The Yes You Can! Awards
With so many headlines about people behaving badly these days, we thought it was high time to shine a spotlight instead on women who actually deserve our attention—those who inspire and motivate us to work harder, think bigger, and live more fulfilling lives. The result: Health’s first annual Yes You Can! Awards.
Every winner embodies an unstoppable can-do spirit, whether they’re creating jobs for the unemployed, braving war zones, or even finding their hard-earned fairy-tale ending. Their stories are gratifying examples of the importance of positivity: believing that you really can achieve anything.
For proving you’re never too old to go for gold
As the first American swimmer—male or female—to participate in five Olympics, Dara Torres is already a legend with 12 medals (four gold). But rather than quit while she’s waaaay ahead, this gutsy butterfly and freestyle swimmer is training for next summer’s London Olympics. If she earns a spot on the team, the 44-year-old will be the oldest swimmer ever to compete. And it’s not like she’s blessed with bionic parts: "I experience middle age like everyone else," Torres says. "I pick up my daughter from school and my back goes out."
So why doesn’t she hang up her goggles and enjoy the cushy life of a former athlete? "After the 2008 Olympics, so many women told me I was an inspiration," she says. "I think that’s what keeps me in the pool: continuing to remind people that age really is just a number."
For surviving a horrific assault and having the courage to speak out about it
In May, CBS News correspondent Lara Logan bravely went in front of the camera to discuss the day less than three months earlier when, while covering the political uprising in Egypt for 60 Minutes, she was beaten and sexually assaulted by dozens of men, then shielded by an unidentified woman.
Logan spoke out not only to break the code of silence that so often surrounds sexual assault, but to shed light on the violence that female journalists endure regularly—and conceal for fear of losing assignments in dangerous places.
For showing that even the simplest ideas can snowball into something big
With unemployment rates hovering around 9% in 2011, Carla Emil was surrounded by friends and family members who were casualties. She thought: What would happen if every business in America created just one new job? To find out, Emil, 62—who’d formerly worked in advertising and nonprofits—founded One Job for America, a grassroots initiative asking employers to do just that.
Since she launched the idea on Huffingtonpost.com in February, 210 companies have pledged to add a job, and 77 positions have been filled. It’s a small start, and Emil is working hard to ratchet up that number, but she’s already shown just how much each and every job counts. In fact, she recently read about a chef employed due to her initiative. "Seeing his photo in the paper was really moving," says Emil.
For turning street-smart ideas and elbow grease into a multimillion dollar business
In her 30s, Bethenny Frankel was single and struggling. Her weight-loss book and her low-cal margarita idea had been shot down repeatedly. But Frankel, 40, wouldn’t back down, spotlighting herself in Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City and plugging away at her side projects. Her drive paid off: Naturally Thin became a 2009 best seller; this year, her Skinnygirl drink brand was bought for a reported $120 million by Beam Global Spirits & Wine.
Her secret? "Never assume anyone’s smarter than you are. I knew if I wanted a drink like this, other women would, too." In 2010, Frankel wed, then gave birth to her first child at 39. Her book A Place of Yes came out in March, and she’s now starring in and executive-producing the third season of her hit reality show Bethenny Ever After. Happily ever after, indeed.
For relentless displays of optimism in the face of unspeakable violence
We all know the backstory: On January 8, 2011, Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents in Tucson when a gunman shot her in the head. But Giffords, 41, has displayed grace and determination in the face of grave setbacks. Rather than hide while she regains her speaking skills and motor function—which could take months, if not years—she’s jumped back into public life.
In June, she was discharged from the hospital (she’ll now have 24-hour help from a home-care assistant). Days afterward, she climbed 18 steps at a staff get-together; a week later, at an awards ceremony for her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, she rose from her wheelchair to hug and kiss him. What’s driving her is simple: "She loves her hometown and derives great strength from its people," says Kelly. "Gabby tells me that she wants to get back to Tucson and back to work."
For pushing the medical world to fight stereotypes
At age 34, Susan Shinagawa felt a lump in her right breast. Her doctor told her not to worry, because she was young, had no family history, and, as he put it, "Asian women don’t get breast cancer." Shinagawa wasn’t convinced.
A second doctor also brushed aside her concerns—only this time, "I wouldn’t take no for an answer," says Shinagawa, who insisted on a biopsy. Days later, her hunch was confirmed: She had breast cancer. Her decision to listen to her intuition and not cave to doctors’ stereotypes probably saved her life. Since then, Shinagawa has morphed into a one-woman awareness campaign: In 1998, she co-founded the Asian and Pacific Islander National Cancer Survivors Network, now more than 600 members strong.
For waging war against poverty here and abroad
Malaak Compton-Rock was in South Africa when she met a woman who was over 100 years old and raising 18 grandkids, great-grandkids, and great-great-grandkids who had lost their parents to AIDS and poverty. This experience spurred her to found the Angel Rock Project South Africa, which provides assistance to families facing similar situations. It’s just one part of her
Angel Rock Project (angelrockproject.com)—a home for the many nonprofits she sponsors, including the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation. (Her first fund-raiser for the cause, held in 2007 at the home she shares with her husband, comedian Chris Rock, and her daughters, raised $230,000.)
Admiral Sandra Stosz
For breaking into the boys’ club
In 1978, two years after the U.S. Coast Guard Academy began admitting women, Sandra Stosz enrolled as one of 30 female cadets. They "tried to get us to crack, cry, or leave," says Stosz, one of 12 women to earn her ensign stripes. She attributes that success to her high school track and swimming coaches, who taught her, "There’s nothing worth achieving that doesn’t come through hard work, failures, and stretching beyond our comfort zones."
That advice saw her through two big firsts: In 1991, she became the first woman to command a U.S. icebreaker. And earlier this year, she was named superintendent of her alma mater, making her the first woman to lead an American military academy. "When you’re the one who’s different," the 51-year-old says, "You can set the course and break the ice—no pun intended."