14 Everyday Superheroes Who Are Making a Difference
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While Wonder Woman has been busting through gender stereotypes and box-office records since last summer, we’ve been inspired by some real-life heroines — like this group of 14 remarkable female innovators, entrepreneurs, survivors and activists. LIVESTRONG.COM along with Del Monte® Fruit & Chia™ are excited to share their stories with you, so read on to learn how these heroic women are breaking barriers, beating the odds and blazing new trails to make a positive impact in other people’s lives.
1. Kate Ryder
Kate Ryder saw plenty of groundbreaking new health products while working for a venture capital firm, but she was struck by how few were geared toward women — particularly those starting a family. “I went into my pregnancy with a lot of knowledge, and there were still so many challenges — from sciatica to separation anxiety after returning to work,” she says. “I realized how poorly the system is set up to support moms.” In 2015 she launched Maven Clinic, a digital clinic that instantly connects users to health care providers for as little as $18 for a 10-minute session. “Women can get everything from birth control prescriptions to lactation advice and help grieving a miscarriage from the comfort of home,” says Ryder. “They need access to these health services without the stress of hiring a sitter or missing work, and I love that I’m able to help with that.”
2. Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi
Dynamic duo Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi are improving women’s well-being with their daily messaging startup, Shine. The morning texts — which include research-backed content and committed actions you can take — are designed to help normalize day-to-day struggles while keeping you inspired. (Think of it like a message from a close friend; the kind that puts a smile on your face and helps you start your day off on the right note.) Prior to launching Shine in 2016, the co-founders worked together at DoSomething.org, where Hirabayashi was the chief marketing officer and Lidey was the director of mobile product and messaging. “We started Shine to make it easier to take care of yourself,” Lidey says. Put simply: “Shine makes daily well-being more accessible.”
3. Selina Tobaccowala
Selina Tobaccowala stands out as an inspiring leader in the world of tech entrepreneurship: She co-founded Evite, oversaw product and technology at Ticketmaster, and was president and chief technology officer at SurveyMonkey. Now, she’s co-founded and -launched Gixo, a personalized fitness app that serves as a virtual gym for users, with live audio and video classes. By making exercise more accessible for people across all demographics, Tobaccowala has applied her considerable tech-world expertise and experience to making the world a little healthier.
4. Sarah Gim
Sarah Gim first debuted on the food scene in 2005 with the launch of her first blog, The Delicious Life. At the time, Gim was working a full-time corporate job, and her plan was simply to blog about the Los Angeles culinary scene as a side gig. Gim has since moved on to become a full-time foodie, having launched Tastespotting, a platform for gorgeous food imagery considered to be “the gold standard of websites that show images of food” by the Los Angeles Times_._ As her command of the culinary space has increased, however, her personal writing on The Delicious Life has deepened and broadened beyond it. “The focus of my writing shifted away from food and toward me, my life and my emotions,” she shares. The result is content that’s thoughtful, self-expressive and courageously undefined — much like Gim herself.
5. Shaney Jo Darden
Shaney Jo Darden was in her 20s when her friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though eager to help, she didn’t identify with the community of pink ribbons and walk-a-thons. “I was young, working in the action-sports industry, and listening to punk music,” says Darden, now 45. A producer of art exhibitions, she created a show to raise money called Keep A Breast, featuring breast castings of professional female snowboarders painted by artists like Shepard Fairey and Ed Templeton. What was supposed to be a one-time event evolved into the Keep a Breast Foundation, an organization focused on educating young people about breast cancer prevention in the places where they already hang out — at music festivals, surf and skate competitions and art events. “It’s an incredible face-to-face opportunity to give them information that can save their life or the life of someone they love,” says Darden.
6. Jessica Ekstrom
Jessica Ekstrom, 26, got the idea to create Headbands of Hope after interning for the Make-A-Wish Foundation in college. “I saw kids losing their hair to chemo being offered wigs and hats — but most weren’t concerned with covering their heads,” she says. “They just wanted something that would restore their confidence and sense of expression.” Ekstrom spent her junior year of college working on the idea and launched the company in April 2012, donating one headband to a child with cancer for every headband sold. They’ve donated more than 100,000 headbands across the country and recently started a new project helping kids make flower crowns in the hospital. “It combines our mission with art therapy, giving them a chance to have fun, be creative and feel more like kids,” says Ekstrom.
7. Tamika Catchings
Tamika Catchings, 37, is considered one of the best women’s basketball players of all time, but that doesn’t mean success came easy for the star athlete. “I was diagnosed with hearing loss as a child and had to wear big, boxy hearing aids that all the kids made fun of,” says Catchings. Tired of the teasing, she trashed her hearing aids in second grade and set out to prove she could do whatever she set her mind to — learning to read lips, sitting in the front row in class and setting her sights on playing pro basketball. With a WNBA Championship and four Olympic Gold Medals, Catchings is now focused on helping others achieve their dreams through her foundation Catch the Stars, which empowers youth through programs on literacy, fitness and mentoring. “So many helped and encouraged me on my path; it’s my turn to pay it forward,” she says.
8. Miranda Klassen
On April 9, 2008, Miranda Klassen was supposed to be celebrating the birth of her son. Instead, she nearly died during labor after suffering an amniotic fluid embolism (AFE). Once she recovered, she tried to learn more about the deadly birth complication, but came up empty. “There was no research, very little education and no support for those affected by AFE,” says Klassen, 41. “I was grateful my son and I survived, but couldn’t ignore the fact that other mothers were dying.” Months later, she founded the Amniotic Fluid Embolism Foundation, a nonprofit patient-advocacy organization to help others affected by AFE. The foundation partnered with Baylor College of Medicine to establish the first-ever AFE Patient Registry, which will be used as a basis for comprehensive clinical research on the condition.
9. Jenny Gaither
After years battling body-image issues, Jenny Gaither decided it was time to face her fears. “I was a SoulCycle instructor, and my biggest insecurity was my ‘belly jelly.’ So I decided to teach in my sports bra,” says Gaither, 28. “I realized it was a bigger obstacle than I thought, so I asked my students if they would do it with me so I wasn’t alone, and they did.” The experience inspired her to launch Movemeant Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping women feel confident in their bodies. Its “Dare to Bare” events around the country encourage women to participate in outdoor fitness classes together wearing only sports bras, and they’ve implemented a 12-week curriculum at 20 San Francisco middle schools that teach body positivity, nutrition and fitness. “We want to educate young girls so when they see body negativity in the media and our culture they don’t internalize it, and instead make smarter, healthier choices,” says Gaither.
10. Samantha Markovitz
Samantha Markovitz was shocked when she woke up in the ICU and learned she was suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a serious complication of Type 1 diabetes (which is a condition she unknowingly developed as an adult). “I went from being a typical young, healthy, recent college graduate to receiving the label of ‘chronically ill,’” says Markovitz. While it took time to heal from the DKA, coming to terms with her diagnosis was a different challenge. “My first year was riddled with misinformation, workplace discrimination and other unnecessary obstacles,” says Markovitz. The experience inspired her to forge a new career as a certified wellness coach, diabetes educator and patient advocate and to publish her first book, “Type 1 Diabetes Caregiver Confidence.” “I want to do everything in my power to create and support the best possible circumstances for people of all ages living with Type 1 diabetes,” says Markovitz.
11. Laura Ardnt
After working with a number of pregnant and postpartum women, personal trainer and Pilates instructor Laura Ardnt was stunned by how few had been given advice on how to take care of themselves during and after childbirth. “It’s a life-changing, body-changing experience, and many women are suffering from lower-back pain, urinary problems and other health issues because they are given zero guidance on how to properly rehabilitate,” says Ardnt, 32. This inspired her to build Matriarc, a wellness app that helps moms heal their bodies post-baby through targeted exercise sequences, meditation and nutrition. Contributors include urologists, OB-GYNs and psychologists. “So many women are ignored after the baby is born,” says Ardnt. “I want to do whatever I can to help them take care of themselves in the best way possible.”
12. Jessica Otto
This August, Jessica Otto will compete in her fourth Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), an annual bike-a-thon to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. So far, her pedaling has brought in more than $30,000 for the cause. The ride is dear to her heart, as her father (pictured here with Otto) has battled cancer for the past 16 years, and they rode the event together in 2014 and 2015. “Some of our best and most honest conversations have been on the bike, memories I’ll keep close to me forever,” says Otto. While her dad is unable to ride now, she is determined to keep cycling in his honor. “I hope the money I raise will give someone else a few more years with their father, so their dad can experience their wedding and meet his grandchildren,” says Otto. “One day there will be a cure for cancer, and I sure as hell wanna say I was a part of finding it!”
13. Erin Gianaras
Erin Gianaras was just 27 years old when she suffered a rare stroke that left her nearly paralyzed on the right side of her body and with difficulty speaking and swallowing. “It was hard going from being a carefree 27-year-old to suddenly needing assistance 24/7 — I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself,” recalls Gianaras. Determined to regain her independence, she dedicated herself to rehab and, a year later, is now living on her own and starting to feel like her old self again. She’s also begun sharing her story through podcasts, the National Stroke Association and Stroke Survivors Empowering Each Other in Chicago. “It’s been a long road, but I’m excited to do whatever I can to raise awareness and help other women,” says Gianaras.
14. Jasmina Aganovic
Jasmina Aganovic is the president of Mother Dirt, a company focused on biome-friendly cosmetic products that effectively clean skin without stripping it of beneficial bacteria. Aganovic is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who studied chemical and biological engineering, but her passion for skin care led her to working in consumer products, with an emphasis on beauty with startup brands. As a successful entrepreneur, she’s overseen the development of cosmetic products and programs — many of which utilize natural ingredients. “I’ve found the consumer product space really interesting and creative,” Aganovic says. “I love putting together the entire length of the puzzle that leads from technical concept all the way to the front-facing brand or story that ultimately interacts with consumers.”
What Do YOU Think?
Who are the superheroes in your life? What have you done to help others? How would you make a difference if you could? Share your thoughts below with the LIVESTRONG.COM community.