Not everyone is gifted with athletic ability and not everyone takes an interest in sports, but it is hard to find a single person who cannot be inspired and motivated by the stories of professional athletes who put it all on the line, overcome enormous obstacles, and find new levels of success and achievement in their respective sport.
Professional athletes can teach us a lot about valuable life skills such as discipline, perseverance, teamwork, and maintaining a sense of calm under pressure. Not only are their accomplishments impressive, but their journeys are often remarkable. Many pro athletes have overcome challenges such as personal illness and injury, poverty, the loss of family members, humiliating failures, addiction, and more.
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, here are seven inspiring athletes who will give you a new perspective on life and motivate you to level up.
- Muhammad Ali. When he was a child, Muhammad Ali’s bicycle was stolen from him, which motivated him to learn how to defend himself against future thieves. He began training as a boxer at age 12 and went on to become one of the greatest boxers of all time, winning Olympic gold and more. Ali stood up for his values, including refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, which cost him a major career setback.
- Jesse Owens. A Black track and field athlete, Owens was the first person to win four gold medals at one time in Olympic history. He achieved his victory in the 1936 Berlin Summer Games, in the heart of nazi territory. Owens came from humble beginnings and rose to fame as an iconic track and field star.
- Kieran Behan. As a child, Kieran was placed in a wheelchair following complications from an operation. Determined to return to gymnastics, he began training again one year later, only to fall off a high bar and suffer a head injury that led to a loss of balance and coordination skills. Still, this setback didn’t stop Kieran, and went on to compete at the European Championships and the World Challenge Cup series, as well as to qualify for the Summer Olympics.
- Bob Champion. Bob Champion was a world famous jockey who was diagnosed with cancer at the height of his career. After undergoing treatment, he went on to win the 1981 Grand National. He was honored with the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Team Award.
- Christy Martin. Christy Martin revolutionized women’s boxing. Her career started at age 21, and by the time she retired in 2012, Christy held a record of 49 wins, 7 losses, and 3 draws with 31 wins by knockout. Martin has been inducted into six Halls of Fame, including the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In 2010, she survived a murder attempt by her former husband. Following this experience, she founded Christy’s Champs, an organization that supports victims of domestic violence.
- Nadia Comaneci. It’s one thing to become the first female gymnast to receive a perfect score of 10 at an Olympic event. It’s another thing to do so at age 14. Comaneci’s story is inspirational not only because of her innate talent and success as a gymnast, but because of her age. Her story is proof that young people can accomplish big things.
- Edson Arantes Do Nascimento ‘Pele’. Known as “Pele,” Edson Arantes Do Nascimento is known as one of the greatest soccer players of all time. He grew up in a very poor part of Brazil and helped support his family while practicing soccer using a homemade ball made out of newspapers and an old sock. At just 17-years-old, he competed in the 1958 World Cup and became the youngest player to score an international goal in soccer.
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