From Pilates pioneers to tennis trailblazers, there are so many Black legends that have paved the way for people of color in the fitness industry. Below are just some of the icons and Black athletes who broke ground in the fitness and sports industries, and whose legacies continue to live on each and every day. 

Kathy Stanford Grant

Kathleen Stanford Grant

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Kathleen Stanford Grant loved dance from a young age. When she turned nine years old in 1928, she began taking ballet classes at the Boston Conservatory of Music. She grew a love for music and movement, seizing every opportunity that was available for the taking.

After sustaining a knee injury as a ballerina, she met Joe Pilates on her road to recovery. She became one of only two people certified by Joseph Pilates himself to teach the Pilates method — the very method a [solidcore] workout is inspired by. She was the first Black Pilates elder to manage her own studio, paving the way for many more to come and leaving an indelible mark on Pilates history. 

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

In a time when American heavyweight boxing was only meant for white males, Jack Johnson made a name for himself as a Black athlete. In 1903, he became the “Colored Heavyweight Champion” and immediately began training for the Heavyweight title. However, white boxers would refuse to step into the ring with Johnson. 

After a long battle to find an opponent, Johnson was able to secure a fight with the champion at the time, Tommy Burns. After 14 rounds with the champ, Johnson walked away victorious. He became the first Black fighter to win the heavyweight championship, a title he kept until 1915. Jack Johnson’s achievements helped pave the way for future legends like Muhammad Ali and many more. 

Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe

Well-decorated and very outspoken, Arthur Ashe ensured his hard work and advocacy reached further than the tennis court. 

As the first Black player selected to join the U.S. Davis Cup team and the first Black man to win singles at Wimbledon, he was truly unstoppable on the court. With three Grand Slam titles under his belt, his road ahead looked to be bright and promising. 

Sadly, Ashe suffered a heart attack in 1979 and his tennis career was cut short. In his final years, he dedicated everything he had to Civil Rights efforts. He wrote a book, A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete, and founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Bill Clinton, and his legacy lives on to this day.

Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph

Overcoming childhood polio at just 12 years old, Wilma Rudolph knew her life was what she made of it. She was told as a child she may never walk again, but her persistence and determination were relentless.

She fell in love with track and field throughout high school and college, eventually competing in the 1956 Olympic Games. After taking home bronze in the 4 x 100 m relay, she set her sights on the gold medal for the next games. 

Rudolph’s performance at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games would have her cemented as the fastest woman in the world, forever sealing her spot in sports history. She walked away with three gold medals and became the first American woman to win three golds in track and field during a single Olympic Games.

When she returned home, she refused to attend a homecoming celebration parade if it was not integrated. Her civil work continued off the track, participating in Civil Rights protests and meeting with city public officials to have public facilities become fully integrated.   

Empowering our [community] through partnership

As we reflect on the stories of these remarkable individuals who have left an enduring impact on the world of fitness, sports, and the history of Pilates, we are reminded of the resilience, determination, and trailblazing spirit that characterized their journeys. 

This Black History Month, [solidcore] is committed to fostering a diverse and empowering community that honors the rich contributions Black individuals have brought to our collective history — in the fitness and sports world, and beyond. 

That’s why we’re proud to partner with the Loveland Foundation, a Black charity and 501(c)(3), focused on providing mental health support and therapy resources for communities of color. The Loveland Therapy Fund makes it possible for Black women and girls to receive financial assistance for therapy sessions, ensuring that individuals receive the mental health support they need. By partnering with this organization, a portion of your class or membership fee supports this cause. Book your class or learn more about the Loveland Foundation and donate directly today.