. 

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds, “The heights of human motivation spring from the beauty and goodness that precede us and awaken us to better possibilities.” In other words, those who come before us, help to ignite our dreams. 

In sports, seeing barrier-breaking women do their thing can be especially inspiring. In part, because our culture has a history of telling women to stay inside, to glow rather than work up a sweat, to avoid running lest our uterus fall out (yes, that was considered “science” as late as the 1960s). 

In honor of National Women’s History month, learn more about amazing women who’ve broken boundaries in sports and the outdoors. Plus, reasons to get inspired by women in our everyday lives.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias


Born in 1911, Babe had the wild idea to become the greatest athlete who ever lived. 

She got her start in sport playing baseball in her neighborhood, where she got the nickname “Babe” thanks to her home run prowess. She then turned to basketball, and was recruited for a professional league while still in high school. At the 1932 Olympics, she qualified for five track-and-field events, but could only compete in three (the limit for women at the time). She medaled in the javelin throw, hurdles, and high jump. In the coming years, she became a pro golfer, co-founding the LPGA and then establishing herself as the top ranked competitor for three consecutive years. 

Sports journalists covering Zaharias at the time often belittled her accomplishments with statements like “It would be much better if she and her ilk stayed at home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring,” (an actual quote from The New York Telegram). Zaharais refused to follow their lead. When the all-around athlete was asked if there was anything she didn’t play, she was known to answer, “Yeah, dolls.” 

Maria Tallchief  

Maria Tallchief for BRANWYN Merino Wool Performance Innerwear

Born on Osage Nation land in 1925, Maria Tallchief started dancing at the age of three in northern Oklahoma. At age 17, Tallchief moved to New York City to follow her ballet dancing dreams. 

She joined the famous Ballet Russe Monte Carlo as an apprentice, but her work ethic and stunning talent catapulted her up the ranks. She was the first American to perform with the Paris Opera Ballet, and then joined the New York City Ballet, becoming the first-ever premiere prima ballerina in the United States. She dazzled with starring turns in Firebird, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and more. She often was under pressure to change her last name to a Eurocentric-sounding option, but refused. 

Tallchief has been honored with a National Medal for the arts and appears on the U.S. quarter alongside her Osaga name, Wa-Xthe-Thoṉba. Given by her grandmother, it means “two standards,” to symbolize her identities as a ballet dancer and member of the Osage Nation. 

Wilma Rudolph 

Wilma Ruldolf for BRANWYN Performance Innerwear Inspiring Women

The 20th of 22 kids, Wilma Rudolph spent much of her childhood on bed rest. She battled scarlet fever, whooping cough, and a polio diagnosis that left her with metal leg braces at the age of 6. Still, something inside of Rudolph yearned to run. “I spent most of my time figuring out how to get [the braces] off,” she has said.

By age 8, she was able to lose the braces for good, and by 16 she was competing in professional track-and-field events. At age 20 she was the fastest woman in the world. In the 1960 Olympics, Rudolph became the first American woman ever to win three gold medals. 

The sprinter’s barrier-breaking went beyond the track. Her activism paved the way to help dismantle segregation in her home state of Tennessee, she served as a goodwill ambassador to French West Africa, and she created the Wilma Rudolph Foundation to help more children have the opportunity to tap into the power of sport. 

Heather "Anish" Anderson 

Heather Anish for BRANWYN Performance Innerwear Inspiring Women

For Heather “Anish” Anderson, through-hiking is a moving meditation. Known by her trail name Anish (short for Anishinaabe, a name she chose to honor her Native American heritage), Anderson’s comfort in the discomfort has allowed her to become a record-breaking hiker many times over. 

In 2013, Anderson broke the overall self-supported speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), besting Scott William’s time by nearly four days. A few years later, she’d completed the “Triple Crown,” backpacking the PCT, Appalachian Trail, and Continental Divide Trail in one year, covering a total of nearly 8,000 miles. She was the first woman to do so, and in the process set the female FTK for the route. 

Through her quests for speed and solitude, Anderson has also paved a nontraditional way of life. In her memoir Thirst: 2,600 Miles to Home, she explains how leaving the trappings of “expected” life—including a full-time job and a marriage—helped her find her true self in the wilderness. She says, “If you spend time hiking and really immersing yourself in nature, what you’re doing is immersing yourself in yourself.”

Betty Reid Soskin 

Betty Reid Sorkin for BRANWYN Performance Innerwear Inspiring Women

At 84, an age at which society expects women to slow way down, Betty Reid Soskin was just getting started. After a life that had included chapters as a musician, record shop owner, stay-at-home mom, anti-war activist, political aide, and more, Soskin started a brand-new job as a national park ranger. 

She spent the next decade-plus serving at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park, where she was focused on putting the park's central figure in real-world context. Soskin helped shine light on the often-invisible histories of Black women, including her grandmother who was born into slavery and her own experience as a file clerk in a segregated unit of an all-while union during the war. 

Soskin soon became the oldest national park ranger, retiring only after her 100th birthday. She’s been honored with a Presidential Medal from President Barack Obama and the National Parks and Conservation Association’s Winks Awards. 

Sky Brown 

Sky Brown for BRANWYN Performance Innerwear Inspiring Women

Before she could read or write, Sky Brown could shred. After her dad posted a video of 4-year-old Sky skateboarding in 2012, the clip went viral and Sky was on her way to sensation-status. In, she became the youngest competitor to ever skate in the Vans US Open (she was 8 at the time). In 2020, Brown became the youngest skateboarder to compete in the Games—and one of the youngest-ever medalists when she clinched the bronze. 

Brown is a vocal proponent of helping girls achieve their dreams. “If people see me, the smallest girl, doing the highest trick, then anyone could think they could do anything,” she says. In the past few years, she’s competed at the highest levels in surfing, too. We can’t wait to see what else Sky will do. 


Of course, women don’t need to go to the Olympics to be inspiring as hell. Check out who members of the BRANWYN community say inspire them every single day. These are just a few of the dozens of incredible inspirations you’ve shared. Check out the full list here

Christine Lotu nominated by her cousin Jen 

“Bc she's following and creating her own path. She works so hard to learn how to be a better photographer, editor and adventurer - so inspiring!

Justine Galloway nominated by Kristin 

"She shows us how to keep doing the things we love even when our body says no. When her body no longer allowed her to run forward due to dystonia, she found a way to keep going by running backwards!" 

Emma Lark nominated by Ondria Jones

"My soul-mate bestie and lucky enough, sis-in-law! She inspires me daily with her thoughtful and intentional heart. She teaches me so much the value of digging heels deep into the goodness of life and discovery and play and wonder. She doesn’t shy away from moments of pain, she shares vulnerability, she loves deeply. She runs the children’s classes of the nonprofit our family started for people experiencing poverty and has the biggest heart and brain for cultivating wonder in learning and making each child and human feel seen and valued and loved. True art flows out of her soul and I am so grateful to be in her life!!!"

Schuyler Arakawa nominated by Kellie Hall 

"We met aboard years ago and fell in love with her soul. We connected right away and I knew she was special. She suffered a freak accident where a boulder fell off the side of a mountain face while rafting and it hit her on the head causing an immense amount of trauma to her brain and body. Instead of letting this boulder kill her or ruin her life, she has used it as a new beginning in life to be the change we all wish to see in this world. She has changed and inspired many lives through her journey. Inspired every day by this woman."

Carolyn Simpson nominated by Shachi Thakkar 

"She is always moving her body. She is in her 60s and an adorable grandmother, and a dear friend. She inspires me daily to use my legs. She is a runner who runs so many fun races (half marathons and marathons) and has an impeccable dressing sense. She is also very caring and kind."

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