This post originally appeared on The Zoe Report
If you don’t get chills at some point during the Olympics, you may want to talk to a professional. Everything about the competition is geared toward giving us all the feels, and this year’s Rio games are no exception. In our opinion, every single human to throw their hat in the ring for a medal is a hero, and each and every one is inspiring to watch, cheer on and celebrate in victory; however, there are some especially inspiring women competing at Rio 2016, the year in which the US brought more female athletes than ever before.
There are so many Olympic and Paralympic heroines to choose from, but here are some of our favorites.
Yusra Mardini, swimming
We still cry whenever we so much as think about Yusra’s story. Last summer, the teenager fled the Syrian War and found herself on a dinghy with 19 other people in the Mediterranean Sea. When the boat broke down, she swam for three hours to lead the boat to safety. She is a member of the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team, and though she placed seventh in her heat and therefore won’t move on to the semi-finals, she says she plans to continue swimming and supporting refugees. We hope to see much, much more of the young IRL superhero! She’s not alone, either. To really get a good cry in, watch this video on her fellow refugee competitors.
Oksana Chusovitina, gymnastics
She is 41 years old, or to put this into context, the age of the parents of many of her competitors—Oksana won her first Olympic medal before Simone Biles was even born. This is the Chusovitina’s seventh Olympics, and she even switched teams and competed on behalf of Germany at one point because she wanted to thank the country for treating her son, who was sick with leukemia. Everything about her makes us equal parts ashamed of the amount of time we spend watching Netflix, proud to be a woman and inspired to stop making excuses for ourselves, especially when it comes to age.
Kerri Walsh Jennings, beach volleyball
We wish age didn’t have to be such a notable factor when it comes to the games, but it is, and these women deserve credit upon credit because of it. Kerri, at 37 years old, is nearly two decades older than some of her competitors. The returning US Olympian also has three children and notably competed in the 2012 Olympics (and won) while pregnant. She received some flack recently from feminists for saying in an interview that she was “born to make babies and play volleyball” and that having kids made her a better athlete. Hopefully she’s shaking off the haters, as all we see when we look at her is an insane amount of inspiration around what motherhood can look like (spoiler alert: It has a six-pack).
Ibtihaj Muhammad, fencing
Never have we needed this woman more than we do right now. At 30, she is one of the oldest fencers to compete and is also the first American woman to wear a hijab at the games. In advance of the competition, Ibtihaj said, “I feel like this is a great moment for Team USA to be even more diverse than we have in the past and I’m just looking forward to representing myself, my community and my country.” Because of her, perhaps one day the participation of an observant Muslim on behalf of the US won’t even be a thing of note. For now, however, it most certainly is.