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Young Olympic & Paralympic Athletes on the Joys & Challenges They’ve Faced as Women in Sports

From Paralympic swimmer McKenzie Coan and Olympic cycling athlete Hannah Roberts, to Olympic climbing athlete Brooke Raboutou and Olympic diving athlete Hailey Hernandez, Gen Z girls are proving to be the strongest athletic competitors we’ve seen. And it’s not just their physical strength that we’re cheering them on for — it’s their smarts, tenacity, and grace under criticism and doubt that has us completely awestruck.

Heading to the 2021 Olympics and Paralympics means you’ve done something right, but the road hasn’t always been easy for these four young adults.

Coan, for example, was born with a rare condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, which is also known as brittle bone disease. She was just 3 years old when her physical therapist suggested aqua therapy… and the rest is history. “Every broken bone, every setback, has made me a stronger person,” she says. “And it’s made me who I am today.”

“I hadn’t really met any women riders and I was getting a lot of crap from the guys that were riding,” reveals cyclist Roberts. “Dealing with the hate comments and the negative response that people get, I didn’t handle it well at first… but if it wasn’t for the haters, I’d have no purpose to ride better and prove ’em wrong.”

Raboutou has had a passion for climbing since she was a young girl, but her short stature was always considered a disadvantage. Not to her, though: “I think [being short] has made me a much stronger climber,” she says.

Hernandez once considered quitting diving because she was afraid to take her skills to the next level — but pushed through her personal doubts and challenges. “Every person has the right to dream big,” she says.

Watch our full video for more insight and inspiration from these award-winning and record-breaking young athletes!

To learn more about all the Team USA athletes, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics beginning July 23rd and the Tokyo Paralympics beginning August 24th on NBC.

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