The woman who inspires us the most? Mom

Story highlights

  • March 8 is International Women's Day
  • What woman most inspires you?
  • CNN asked readers to share tributes to the women in their lives
  • Moms and mother figures dominated the tributes
Multiple sclerosis robbed Christine Rathbun's mother, Coleen, of the ability to ride a bike or walk around the block. And still, she thanks God each day for being able to step out of bed on her own two feet.
Coleen went from using a cane in her early 40s to a walker at 50. When they were out in public, Christine watched as her mother endured stares and whispers behind her back:
Why does such a young woman need a cane or walker?
Is that woman drunk in the middle of the day?
And even though Coleen couldn't participate in lots of typical mom things, like going shopping for a prom dress, teaching her daughter to ride a bike, or moving her into her dorm on the first day of college, "she never failed to reiterate how proud she was of me," Christine Rathbun said.
"There is still not a day that passes where she does not say that to me, when really I'm the one who is proud of her."
In honor of Women's History Month and International Women's Day, we invited readers to tell the world about the extraordinary women in their lives. We asked you to share a photo on Instagram and complete this sentence: "This is _______. She taught me _______."
Many chose to honor their mom or another maternal figure who met life's challenges with love and optimism.
Meetra Javed's grandmother had cancer, a stroke and now diabetes, but she still paints henna on her fingernails and takes time to look at the sun each day in Karachi, Pakistan.
The 23-year-old New York artist visited her grandmother, Afsari Begum, in Pakistan four months ago.
"She had one breast removed, and was bedridden. She often sat on a wheelchair staring at the sun outside of her balcony grasping holy beads, reciting prayers. Diabetic, suffering from the aftermath of a stroke, and previously fighting breast cancer, she had held onto the true nature of faith," Javed said. "While all but two of her children have been hundreds of miles away, she still managed to somehow smile, and see the value of the sun."
Javed remembers her "Nano" in healthier times, when the woman visited the United States and while "she would never understand English television, somehow watching WWE wrestling made her laugh uncontrollably."
She chose to honor Begum because "I want her to know that just because I am (seemingly) millions of miles away in a country she doesn't understand, I have not forgotten her."
Christine Rathbun was 2 years old when her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 35. When the autoimmune disease took away her ability to work, Coleen dedicated herself to being the best stay-at-home mother.
"She made my lunch every day, embarrassingly enough, all the way up through high school, and made sure that when I got home from school, she spent quality time with me before her fatigue and leg pain set in," said Rathbun, a graduate student in social work. "She made sure no matter what limitations she was facing that I was able to experience the most 'normal' childhood possible."
Nursing student Noell Persells also chose to honor her mother, who lost her soul mate -- and taught her that "a princess can save herself."
Persells, 26, said there was never a couple more in love than her parents, Linda and Richard. Her dad died of cancer four years ago, and her mother "has looked at each day with a positive attitude."
"Mom always taught me that what makes a princess ... is not looks, but how she conducts herself when facing hardship -- how she leads herself, her people, her family through that hardship," said Persells, who lives in Atlanta. "It's about putting on a brave face, dealing with what you're dealt in life, and finding peace and happiness in what you are given because there are other people who have so much less."
Karen Putz chose to honor an older woman who is not her mother, but who helped her give birth to a more courageous version of herself.
More than 20 years ago, as a teenager, Putz lost her hearing while barefoot water skiing.
In 2009, Putz was overweight, out of shape and scared to get on the water again. Her husband sent her a clip of 66-year-old Judy Myers, a heavyset woman who had picked up the sport in her 50s. The two women connected on Facebook and Myers encouraged Putz to return to the sport she once loved.
"She taught me that you're never too old to unwrap your passions," wrote Putz, who lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois. "Today, we barefoot water ski together and she is an awesome friend. Judy taught me that the best days of life are not behind us; the best days are still ahead!"
Scroll through the gallery to meet some other extraordinary women and then tell us about the woman who most inspires you.