Martina Navratilova

Tennis Champion
b. October 18, 1956
"The moment I stepped onto that crunchy red clay, felt the grit under my sneakers, felt the joy of smacking a ball over the net, I knew I was in the right place."
Martina Navratilova has won 168 singles tennis titles, more than any other tennis player in history, male or female. She has won 58 Grand Slam tournaments, including a record nine Wimbledon singles titles.
Navratilova knew from an early age that she wanted to be a tennis player. At 16 she turned pro and two years later, she defected from her native Czechoslovakia to the United States. In 1981 she became an American citizen.
Navratilova played a powerful serve-and-volley style of tennis the women's game had not seen before. She pioneered attention to diet and cross-training for physical conditioning. Navratilova's friend and former on-court rival Chris Evert said, "Martina revolutionized the game by her superb athleticism and aggressiveness, not to mention her outspokenness and her candor. She brought athleticism to a whole new level with her training techniques ... . She had everything down to a science, including her diet, and that was an inspiration to me."
In 1981 Navratilova became the first athletic superstar to announce her sexual orientation. While her candor cost her millions in endorsement opportunities, her tournament winnings alone in 1982 made her the first female athlete to earn more than a million dollars in a year.
Navratilova retired from women's singles tennis in 1994, but continued as a mixed doubles player until 2006, winning a total of 175 doubles titles in her career. She has earned a reputation as an advocate of gay rights, the environment, animal welfare and women's issues. She spoke at the 1993 March on Washington and filed a lawsuit against the enactment Colorado's Amendment 2, which banned legal protection for lesbians and gays in housing and employment.
TV analyst Bud Collins said, "Martina is probably the most daring player in the history of the game. She dared to play a style antithetical to her heritage without worrying about making a fool of herself. She dared to remake herself physically, setting new horizons for women in sports. And she dared to live her life as she chose, without worrying what other people thought of her."

In 2007 Equality Forum honored Navratilova with its 12th Annual International Role Model Award.