10 AAPI athletes who have inspired and influenced new generations of athletes

10 AAPI athletes who have inspired and influenced new generations of athletes10 AAPI athletes who have inspired and influenced new generations of athletes
As the month of May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, there is no better way to celebrate it than to highlight some of the trailblazers from the communities who paved the way for the younger generation.
From figure skating to basketball and snowboarding, here are some of the 10 amazing AAPI athletes who inspired and influenced a new generation of younger athletes with their achievements in their respective sports:
Michelle Kwan
via Special Olympics Massachusetts (CC BY 2.0)
Born in Torrance, California, Michelle Kwan became a reigning champion for over a decade and dominated the world of figure skating by winning 43 championships, including two Olympic medals – a silver medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and a bronze medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. A retired figure skater, Kwan, 42, now serves as the U.S. Ambassador to Belize.
B.J. Penn
BJ Penn
via UFC – Ultimate Fighting Championship
Known as “The Prodigy,” B.J. Penn, whose full name is Jay Dee “B.J.” Penn III, was the first American to ever win a World Jiu Jitsu Championship – black belt division in 2000. Penn, 44, was born in Hawaii to an Irish American descent father and a mother who is of Korean and Hawaiian descent.
Troy Polamalu
Troy Polamalu
via NFL
Troy Polamalu, 42, was born in Garden Grove, California, to an American Samoan descent mother. As a former NFL star who played most of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Polamalu was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August 2020.
Chloe Kim
Chloe Kim
via Time
Chloe Kim, 23, was the youngest athlete to win a medal at the Winter X Games in 2015 until South Korean Gaon Choi took the title in January 2023. Kim, who was born in Long Beach, California, was reportedly the first athlete ever to win at all four major snowboarding competitions, notably the Olympics, Worlds, Youth Olympics and X Games.
Nathan Chen
Nathan Chen
via Olympics
Born in Salt Lake City, Nathan Chen, 24, is a six-time national champion, like his Japanese rival Yuzuru “Ice Prince” Hanyu, who he faced and beat at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. A win that made him the first Asian American male figure skater to win an Olympic gold medal in men’s singles.
Sunisa Lee
Sunisa Lee
via The Late Late Show with James Corden
Born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Sunisa “Suni” Lee, 20, became the first Hmong American ever to win a gold medal when she took home the top award in the individual all-around gymnastic event at the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021.
Jeremy Lin
Jeremy Lin
via NBA
Born in Torrance, California, Jeremy Lin was a former NBA player known for launching the “Linsanity” cultural phenomenon, in which he led the New York Knicks to a series of wins in spectacular fashion during the 2011-2012 season. The 34-year-old basketball star has since stepped away from the NBA to play for several basketball associations, including the Chinese Basketball Association and Taiwan’s P. League+.
Tiger Woods
Via Theflowerbar (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Born in Cypress, California, to a Black father and Thai mother, Tiger Woods, 47, is one of only a handful of golfers who has managed to win four majors in a row, a feat that would later be known as the “Tiger Slam.”
Michael Chang
Via Maarten van Maanen (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Known for being the first tennis player of Asian descent to be included in the top 10 world rankings, Michael Chang, 51, born in Hoboken, New Jersey, was also the youngest male ever to win a Grand Slam title at the 1989 French Open.
Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee
via Bruce Lee Mania
When we think about an AAPI Icon, it’s impossible not to think about the legend himself, Bruce Lee. Besides being arguably considered the father of modern-day mixed martial arts, Lee, born in San Francisco, was also a successful actor in the latter part of his life and before his sudden death on July 20, 1973, at 32.
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