Nicknamed “Little Miss Poker Face” for her deadpan expression on the tennis court, Wills was anything but impassive. A force to be reckoned with, she ruled the game in the 1920s and ’30s, counting two Olympic golds, eight Wimbledon singles titles, and seven U.S. National Championship titles among her stunning wins. But her interests far surpassed tennis. She was a novice poet and painter, and eventually found herself in the path of muralist Diego Rivera. She posed for the central figure in Rivera’s “Allegory of California,” but the mural drew heated criticism for using the face of a real woman to represent California. In his autobiography My Art, My Life, Rivera defended his choice: “…she seemed to represent California better than anyone I knew — she was intelligent, young, energetic, and beautiful.” At the end of her life, Wills gave $10.5 million to Berkeley to establish the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. In making her gift, she said, “What university has a better reputation in research than Berkeley? We can find the answers to why we are the way we are, and gain a better understanding of who we are.”
Keith, a National Public Radio (NPR) reporter, was so enthralled with the 1984 Summer Olympics as a four-year-old that she had an Olympics-themed birthday party later that year. When an NPR editor asked if she’d be interested in covering Sochi, she didn’t skip a beat. “I think I was chosen specifically because I’m not a sports reporter,” she said in a Q&A with Berkeley’s NewsCenter. “We (the reporters) like to have fun … and try to bring a sense of wonder to our stories.” Keith, who recently joined the White House beat after covering Congress for two years, admits that there is little in common between politics and sports. But whether it’s a fiscal battle or figure skating, one overarching narrative is “the fight for supremacy, the competition.” A self-proclaimed “radio nerd,” Keith launched her career as a student at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism covering agriculture, the environment, and other topics for KQED’s California Report. She worked for several member stations before joining NPR in 2009. She also founded and created B-Side Radio, a long-running podcast that told stories you couldn’t hear elsewhere. When she’s not lobbing questions at Congresswomen, she’s fielding their fly balls for the Bad News Babes, a journalist softball team that plays Congresswomen to benefit breast cancer. Follow Keith on Twitter @tamarakeithNPR or her blog.
A lifelong sports fanatic — she once dressed up as the Giants’ Will “The Thrill” Clark for Halloween — Scott first gained legendary status at Cal as the “mic chick,” the first full-time female yell leader at football and basketball games. KNBR’s morning sports anchor today, she continues to break ground as a lesbian in a male-dominated field. With a smooth voice and direct honesty, Scott doesn’t back down when men think they know more about sports. Program Director Lee Hammer told the SF Chronicle, “She knows what she’s talking about. She keeps guys in their place with the way she handles herself on the air.” In 2008, during a short window of time before California banned same-sex marriage, she wed Nicole Everett, a graduate of UC Berkeley Extension’s interior design and interior architecture program. Although the Supreme Court recently overturned the ban, they felt “lucky” to be married when so many of their friends lacked the right. Tune into Scott on weekday mornings, or follow her on Twitter at @katetscott.
A natural leader, Johnson moved from calling the shots on the basketball court to being a political playmaker — and found great success in both arenas. K.J. earned two All-Pac-10 Conference player honors at Cal and an honorable-mention All-American nod from the Associated Press. When he left Cal, he ranked as its all-time leader in assists, steals, and scoring. As a professional, the point guard was named an NBA All-Star three times and set numerous team scoring records during nearly 12 years with the Phoenix Suns. Johnson established a nonprofit in Sacramento after retiring, and in 2008 he was elected the city’s mayor, launching initiatives addressing everything from homelessness to literacy to keeping the city’s NBA team, the Kings, from moving to Seattle. “I want to be remembered,” says Johnson, now in his second term, “as someone who gave his life fighting for those who did not have a voice.” Follow him on Twitter @KJ_MayorJohnson.
When Costello, a healthy, nonsmoking athlete, was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer as a junior, she did not let it stop her from giving life her all. Telling her mom cancer was “just another thing on my plate,” according to a Sports Illustrated profile, the beloved women’s crew coxswain instead focused on leading her team and graduating from Cal. Embracing grueling workouts and aggressive treatments without complaint, Costello went on to become the PAC-10 women’s rowing athlete of the year, organize Jog for Jill, an ongoing charity run, and graduate with a 4.0 GPA. She held onto the philosophy to “do what makes you happy in the moment ” until her death at age 22 in 2010. Inspired by Costello’s courage, the campus co-hosts a jog each spring, and childhood friend Kelcey Harrison ran from Times Square to San Francisco in 2012 to raise funds for Jill’s Legacy. She was joined by Costello’s teammates and coach on the final leg across the Golden Gate Bridge. Costello was the first athlete to receive the NCAA’s Inspiration Award posthumously.
Like the Green Bay Packers, Cal recognized Rodgers’ talent when others were more skeptical. The star quarterback transferred to Berkeley in 2003 and became the Golden Bears’ starter in his fifth game. After a junior year in which Cal finished 10-1 and advanced to the Holiday Bowl, Rodgers entered the NFL draft, where he famously (and awkwardly) sat undrafted until the Packers selected him 24th. He sat on the bench behind Green Bay legend Brett Favre for three seasons, only to take over in 2008 and fulfill his potential. A three-time Pro Bowl player, Rodgers led the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XLV, earning the game’s MVP award in the process. “It’s something that gives me perspective all the time, knowing that the road I took was difficult,” he told the Associated Press in 2011. “But it did shape my character and it shaped my game as well.” Follow him on Twitter.
Winning two shiny golds in London for the 100 free and 400 medley relay, as well as a silver in the 400 free relay, helped secure Adrian’s spot as a favorite among swimming fans. No stranger to first place, he won golds in the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. While at Cal, he was named 2011 Pac-10 Co-Swimmer of the Year and Pac-10 Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and was a 2011 CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine Academic All-American. He graduated with honors in public health. A self-proclaimed “child at heart,” Adrian was nicknamed Bok Choi when his childhood teammates discovered his Asian heritage. Follow him on Twitter @nathangadrian or visit his official website.
One of the top female soccer players in the world, Morgan scored her first Olympic gold in London. She made the winning goal that led U.S. Women’s Soccer into a gold-medal rematch with Japan (which they won!). Equally talented in the classroom as she is on the pitch, Morgan earned the Pac-10 All-Academic honorable mention three times at Cal and graduated a full semester early. Inspired by her childhood heroine, soccer star Kristine Lilly, Morgan dons the number 13, proving that it doesn’t always bring bad luck. Follow her on Twitter @alexmorgan13.
Known for the flower tucked into her hair in every race, Montaño excels in the notoriously difficult track and field event, the 800 meter. She set the Cal record in 2007 and has won three U.S. National titles, a World Indoor bronze, and two NCAA titles. She was the world’s fastest woman in the world in the 800 meters in 2010. Although she didn’t medal in the 2012 Olympics, she won the 800 meters in the trials. Showing her fierce determination, she said on her website, “In competition, the race is long enough that pace is important, but short enough that there’s no time for fear.” Follow Montaño on Facebook and Twitter @AlysiaMontano.
Guinness World Records-holder for the most Olympic medals among female swimmers, Coughlin left the 2004 and 2008 Olympics as the most decorated female athlete — earning a total of 11 medals. She won a bronze in the 400 free relay in London. In an ESPN ranking of the greatest U.S. Summer Olympians, Coughlin came in at No. 10, sharing the Top 10 with such heroes as Jesse Owens and Wilma Rudolph. Out of the pool, Coughlin keeps a large backyard garden and chickens and is a passionate cook. Follow her on Twitter @NatalieCoughlin.