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6 Women Who Overcame Immense Challenges to Become Iconic Adventurers

Female Travel
by Ailsa Ross Mar 21, 2018

For millennia, women have been told where we can go, what we can do, what we can do with our bodies. But through the centuries, women have always fought back to be heard. These are six women who rose up in the boldest, most rad way we know — as adventurers.

For more stories about badass women through history, check out @womenadventurers on Facebook and Instagram.

1. Silvana Lima (1984, Brazil)

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Silvana Lima is Brazilian pro surfer who rose above humble beginnings (she grew up in a shack on the beach and learnt how to surf on a piece of wood with a make-do fin) to become one of the best surfers in Brazil and the world. Yet, she was told she wasn’t sufficiently “pretty” to get full sponsorship from one of the big surf brands.

In an interview with the BBC, she said, “I don’t look like a model. I’m not a babe. I’m a surfer, a professional… So if you don’t look like a model, you end up without a sponsor, which is what happened to me. You’re excluded. You’re disposable. Men don’t have these problems.”

Despite being 32 years old, having suffered multiple injuries in her career, and not having won a final for almost 10 years, in 2016, Silvana funded her own qualifying series campaign by selling her bulldog puppies and crushed it. In 2017, she won the Los Cabos Open of Surf, the Hurley Pro Trestles, and Swatch Women’s Pro. Nothing can stop her, not even her lack of sponsor.

2. Bessie Coleman (1892-1926, US)

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Bessie Coleman dreamed of being a pilot, but because she was black, not one aviation school in the United States would accept her application. So, Coleman learned French, moved to France, and learned to fly there instead. In 1922, she became the world’s first licensed female African American pilot.

Newly qualified and back in the States, she began touring the country with her own barnstormer show (walking on plane wings! Doing super dangerous swoops and dives!). Known for striding out in front of huge crowds in knee-high leather boots and a sweet military jacket, the press loved her chutzpah. They dubbed her “Queen Bess.”

This daring pilot died in a plane crash aged 34. Still, “Because of Bessie Coleman,” said the pioneering aviator and civil rights activist William J. Powell, “we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers. We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.”

3. & 4. The Van Buren sisters (1892-1948 and 1894-1948, US)

American women were still four years from getting the right to vote, but in 1915 Augusta and Adeline Van Buren set off across the continent on motorcycles. Their plan? To travel 5,500 miles from Brooklyn to California.

Once the sisters were west of the Mississippi, they were no roadmaps to follow — they typically had to traverse cow passes, wagon, and dirt trails. And they were stopped by the police all the time. Their crime? Wearing leggings at a time when there were still American states that didn’t legally allow women to wear pants.

After their summer of adventure, Adeline became a lawyer; Augusta became a pilot known for her catchphrase, “Woman can, if she will.”

5. Valentina Tereshkova (1937, present day Russia)

Lots of people didn’t think a female — especially a female who liked to look super glam in spiked heels and powdered lipstick — should be going into outer space. But on June 16th, 1963 the USSR’s Valentina Tereshkova orbited the earth on a solo mission for a total of two days, 22 hours, and 50 minutes. Since then, the world’s first woman in space has worked as an engineer and a politician who champions women’s rights.

Tereshkova’s now in her 80s, and she’s determined to go to Mars.

6. Grace O’ Malley (c.1530-c.1603, Ireland)

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The day after giving birth, it’s said that Grace O’ Malley fought off an attack from Turkish pirates. It’s also said that she proposed to her second husband only because she fancied having his castle for herself. After a year of marriage, she gave him the ultimate divorce line: “I dismiss you.” Truth or hyperbole, one thing’s for sure — O’Malley was one tough pirate queen.

As a kid, she was desperate to go out adventuring with her sea captain father, but her mother wouldn’t let her. She said a woman’s place was in the home, and that her long red hair would get caught in the ship’s ropes. Story goes, Grace just cut her hair short and went off gallivanting anyway. Becoming a chieftain in adulthood, she plundered and pillaged and traded as far away as Portugal and Spain.

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