When 13-year-old Mo'ne Davis led her Philadelphia Taney Dragons to the Little League World Series, she did more than play jaw-dropping ball; she took the snow globe of the world and shook it up, changing the whole picture for the better. In the face of relentless media attention, Davis, who, in addition to pitching a shutout, unfurled a 70 mph fastball with surgical precision, remained self-possessed, determined and humble, with her character matching her considerable talent. During her indelible run, she intoxicated a nation and restored our hope in what sports can offer not just girls but everyone. She was the child we all wished we could grow up to be.
Davis was but one of many women who in 2014 reignited a long-dormant optimism about the power of athletics to lift us up, both on and off the field. In our espnW Impact 25, we honor women such as Brittney Griner, Ronda Rousey, Serena Williams, Laurel Richie, Amy Purdy, Michelle Wie and others who excelled in their sports, who inspired with their personal choices, whose examples and leadership reminded all who cared to watch that there are times when a woman might in fact be the best man for the job.
Renowned trial lawyer Michele Roberts became the first female president of the NBA players' association -- or any American professional sports union -- and was elected with an unequivocal 32 of 36 votes, along with the confidence that her impregnable ethics and fearlessness in the face of power would finally give athletes the advocate they deserve. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined the College Football Playoff selection committee as the solitary woman casting votes. Early grumbling about her having never played football was quickly silenced when Rice explained she watched 15 games a week and politely reminded skeptics there were men on the committee who had never played football, either.
Then there's WNBA firecracker Rebecca "Becky" Hammon, a beloved underdog on the court and now the first full-time, salaried, female coach in NBA history. Her appointment to the Spurs coaching staff after a year of rehabbing a torn ACL was both groundbreaking and the prize she'd had her eye on for years. A natural mentor, Hammon's focus has never been simply her own greatness, but rather, that of the team.
Ironically, like most of our Impact 25, Hammon never set out to break barriers. Her goals were not "women's goals" but simply, goals: to be the best, to win, to learn, to grow, to dominate, to teach.
"I've heard every reason why I shouldn't be successful," Hammon said to ESPN the Magazine. "My story is the story of someone who was overlooked, someone who was told they can't: 'You're too slow. You're too short.'"
When that happened, "Big Shot Becky" did the smart thing: She stopped listening. She tuned out the voices who repeatedly told her no. And she listened to the voice that told her yes -- her own.
Hammon, like all our Impact 25, understands the immutable fact that what counts is not how you are built or where you were born or how it has been done in the past or what others say you can or can't do. At the end of the day or game or season, the thing that matters most is the story you tell yourself. When you write your own script, Hammon said, "the sky is really the limit."
A story that is true for Hammon, our espnW Woman of the Year.
And a story -- thanks to her and the extraordinary women included here -- all of us can believe.