Adventure athlete and artist Hannah Green discusses the women who inspire her, from Olympian Wilma Rudolph to lesser-known heroines like mountaineer Eleanor Davis and backcountry skier Dolores LaChapelle.
I started running in elementary school, doing laps during gym class. I remember my gym teacher at the time told me a name—Wilma Rudolph. Rudolph was an American track athlete who overcame polio and in 1960 became the first woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympics. As both an African American and female, Wilma used her fame to become both a civil rights and women’s rights activist. Women in sport have been historically underrepresented, but against the odds there have been many who believed in themselves enough to pave the road ahead.
A few years ago on my first trip to do the classic Colorado Fourteener Traverse of Crestone Peak to Crestone Needle, I remember seeing a sign at the trailhead that had an old photo of a woman standing among a group of men. The sign stated that Eleanor Davis along with her partner Albert Ellingwood, made the first ascent of Crestone Needle in 1916. The pair also pioneered the first ascent of the Needle’s famed technical route The Ellingwood Ledges (also known as the Ellingwood Arete), made first ascents of both the Middle and South Tetons in a day, and the fourth ascent of the Grand Teton making Eleanor the first female to stand atop The Grand Teton. If her grit isn’t obvious, Davis went on to live until the ripe age of 107.
In the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado there are many phenomenal female athletes, but in the small town of Silverton where I live, Dolores LaChapelle is a name that is said fondly by all who talk of her. A philosopher and pioneer of the “Deep Ecology” movement, LaChapelle was also a pioneer in backcountry skiing. She made the first ascent of Mt. Columbia: the second highest peak in the Canadian Rockies and Snowdome: the hydrographic apex of North America. If you read about LaChapelle you’ll find many men saying she was the greatest skier they knew. “Powder snow cannot be merely considered a metaphor for living, but rather, skiing powder shows us how to live,” philosophized Dolores.
Dolores much like Rudolph and Davis and, as a rock climbing guide told me, Lynn Hill, were not just the best female athletes in their sports, but the best...period. Regardless of gender there are those who will continue to push the boundaries and break what are typically seen as gender barriers. It’s happening today as women like Courtney Dauwalter finish first overall in ultra distance races. The tide is shifting slowly so long as we continue to chase big dreams. As Wilma Rudolph said, “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”
Hannah is an adventure athlete and artist living in Silverton, Colorado. She likes to run, thru-hike, bikepack, ski, and scramble as a way to get to know the area she calls home. Follow along on instagram: @hangreennah