The Olympic games have only been underway for a few days and already the female athletes are killing it, with incredible victories in gymnastics, swimming and rugby. But two of the most incredible wins come with powerful backstories of triumph over adversity.
Brazilian athlete Rafaela Silva took home gold in judo, making it the hosting country’s first gold medal. Silva was previously disqualified in the London games in 2012 because of an illegal hold. The athlete apparently received racist messages in response to the disqualification, with sports fans referring to her as a “monkey.”
The athlete, who overcame a childhood in the slums of Rio de Janiero, was haunted by the loss and subsequent backlash. Her sister Raquel told the New York Times that Rafaela became depressed. Her coach was worried that she would quit the sport. But she ultimately resumed her training. Now she has a gold medal—and adoring fans—to show for her perseverance.
And swimmer Kathleen Baker faces some serious obstacles with her health. The Team USA athlete suffers from Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal system that manifests in Baker as extreme fatigue, nausea and stomach cramps. Some with the disease have to have a portion of their intestines removed. On Monday, she took home the silver medal in the 100 m backstroke. She finished second to Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu.
“I think it really helps me appreciate the sport even more, knowing that it can be taken away from me,” Baker told the Charlotte Observer. She will be competing again in the medley relay for a chance at another medal.