The Most Influential People in Seattle Sports, Travel, and Recreation

Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe Step Out of Bounds

The partners and sports legends have crafted different game plans for athlete activism.

As vaccine-seekers filed into Lumen Field’s clinic in mid-March, two familiar figures stood as greeters: Megan Rapinoe, easily identified by her cotton candy–colored pixie cut, and fiancee, Sue Bird, beside her. As stars of the OL Reign and the Seattle Storm, respectively, Rapinoe and Bird rival Russell and Ciara as the city’s biggest power couple.

Since being drafted just two years into the team’s existence, Bird has become synonymous with the Storm and its four-time championship success. Though relatively quiet in public, around Seattle the 41-year-old has mentored children through the Boys and Girls Club and stepped in at a Marysville high school after a school shooting. In 2020 ESPN’s “The Evolution of Sue Bird” traced how she has increasingly spoken out in support of Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights.

In contrast, the word “outspoken” is applied to 36-year-old Rapinoe almost as often as, say, “World Cup–winning.” In the midst of her international success, she minced no words when telling reporters, “I’m not going to the fucking White House” with President Donald Trump in office, and she stands at the forefront of soccer’s equal pay dispute. Even her stance after scoring in the World Cup became a meme: arms out, chest up, shorthand for unapologetic self-appreciation. Then the activist swerved in 2021 when she accepted a position as an “ambassador” (not angel!) for Victoria’s Secret, part of the company’s effort to rebrand itself.

Bird and Rapinoe began dating in 2016 and got engaged in 2020, but their personal lives are under scrutiny less than the tantalizing question of retirement. Virtually no one wants to see either end their sports career, but it’s increasingly clear that they’ll be impossible to miss when they do.—Allison Williams

Dongho Chang

Whether you’re biking, walking, or driving, the city’s longtime traffic engineer has likely shaped how you move through the city. He’s reconfigured our urban landscape at the Seattle Department of Transportation, adding everything from bike lanes to speed bumps to make Seattle less car-centric and, principally, safer. Now he’ll try to do the same in a new state-level role.

Sam Cho

The transport of goods and people runs through Port of Seattle, which manages Sea-Tac and the city’s shipping area. Yet the makeup of its governing body doesn’t often reflect the diversity of its imports. After this second-generation Korean American was sworn in last year by his mom (in Korean!), he immediately raised broader concerns, like immigration policy. He’s since brought more awareness to the local human trafficking crisis.

Lee Jacobson

Trail selfies have only proliferated during the pandemic (“Behold, I Have Returned from a Hike,” read one recent New Yorker humor piece). But the man who runs the nearly 200,000-strong Washington Hikers and Climbers Facebook group uses social media to foster more genuine appreciation for the outdoors. Members share tips and stories and, for the most part, keep their cameras pointed out at all our jaw-dropping vistas.

Sally Jewell

The next generation of business leaders will have to grapple with existential climate concerns; who can speak better to that than this former REI CEO and U.S. secretary of the interior? The Nature Conservancy board member is sharing her wisdom this year as the Fritzky Chair in Leadership in the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business.


Pinoe may get most of the attention around here, but this OL Reign midfielder is also internationally known. After coming out last year, they became the first publicly trans and nonbinary Olympic gold medalist (for Team Canada, womp womp). The soccer star advocates for trans-inclusive youth sports policies amid political contests.

Jill Simmons

The Washington Trails Association CEO has brought a background in sustainability to arguably the local hiking community’s most influential position. The nonprofit’s revitalization of backcountry paths, and continued maintenance of popular ones, keeps its 25,000 members, 5,000 volunteers, and 500,000 online users coming back. A “Trails for Everyone” campaign hopes to diversify its devotees.

Rick Steves

He may have had to refund 24,000 deposits after Covid made international trips a no-go, but the Edmonds-based travel connoisseur hasn’t lost any of his pull among those who appreciate a good dad joke with their London restaurant recs. Lately he’s played prognosticator, predicting a return to normal travel sometime in 2022. In the meantime, he’s providing “daily doses of Europe” on social media.

Nathan Vass

A ride with this King County Metro bus operator is a trip. Greeting passengers with a smile and narrating stops as he drives, he disarms even the most cynical Seattleites with his relentlessly gregarious disposition. His blog and resulting book, The Lines That Make Us, highlight the human connections public transit can forge.

Doc Wilson

In June 2020, following Black Lives Matter protests, this cyclist expected about 30 people to ride with him to Black-owned businesses around the city. More than 10 times that number showed up. Since then, Peace Peloton has continued pedaling to partner storefronts to help remedy economic injustice. Other cities are interested in the model.

Russell Wilson

Talk about a power play. The Seahawks QB may not have requested a trade last offseason, but he did let some desired trade destinations leak from his camp after feeling like the team was ignoring his input. The result: a new Russ-friendly offensive coordinator. Whether they work together beyond this season remains in doubt.

An earlier version of this article misstated Jill Simmons’s title at Washington Trails Association. She is the CEO.

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