Donna de Varona
When she was 13 years old, Donna de Varona was the youngest member of the 1960 Olympic team and was regarded by many as the GOAT of women’s swimming after winning two gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. But it is what she has done after her competitive career ended that has helped other women achieve their Olympic dreams. While men were able to continue their swimming career after the Games, there were no scholarships or NCAA swimming programs at the time for women to pursue, causing de Varona to retire at the age of 17. She had won 37 individual national championship medals and three AAU national high point awards, and had set American or world records or recorded the world’s fastest times in three of the four individual strokes. After the Tokyo Games, de Varona enrolled at UCLA where she majored in political science. She signed an endorsement deal with Speedo and used her “gold card” to break the gender barrier in sports broadcasting, becoming network TVs youngest and first female sports commentator. She also became one of the few on-air personalities working off-camera as an executive, producing shows, pushing for more African-American commentators and participating in Olympic negotiations. Her groundbreaking career has earned her an Emmy, two Gracies and the opportunity to cover a wide variety of sports events including 17 Olympic Winter and Summer Games.
At the same time, she worked behind the scenes to have the word “athletics” included in the 1974 amendment to the 1972 landmark legislation of Title IX — which made it unclear if athletics were included. She also temporarily left ABC to work for the Senate committee creating a structure for Olympic sports that led to the Ted Steven’s Amateur Sports Act of 1978. Later, she reached out to Billie Jean King and other female sports celebrities to create the Women’s Sports Foundation, serving as the organization’s first president, and served as chairman of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup. She is a current member of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Board of Directors.