1953: Jackie Cochran flies an F-86 Sabre jet through the sound barrier. She learned to fly so she could travel around selling cosmetics, but it turns out trashing speed records is a lot more fun.

1959: On the edge of the Serengeti Plain, Mary Leakey digs up and pieces together a 1.7-million-year-old hominid skull, one of the most important finds in the history of archeology.

1960: At the Rome Olympics, Wilma Rudolph (left)—once partially paralyzed by polio—earns three gold medals in track-and-field, the first American woman to do so.

1963: Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first female to fly a spacecraft around the globe.

1967: Kathrine Switzer dares to run the all-male Boston Marathon, while an irate race official chases her.

1981: Alexa Canady becomes the first black female neurosurgeon in the United States.

1985: Just 175 miles from the Iditarod finish line, Libby Riddles heads into a blizzard when other mushers opt to stay in camp; this gives her a six-hour lead and, ultimately, the win.

1989: Performance artist Karen Finley smears her body with chocolate to illustrate that women are treated like, you know, dirt. The National Endowment for the Arts rescinds her funding, but she ultimately gets it back.

2005: Roz Savage quits her corporate job, leaves her unraveling marriage, and rows across the Atlantic by herself. Midlife crisis averted.

2008: Sandra Andersen, a barista at a Starbucks in Tacoma, Washington, learns that one of her customers needs a kidney to live. So she gives the woman hers.

2009: Navigator Ann Daniels leads the Catlin Arctic Survey, a 74-day journey from the Arctic Ocean to the North Pole to measure the thickness of sea ice.

9 real-life big adventures, plus, how to have your own


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