From the historic Women’s March to feminism being celebrated as Merriam-Webster’s word of the year, women spoke out loudly in 2017.
Athletes like the WNBA’s Breanna Stewart and two-time Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman bravely shared their #MeToo stories, and once again the sports world drew an even greater appreciation for powerful female athletes.
What will 2018 bring for women in sports? Get ready for even more heroism, broken records and historic firsts.
Keep an eye out for Maame Biney, who at 17 years old is the first black woman to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Olympic speedskating team. Veteran sailor Lia Ditton is setting out in early spring to become the third person (and first woman) to cross the North Pacific Ocean from Japan to San Francisco – solo. Nora Vasconcellos, who became the first female professional skateboarder to ink a sponsorship deal with adidas, will defend her Vans Park Series world title in 2018. And Canadian slopestyle snowboarder Spencer O’Brien will not let rheumatoid arthritis hinder her PyeongChang gold medal Olympic dreams.
And watch for women to continue rising as executives and influencers in the sports. Travel along with World Surfing League CEO, Sophie Goldschmidt, and National Lacrosse League CMO, Ashley Dabb, as they lead with vigor from the C-suite. And follow Commissioner Andrea Williams dynamically shape and develop the Big Sky Conference into a national powerhouse.
Whether they are producing live action sports events, managing the careers of top professional athletes, or shooting collegiate hoops, be prepared to witness the best performances that women in sports have to offer in 2018.
Maame Biney, 2018 Olympic Speedskater
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: A memorable accomplishment from 2017 was when I made the US Speedskating World Cup team. I was super nervous at the beginning of the competition. I knew that if I made the team it would help me get the experience that I needed for Olympic Team Trials and potentially the Olympics.
On what’s ahead in 2018: What I am looking forward to in 2018 is wanting to be on that podium in Korea. Either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, being on that podium would mean everything to everyone across the country. Especially, to my dad since he’s given up so much for me to be where I am now. Also, because the ladies haven’t placed at the Olympics for in while in short track, I think it’ll be time for all the countries to stop and say, “Wow, the U.S. ladies are back!”
On advice regarding taking a career risk: It’s ok to fail. Don’t be afraid to fall, get back up and fall again. How boring would it be if you didn’t have to go through some struggles? Yes, it would amazing but you’re not learning and life is all about learning. So take that risk, have fun with it and fail. And in the end when you’ve succeeded all that falling will be worth it!
Sophie Goldschmidt, CEO World Surf League
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: Joining the WSL would be at the top of my list. It’s not where I thought I would end up next, but it has exceeded expectations in so many ways. Taking the position is like a professional and personal adventure, and the sport is at such an exciting tipping point in the number of opportunities to both honor surfing’s heritage and innovate for the future.
On what’s ahead in 2018: Working closely with the athletes on many new initiatives we’re rolling out to help further grow and develop the sport. We have new CT locations in Indonesia and the first public event at Surf Ranch. We’re looking to further innovate with technology to enhance the experience for fans. We’ll be crystallizing our brand positioning and with our WSL PURE ocean health program serving as a major cornerstone of that. Continuing my immersion journey in this sport and culture as well as finding new ways to help celebrate what surfing has to offer.
On advice regarding taking a career risk: I’ll use one of my favorite quotes, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” You never know unless you try (something I’ve found a major truism in surfing) and, while taking a chance can be scary, it also serves to make things more exciting and can lead to very positive unexpected opportunities.
Nora Vasconcellos, Professional Skateboarder
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: The most memorable moment of this past year was probably when I turned Pro for Welcome Skateboards. I couldn’t be happier. A month later, I flew to Shanghai and won the Vans Park Series World Championships, which was another insane moment. It’s also crazy to think I have been with adidas for over a year now. Joining the global team was beyond my wildest dreams and I feel like I’m home.
On what’s ahead in 2018: I’m stoked for everyone to watch my mini documentary “Nora” that was recently released on December 21st on adidas Skateboarding’s Youtube channel. I couldn’t have asked for better people to tell my story. What a way to kick off the New Year!
On advice regarding taking a career risk: I would tell them to follow whatever they are most passionate about and to ask themselves, “What would make you work the hardest?” I would also tell them to try to envision themselves in the future having not taken the risk, would they regret it? I believe the most valuable resources are time and passion. If you combine the two and work hard enough, you will have success.
Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Senior Vice President, Olympics and Women, Wasserman
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: Working on Ibtihaj Muhahammad’s Barbie – the first to be featured wearing a hijab – was incredible. To partner with such an iconic brand that influences the way people think about the world and one that Ibtihaj grew up playing with, that’s rewarding in every sense and is a great illustration of why I do this work.
On what’s ahead in 2018: We are experiencing a seismic cultural awakening and while previously, brands “could” seize the moment to stand out by taking a stand on equality, now, we have officially arrived at “should.” The data is clear: nine-out-of-ten millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause and more and more consumers will make personal sacrifices to make an impact on issues they care about, including paying more for product. I’m eager to help brands utilize athletes to connect with that consumer and in a related sense, to see the impact athletes can have on the political process.
On advice regarding taking a career risk: You have to have the courage to honestly articulate what fulfillment looks like. What is most important to you? What are your gifts? What is your dream? What is your purpose? Evaluating a risk through the lens of these questions may not make your decision easy, but I do think the answers provide the type of clarity necessary to understand how to evaluate it. Not everyone has the luxury of not factoring economics into big decisions, but at the moment where that doesn’t have to be the most important thing, think about whether that risk leads you to living a life more fully yours.
Carrie Kessler and Ann Kletz, Co-Founders, Goal Five
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: After working tirelessly for the past two years, we launched Goal Five, the soccer apparel brand for her on November 11, 2017. We have created an inspiring brand and an initial collection of soccer specific apparel designed and crafted exclusively for the female soccer player.
On what’s ahead in 2018: Now that we’ve launched Goal Five we are looking forward to introducing new and exciting on-trend gear that is innovative, stylish and truly reflects the unique style and performance of our target audience. We are going to stay curious and open, and we are committed to listening intently to what our customers are telling us they like and don’t like about our product and our brand. We are looking forward to staying true to our core purpose, which is to make the highest quality soccer apparel for her, while championing gender equality in the game.
On advice regarding taking a career risk: If you are thinking about venturing out on your own, go for it! Craft a clear vision, develop a tight implementation plan, and then assemble amazing people around you who are smart, experts at what they do, and who share your same values.
Jennifer Lau, Vice President, Action Sports & Mass Participation, IMG
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: I work with an incredible team at IMG to produce some of the largest action sports and lifestyle events in the world. From world-class surfing and skateboarding championships to our new Bear Grylls Survival Challenge, we deliver experiences that keep athletes and fans coming back each year. One of my 2017 highlights was when the IOC decided to include surfing and skateboarding as two of five new sports in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Having been part of the growth and development of these sports for more than 18 years, it was a truly amazing moment.
On what’s ahead in 2018: In 2018, I want to continue to inspire and engage people through live events that sit at the intersection of sports, fashion, art, technology, and entertainment. We’re launching new events and reimagining iconic ones; so the year will be full of challenges and new experiences.
On advice regarding taking a career risk: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Trust in your instincts and don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith and embrace the challenges, fear and excitement that comes with it.
Lia Ditton, Professional Sailor
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: I rowed from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay, 30 nautical miles, 16 hours non-stop. I was hoping to arrive before sundown, but that didn’t happen, so I had to row between the north and south reef of Mavericks (the surf break) in the dark. I had a plan, a backup plan and a backup for the backup, but my heart still raced.
On what’s ahead in 2018: The bigger picture around my record attempt is to motivate women and girls in particular, to be more, to dream, to have a vision and go after it. We’ve created an education pack for children aged 4-11. The pack will be free and is intended as a science week; or science lesson per week for a term. Our parents grew up with men landing on the moon, but what do kids have now to show them that anything is possible? I am the test pilot. Everyone can be a passenger. Buckle up to be inspired!
On advice regarding taking a career risk: Visualize everything that can go wrong. Then visualize everything that can go right! Commit with your whole heart.
Andrea Williams, Commissioner, Big Sky Conference
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: What stands out is the historic consecutive NCAA Men’s Cross Country National Championship won by Northern Arizona. Further, the conference announced its new partnership with Pluto TV, the number one online channel that allows our teams to showcase games and special events via web stream globally. This past summer we announced an agreement with Eleven Sports, a network that has nationwide distribution to more than 55 million households. Eleven Sports will air approximately 40 league events to include football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, volleyball, soccer and softball.
On what’s ahead in 2018: One of our goals as the Big Sky moving forward is to elevate the conference’s national prominence. It is our expectation to compete – athletically and academically. There has been great emphasis put on branding and better positioning the league nationally.
On advice regarding taking a career risk: Every professional career decision we make can be considered a risk because it comes with an element of the unknown. However, risks should be seen as opportunities. It is important to be willing to move outside of our comfort zone – to never sell yourself short. Advice that I have heard time and time again which I believe is crucial, is don’t discount being qualified for a position because you don’t believe you have the right qualifications or years of experience. Go for it anyway. Regardless of your education, knowledge and background, there will always be on the job training. So go for the job that seems out of reach.
Phaidra Knight, World Rugby Hall of Famer, Television Analyst
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: By far, my biggest professional accomplishment was being inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame. After giving 20 years of my life to this sport, it was an absolute tremendous achievement. For the class of 2017, I was the only woman inducted. Since the start of inductions, I am the second American and the first African American inducted.
On what’s ahead in 2018: I am taking the past 20 years of playing rugby and transitioning to the next phase. I have started a company focused on youth leadership development through sport. I am also continuing to work with a number of television networks as an analyst and commentator.
On advice regarding taking a career risk: I have never followed a conventional path and that’s been scary at times. But I have had to trust in myself that I would find a way to make my passion my profession. Life can be challenging and there are many different paths one could take. It’s paramount to make sure you are in love with what you do. That’s the best motivation to get you through the hard days.
Ashley Dabb, Chief Marketing Officer, National Lacrosse League
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: My year has been bookended by being integrally involved with the rebranding of a 31-year old league and then being able to see the fruits of our labor bloom! At the beginning of this year just as I was transitioning to my new role as the Chief Marketing Officer, I was executing our new digital first strategy with the launch of an OTT platform, new website and the creation of an National Lacrosse League (NLL) Productions studio while also laying the foundations for a league wide data warehouse.
On what’s ahead in 2018: I am looking forward to continuing to increase our brand relevance through an emphasis on audience growth. Our digital first focus is around content delivery, and we are excited to expand our offerings with NLL Productions in year two as well as looking for additional distribution channels. Every time we grow, it becomes not only a learning opportunity for me and my staff but a chance to be more creative.
On advice regarding taking a career risk: With great risk, there can be great reward. I wouldn’t advocate blindly taking a risk though. Make sure it is a calculated risk. Trust your gut. Our instincts are very powerful and often we turn to others for advice or guidance rather than inwards to ourselves. You should still seek advice from those you trust, but listen to yourself too. The risk has been worth the reward every time I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone – because I did my due diligence before taking the risk.
Spencer O’Brien, Professional Snowboarder
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: I took 3rd place at the Burton US Open in March, 2017. It was one of those perfect contest days where everyone can do their very best and not worry about weather or other factors. It’s rare that those happen, so to put down my run against a stacked field and get up on the podium was the icing on the cake.
On what’s ahead in 2018: I’m looking forward to four major events, Dew Tour, X Games, US Open and of course the Olympics. Olympic years are always a pressure cooker so I want to make sure I enjoy the other events as well as the Games. It’s such an honor to get to represent Canada, so I’m especially looking forward to those three weeks in Korea.
On advice regarding taking a career risk: Trust your gut. Our instincts are very powerful and often we turn to others for advice or guidance rather than inwards to ourselves. You should still seek advice from those you trust, but listen to yourself too.
Shelley Taniguchi, CEO, Chief Creator of Possibilities, S.T. Productions
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: Working with a small and extraordinary team to produce the 2017 World Rowing Championships. For the first time in 23 years and held at a newly constructed venue in Sarasota-Bradenton, we were able to bring to life this world-class event with 41,000+ spectators, 2000 volunteers, 1700 Olympic athletes and support staff from more than 69 countries, against many odds, including hurricane Irma.
On what’s ahead in 2018: In the year ahead, I’m excited about the opportunity to join an innovative and value aligned company and team of smart people where I will leverage all of my experience, contribute meaningfully, and continue to expand my knowledge.
On advice regarding taking a career risk: When you really want something, even when it seems impossible or difficult to achieve, trust in your instincts, surround yourself with the right supportive people, and go for it.
Asia Durr, Guard, University of Louisville Women’s Basketball
On a memorable accomplishment from 2017: When I made USA Basketball’s U-23 team in Tokyo this past summer. I wasn’t healthy enough to play during my freshman year, so I was excited when I found out that I would have a chance to play this time.
On what’s ahead in 2018: Honestly, I am excited to just keep playing games. Getting a chance to go out there and compete with my teammates and coaches. We are really passionate about the game of basketball.
On advice regarding taking a career risk: Find what you are passionate about and then stick with it. There are going to be times when you get down. There are no perfect days. If you are not passionate and dedicated to what you are trying to do, then you are going to struggle.