Previous “Ass Kickers” posts

Rosemary Mariner Kicked Ass 

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019

In the 1970s, Rosemary Mariner finished college at just 19, in order to become part of the first group of women to earn their wings as United States Naval Aviators. Not long after, she became the very first female jet pilot in the American military. She was far from the last. At her funeral last week, a missing woman salute was performed by an entirely female flyover crew.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell Kicks Ass 

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

In the late 1960s, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered the first four known pulsars while working as a grad student. A few years after that, a Nobel Prize was awarded for this discovery, but it didn’t go to Bell Burnell. Instead, her adviser Antony Hewish was the recipient, along with another man. While Bell Burnell has always downplayed the controversy, many feel she was unjustly excluded from recognition.

Now, she’s being recognized with a Breakthrough Prize:

On Thursday, half a century after her pioneering work, it was announced that Bell Burnell will receive a $3 million Breakthrough Prize, one of the most lucrative and prestigious awards in science. The special award in fundamental physics, given for her scientific achievements and “inspiring leadership,” has only been granted three times before.

Good for her! However, the very best part of this story is what the 75-year-old Bell Burnell plans to do with the money.

“I don’t need a Porsche or Ferrari,” she said. “I don’t have an affluent lifestyle.”

Instead, the funds will go to creating scholarships for women, underrepresented minorities and refugees who want to study physics. The funds will be administered by Britain’s Institute of Physics.

Discovering pulsars is very cool, but helping other women and minorities make the next discovery is what really kicks ass.

Tammie Jo Shults Kicks Ass 

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

When an engine failed catastrophically on Southwest flight 1380, veteran pilot Tammie Jo Shults knew exactly how to handle it.

Some feel safer with a male pilot, but I go the opposite way. All pilots are incredibly well-trained, but when I have a female pilot, I feel even safer. She likely had to be far better than the average just to get the job. Industry veterans back up this thinking:

One thing, however, is clear: while the times are a changin’, they are changing slowly—and women are often held to a different standard. “Men are assumed to be able to do their job well until they prove they cannot. Women are assumed to not be able to do it until they prove they can,” says Cheryl Pitzer, a captain at FedEx. “We have to be better than average or we get criticized for not being good enough,” says Wendy O’Malley, captain on a business jet for a Silicon Valley company.

In North America, women represent only about 5% of commercial pilots. Here’s hoping the powerful example set by Tammie Jo Shults helps improve that number.

Des Linden Kicks Ass

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

In miserable rainy weather, American Desiree Linden took the women’s crown in the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon yesterday. It was the first Boston victory by an American woman in 33 years, and it was a hell of a run.

[Photo credit: John Tlumacki/Globe Staff]

In a post-race interview, Linden stated that early on in the run, she felt it likely she would drop out. With this in mind, she decided to help her countrywoman Shalane Flanagan by bringing her back with the leaders after Flanagan took a brief restroom break. That act of sportsmanship got Linden back into her own groove, and she eventually took over the race lead around mile 22. From that point on, she literally never looked back, winning the race by over 4 minutes.

🥃 Cheers, Des! You’ve earned this.

Ester Ledecká Kicks Ass

Monday, February 26th, 2018

On February 24th, Czech Olympian Ester Ledecká scored a gold medal performance in the snowboard parallel giant slalom. This was not entirely unexpected, as Ledecká is the top-ranked woman in parallel giant slalom snowboarding. However, this was her second gold medal of the games. The first came in an entirely separate sport, the Alpine skiing super-G, and shocked the world (as well as NBC’s commentators).

Get into Ledecká’s ass-kicking story.

Jade Hameister Kicks Ass 

Thursday, February 8th, 2018

Australian teenager Jade Hameister has skied to the North Pole and she’s skied across Greenland’s largest ice cap. And now, while skiing to the South pole, she’s doled out some epic snark for internet trolls as well. Well done, Jade.

Helen James Kicks Ass 

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

In 1955, Helen James was forced to accept an “undesirable” discharge from the Air Force due to her sexuality. At the age of 90, after a lifetime of accomplishments, she’s fighting back against this injustice.

Shalane Flanagan Kicks Ass 

Monday, November 13th, 2017

On November 5th, Shalane Flanagan became the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon in 40 years. She managed this feat while also spending years nurturing a culture of support in women’s distance running, one which will hopefully pay dividends for years to come.

Flanagan does not just talk about elevating women; she elevates them. And they win.

Flanagan’s victory in New York City was incredible, but it’s far from the whole story.

Dr. Mary-Claire King Kicks Ass 

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Dr. Mary-Claire King has had an incredible career in science and human rights. However, even in her extraordinary life, the first week of April, 1981 must stand out. She narrates the events of that week, and it’s quite a ride, one which even features a special celebrity guest appearance.


Monday, April 24th, 2017

In 1967, when the Boston Marathon was only open to men, Kathrine Switzer registered for it under the name “K.V. Switzer”. Despite a now-infamous attempt by race organizer Jock Semple to pull her out of the race, Switzer finished her run and became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with an official race bib, numbered 261.1 Her actions that day, and for years to follow, paved the way for women in both running and athletics in general.2

Jock Semple accosting Kathrine Switzer mid-race in 1967
[Photo credit: Boston Herald via Runner’s World]

This year, Switzer returned to Boston to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of her first run. The race has grown by almost two orders of magnitude since 1967, and it now includes not just a women’s division, but divisions for push rim wheelchairs, visually impaired/blind runners, and those who are mobility impaired. Switzer helped lead the way for all of this. She’s now 70 years old, but in addition to throwing out the first pitch for the Red Sox game on Sunday and signaling the start of the women’s elite race on Monday, she also found time to actually run the marathon again.

She did so while again wearing her very first number: 261.

Switzer completing the 2017 Boston Marathon
[Photo credit: Elise Amendola/AP via Boston Globe]

That number will now be retired. No one else will ever wear number 261 in the Boston Marathon, and that’s just right.


  1. A year earlier, Bobbi Gibb ran the Boston Marathon unofficially, marking her as the first woman to complete the race. She should certainly not be overlooked. In fact, Gibb is a three-time champion, with the Boston Athletic Association retroactively honoring her as the women’s race winner for the years 1966, 1967, and 1968. Let there be no doubt that Bobbi Gibb kicks ass too.↩︎

  2. This post might just as easily be called “Kathrine Switzer Kicks Ass”, to make it clear that it’s part of that illustrious collection. ↩︎