Photographed By: Michael Wesley
Photographed By: Michael Wesley

4 Inspiring, SoCal-Based Female Athletes Talk Dedication, Empowerment and Breaking Boundaries

Chari Hawkins, Olivia Stone, Phaidra Knight and Kaleigh Gilchrist Share an Inside Look at Their Careers

From the track to the waves, these four inspiring athletes are breaking boundaries, owning their stories and shaping their careers on their own terms. Resilience and passion play strongly into the meaningful narratives of these changemakers. The women demonstrate the importance of dedication and tenacity—two characteristics that have propelled them to the top of their respective sports and helped them overcome adversity. In their own words, Chari Hawkins, Olivia “Liv” Stone, Phaidra Knight and Kaleigh Gilchrist highlight their unique journeys and describe how they’ve empowered themselves and communities along the way. Southern California Female Athletes

Southern California Female Athletes

Liv Stone

Para Surf World Champion and Disability Advocate Liv Stone Shares How She Turned the Tide and Found a Sense of Community

Liv Stone, a congenital bilateral amputee, discovered surfing at a 2017 retreat hosted by pro surfer and shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton. While she grew up playing sports, nothing felt more natural than being on the board. Stone took to surfing quickly and was able to stand up on her second wave. 

Photographed By: Michael Wesley

After returning from a camp with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the Pennsylvania native began traveling to New Jersey on weekends to train with an instructor. It was during this time that she received an incredible opportunity. “I was really engrossed with the sport, and after realizing it’s what I love, I got a call from the para surf Team USA captain [Dani Burt],” says Stone. “She said, ‘Liv, I’ve seen you at different camps, and I’d really love for you to be on our team.’” This invitation to compete in the 2018 International Surfing Association World Championships spurred Stone to pursue her dreams, and she successfully convinced her family to move to San Diego.

“I encourage anyone, especially young girls, to conquer from within and follow their dreams. The sky’s the limit; you can do anything you set your mind to no matter what the obstacle is.”—Liv Stone

Since training daily, Stone has improved and risen up the ranks. “I’m blessed to be in the water every day, and I feel myself getting stronger,” says Stone. She earned her first gold medal at the 2020 International Surfing Association World Championships and is ranked number one in her division. “I encourage anyone, especially young girls, to conquer from within and follow their dreams,” she says. “The sky’s the limit; you can do anything you set your mind to no matter what the obstacle is.”


Southern California Female Athletes

Phaidra Knight

Hall-of-Fame American Rugby Player Phaidra Knight Discusses her 20-Year Career and Entrepreneurial Endeavors

Photographed By: Travis McCoy

Phaidra Knight discovered rugby during law school, a passion that led to a 20-year career. The World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee retired in 2017 and has experienced many highs and lows, from winning incredible matches to being cut from the World Cup team a week before the contest. “There’s been times I’ve wanted to walk away [and] times I’ve taken a break because I needed that space [to] reconcile some issues within myself. It’s certainly my longest love relationship, and I don’t see that ending,” mentions Knight.

Photographed By: Travis McCoy

Since retiring, Knight learned to appreciate other players as a rugby analyst and explore other avenues, including being a coach, motivational speaker, nonprofit founder and entrepreneur. “Unlike most players, I transitioned into several different roles,” describes Knight. “I think that helped me a lot; it’s inevitable as an athlete to go from being the spectacle to the sidelines.” An important part of this transition was Knight’s discovery of mixed martial arts. She loves the physical and mental challenge of MMA and trains daily at her academy. Knight brought traits she learned in rugby like discipline, teamwork and listening to her body, which have all helped her advance and grow in the combat sport.

“[Rugby] is certainly my longest love relationship, and I don’t see that ending,”—Phaidra Knight

An athlete with a storied career, Knight’s resilience and ability to stay open to opportunities has led her to pursue new dreams and appreciate her unique journey. “If I don’t have a desire to put time into something I’m doing and something else is piquing my curiosity, it’s time to move on,” says Knight. “I never want to be deadweight.”


Southern California Female Athletes

Kaleigh Gilchrist

Newport Beach Native Kaleigh Gilchrist Brings Her ‘A Game’ in Both Her Water Polo and Surfing Careers 

Kaleigh Gilchrist is a professional water polo player and surfer who discovered her love for both sports at the age of 8. She is most recognized for her water polo prowess; Gilchrist served as team captain in college before transitioning to her role as a member of Team USA. She was part of the 2016 Olympic team that won gold in Rio and participated in this year’s Tokyo Olympics where Team USA took home another gold in women’s water polo. 

Photography Provided By: Valerie Fox

The road to Tokyo was one of recovery and resilience for the Newport Beach native. After winning at the world championships in July 2019, Gilchrist suffered a severe leg laceration after the South Korean balcony she was on collapsed. “I was millimeters away from my nerves [severing]… and never walking again,” describes Gilchrist. “I was very lucky because there were a couple of fatalities in the incident…. [It] taught me so much about life, perspective and how quickly things can change.” While rehabilitation was difficult for Gilchrist, who never experienced a sports injury before, she was able to make progress by holding onto small wins until she was able to compete again.

“Just to be in the same city as [my father] was, competing for our country is a very special moment.”—Kaleigh Gilchrist

A few months ago marked the final chapter of Gilchrist’s professional water polo career after 21 years. She was eager to play and perform to the highest level for both herself and her teammates, and was indeed successful. Since her father swam in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, she strived to recreate some of the photos he took there. “Just to be in the same city as he was, competing for our country was a very special moment,” says Gilchrist.


Chari Hawkins

Team USA Heptathlete Chari Hawkins Gets Real About Her Athletic Journey

Chari Hawkins began her track and field career by joining cross country in seventh grade and exploring disciplines like high jump and hurdles in high school. “I have always loved the variety and ability to learn so many different skills; it just keeps me on my toes,” says Hawkins, who trains in San Diego. She specialized in several events in college before transitioning into her current role as a Team USA heptathlete. During meets, Hawkins competes in seven events, including the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter dash, long jump, javelin throw and 800-meter run.

Photograph By: Nate Kroll

Learning to prioritize mental health has been a crucial part of her athletic journey. “I had anxiety issues going into college, and something in me knew that if [I didn’t pursue track professionally] I would regret it because I had stressed out so much during college… and knew I didn’t reach my full potential,” remarks Hawkins. She reframed her mindset and overcame struggles with body image and social comparison. “It doesn’t matter how [my body] looks; it matters how it runs,” describes Hawkins. “By thinking that, my mental health improved in terms of body image [and] I started feeling better in my performance, so it was a two-fold victory.” 

 “It doesn’t matter how [my body] looks; it matters how it runs.”—Chari Hawkins

Hawkins spent the past year improving her techniques, recovering from surgery and gearing up for the Trials. “There’s a little bit more electricity in the air when it’s [the] Olympic Trials,” says Hawkins. “It’s everything you’ve prepared for in the past four years coming down to a few moments.”


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Michael Wesley is a San Diego based lifestyle photographer who brings a unique eye for style and color to any project. With travel in 26 countries, a die-hard love for the ocean and an appetite for adventure, this California surfer is always on the hunt for capturing the coastal lifestyle that he is so lucky to live. Check out his work at WWW.BLUEWESLEY.COM

Photographer | Website | + posts


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