The road to success for any athlete, particularly those who rise to the top of their respective games, is never an easy one, but for female athletes the challenges can sometime be more complex – from struggling with identity in a society still built around gendered stereotypes to fighting for the same recognition (and compensation) granted to their male counterparts. The books below are a few of our favorites from the last few years and recount the inspirational – and sometimes painful – stories of women athletes across a multitude of sports.
A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion
At thirty, Catriona Menzies-Pike began training for a half-marathon on a whim and discovered an unexpected outlet for exploring and ultimately coming to terms with the grief resulting from the death of her parents. The Long Run explores not only that experience for Menzies-Pike, but the largely untold history of women and running.
Serena Williams and Daniel Paisner
Serena Williams is undoubtedly one of tennis’s most dominant players – from the Olympics to her multiple Grand Slam wins, she’s proven herself a force to be reckoned with time and time again. This 2009 memoir chronicles her arduous journey to athletic greatness and the trials that have shaped her both on and off the court.
Brittney Griner and Sue Hovey
Possessing a combination of size, speed, and strength never before seen in women’s basketball, Brittney Griner is an imposing force in the WNBA. She is nearly as well known for her strong support of issues ranging from gender identity to sexuality and body image. In this searing memoir, Griner recounts her difficult childhood and adolescence, her experiences with bullying, and her journey toward acceptance.
Chrissie Wellington is the only triathlete – male or female – to win a world championship less than a year after turning pro. Her stunning victory at the Ironman World Championships in 2007 shocked the triathlete world and set her on the path to consecutive championships in 2008 and 2009, before injuries sidelined her in 2010. This memoir delves into her gut-wrenching journey to the top of one of the world’s most demanding sports.
A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective
Pat Summitt with Sally Jenkins
With 1,098 career wins, Pat Summitt is the winningest coach in NCAA history. She became the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers Women’s Basketball Team at just twenty-one years old and went on to shatter records, coach an undefeated season, and be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Then, in 2011, she was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Despite that devastating diagnosis, she went on to coach the Lady Vols to an SEC championship in 2012. Sum It Up is her remarkable story.
Amanda Beard and Rebecca Paley
Amande Beard won two silver and one gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics at the age of fourteen. Over the course of her career, she competed in three more Olympics and took home an additional seven medals. Growing up under that sort of pressure and spotlight was not an easy thing, and with In the Water They Can’t See You Cry, Beard gives insight into her long struggle with depression and her eventual path to acceptance and happiness.
Achieve Your Dreams at Any Stage in Your Life
Dara Torres with Elizabeth Weil
Dara Torres amazed the world when she made her Olympic comeback at the age of forty-one, taking home three silver medals in swimming from Beijing. Age Is Just a Number recounts her decision to return to the sport she loves years after officially retiring – and not long after becoming a new mom – with grace, humor, and candor.
Abby Wambach is one of the most talented soccer players on the planet. She holds the world record for international goals (male or female) with 184 and was instrumental to the U.S. Women’s National Team’s World Cup Championship in 2015. With Forward, Wambach tells her story from playing on the boys’ team at just seven years old to becoming one of the greatest soccer players of all time.
How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts, and Breaking the Rules
AJ Mendez Brooks
Professional Wrestling may be scripted, but any wrestler can attest that the sport at its core is far from fake and the athletes competing are just that – athletes. With Crazy Is My Superpower, A.J. Mendez Brooks opens up about the years of sacrifice and training required to get to the top of professional wrestling and the struggles she faced fighting for success in a male-dominated sport.
Hope Solo served as the goalie for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team from 2000 to 2016. During that time she took home two Olympic Gold Medals and became a World Champion. She’s also largely considered one of the best female goalies in the world. Her road to success was not an easy one and Solo tells her story with surprising candor and poignancy.
Ronda Rousey is one of the most famous mixed martial artists in the world – talented, self-assured, and often controversial. She is an Olympic Gold Medalist in Judo and a former UFC champion. In My Fight/Your Fight Rousey pulls back the curtain on her early years training in Judo, her Olympic successes, and her meteoric rise to fame in the UFC.
50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win
From the author of the New York Times bestseller Women in Science, this beautifully illustrated and inspiring book showcases the stories of fifty notable female athletes in more than forty sports, spanning from the 1800s to present day. The book also includes highly detailed infographics on many overlooked topics, such as female muscle anatomy, a timeline of women’s participation in sports, pay and media statistics for female athletes, and influential women’s teams. Women in Sports celebrates the success of strong, vigilant women who paved the path for today’s athletes, and gives hope to the girls who wish to be an athlete in the future.