Li Na

Tennis player

Li Na
[Image courtesy of Nike]

For keeping the ball in her court.

To young athletes, Chinese tennis sensation Li Na is an inspiration: She broke away from her government’s restrictive sports machine–which trains athletes and
demands most of their earnings–in 2008, to work with better coaches abroad. She’s since won two Majors, most recently at the 2014 Australia Open. But to Li’s peers, she’s a model of barrier-breaking acumen–the only Nike-sponsored athlete ever permitted to wear patches from other sponsors on her Nike gear. “It was always important for me to be a strong person both on and off the court,” Li says.

About the author

Senior editor at Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter @heyfeifer.