Saluting women in sports

Wednesday was girls' night out in New York City.

Venus Williams, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Maya Moore, Michelle Kwan, Laila Ali, Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lieberman and Billie Jean King, the founder of the Women's Sports Foundation (WSF), were just a few of the stars who graced the red carpet at Cipriani Wall Street before sitting down for a night of celebration, honoring the 2011 achievements of these legendary female athletes.

"Women are special," Williams said. "As they say, women move the world, so I think this night is very much needed."

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Teammates line up with U.S. women's soccer star Abby Wambach, third from right, as she is named WSF Sportswoman of the Year for a team sport.

The first woman to take the stage was distance swimmer Diana Nyad, who expressed her disappointment over not being able to finish her swim from Cuba to Key West. Her message to the audience, however, was that sometimes greatness comes from the fight, not just the end result.

Nyad then blew a bugle to begin the Grand March of Athletes, the introduction of the athletes being honored, as sportscaster Bonnie Bernstein emceed the event.

Some of the women showed their athletic prowess as they crossed the stage. Water skier Erika Lang did a back flip in her strapless dress during her introduction.

Golfer Yani Tseng took the home the Sportswoman of the Year Award for an individual sport. In addition, the U.S. women's ski jumping team won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award in honor of the athletes' 12-year push to get ski jumping added to the Olympics. Women's ski jumping will make its Olympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games.

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Sportscaster Bonnie Bernstein emcees the WSF gala in New York.

Finally, Major League Baseball's Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre, who gave up World Series tickets to attend the event, presented Team USA soccer player Abby Wambach with the Sportswoman of the Year Award for a team sport.

"Sports has given me a career, a home and a purpose," said Wambach, who wore a suit and sneakers to the event. "Women's sports have come far, but it still has a long way to go. We want keep pushing that envelope and creating more excitement and inspiring the generations to come so that women's sport can be here to stay in a big way."

Wambach also reflected on Team USA's magical run in this year's World Cup.

"It's bittersweet," she said. "We inspired people. We got people excited about women's sports again. Grown men were jumping out of their seats crying after that Brazil game. For me, that says a lot about what sports can do. Obviously, we wanted to come home as champions. The good news is that London is around the corner … we have to go take care of business in London."

Although the night honored those who have achieved greatness on the courts and fields across the world, the evening was also a fundraiser for the Women's Sports Foundation and all of the causes it helps support.

"We don't have many nights just for the women, so it's great to not only celebrate the athletes, but also to bring them together to inspire them to give back," said Laila Ali, the president of the WSF.

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Women's tennis star and founder of the WSF Billie Jean King with the foundation's CEO Kathryn Olson at the WSF New York gala.

For champion figure skater Michelle Kwan, the work of the WSF hits very close to home.

"I'm a big supporter of the Women's Sports Foundation because I received a grant when I was a kid," she said. "That grant helped us a lot. My parents sacrificed so much to put their three kids in sports. I remember that the grant helped us buy skates."

Abby Roden, 13, was one of the young girls in attendance who has been touched this year by the Foundation. Just over a year ago, Roden was hanging out with the wrong group of kids in an effort to try and feel accepted. Then she discovered sports, and her life changed. Roden and her mother helped start I-Tri, a triathlon team at her middle school, Springs Middle School in East Hampton, N.Y.

"I was in the wrong group, I was hanging out with people who weren't really my friends," she said. "Then, I got involved in I-Tri, and we have become a family. It has changed my life and given me so much confidence."

The $10,000 grant Roden and her I-Tri team received from the Women's Sports Foundation allowed them to purchase bicycles and sneakers.

The message of support isn't lost on the big stars, either. "To know that people are … supporting young girls and giving them the tools to be active, to be athletic, to be where we are today… it's just really cool to be a part of that," said former UConn sensation Maya Moore, who just won her first WNBA title with the Minnesota Lynx.

"It takes people taking the initiative to be unselfish and helping young girls like the WSF does. Hopefully, we can see those young girls one day doing what we're doing today."

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