As we flip through the pages of the history of sports, we, predictably, encounter a huge assortment of sports people who, with their unbelievable talent, relentless hard work and enduring optimism, have stumped the world with their mind-numbing feats. A few of them of them are well known, others lesser so. But whether they achieved the highest pinnacle of eminence is not the question, the fact remains that both the categories of people had to defy the huge odds piled against them to achieve their destiny and fulfill providence as they used their incredible abilities to surmount adversities and succeed in the face of almost inevitable defeat. So here’s to the struggles of some of the greatest sports-people and athletes in sports history and the tenacity and resolve which made them the winners they are today:-
Lance Armstrong: The world knows and celebrates Lance Armstrong for his unparalleled seven consecutive wins in the Tour de France bicycle race. Yet, an equally great accomplishment was his triumph over a life threatening disease– cancer. He was diagnosed with the same on October 2, 1996. At the outset he had dismissed the symptoms as the natural side effects of being a professional cyclist and for this reason by the time he actually made an appointment with a doctor; the cancer had already spread to his lungs and his brain. Shocked at the prospect of losing his thriving career and his life, he had to undergo two surgeries and in a period of three months, four rounds of chemotherapy. He stresses that what really helped him survive was the existence of people who let him know that they were interested in his survival and cheered him on at a time when it is only too easy to lose hope and become disillusioned. But survive he did and still remains, arguably, the greatest cyclist of all time.
Mike Tyson: Born in 1966, Mike Tyson grew up in the crime-infested neighbourhoods of New York. Struggling financially, he was also a witness to violent domestic abuse and was a frequent target of bullying. To combat this, the young Michael developed his own style of street fighting and became involved with various criminal activities. By the time he was 13, he had been arrested more than 30 times and finally landed up in the Tryon School for Boys. While he was there, Muhammad Ali happened to visit the centre and Tyson began to see boxing as a way of being accepted by society. He got acquainted with counselor, Bob Stewart, a former boxing champion, who reluctantly, on being requested by Tyson, taught him how to use his fists. His behaviour began to change as he yearned to win Stewart’s approval. Previously classified as learning disabled, Mike managed to raise his reading abilities to the seventh grade level in a matter of months. In addition, he was determined to learn everything he could about boxing, often slipping out after curfew to practice punches in the dark. In 1986, at the age of twenty, he became the youngest heavyweight champion ever. Over the years that followed he became the first to hold the WBA, WBC and IBF titles simultaneously and is ranked # 16 on Ring Magazine’s list of 100 greatest punchers of all times.
Michael Jordan: Often hailed as the greatest basket ball player of all time, it is hard to believe that this ace was actually cut from his high school basketball team.
Luckily, Jordan didn’t let this setback bring to an end his dream of playing the game and he has stated, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Craig Macfarlane: After a freak accident left him blind when he was a child, none of his family members tried to discourage Craig Macfarlane when one day a few years hence he announced to them his decision of becoming a great hockey player. They were waiting for him to realize on his own that he could never play team sports. Yet, during his school years, he worked his way to a grand total of 11 Canadian and 6 international championships in wrestling, ski-ing, swimming, discus, javelin and track. By the age of 19, three documentaries had aired on National Television throughout Canada, depicting Craig and his numerous accomplishments. Craig Macfarlane has won in total 103 gold medals in a variety of sports, and is correctly hailed as the greatest blind athlete of all time. According to him, he makes his other senses do the work of vision. “If I can see it,” he says, “I can do it. Blindness is not a handicap- it’s a minor inconvenience”.
Babe Ruth: Often hailed as the greatest sportsperson in American culture, Babe Ruth, in his own words, had a rough childhood. Only one of his seven siblings survived past infancy and his mother was constantly ill and died of tuberculosis when he was still a teenager. When he was seven years old, his father sent him to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage, and signed custody over to the Catholic missionaries who ran the school. Ruth remained at St. Mary’s for the next 12 years, only visiting with his family for special occasions. Since then, he has gone on to evolve baseball from a speed dominated game to a high scoring power game and was ranked by The Sporting News as one of the 100 greatest baseball players of all time, in 1988. In 1993, The Associated Press reported that he tied with Muhammad Ali as the most recognized athlete in the US. But along with all those home runs came a pretty hefty amount of strikeouts as well (1,330 in all). In fact, for decades he held the record for strikeouts. When asked about this he simply said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” Talk about a positive attitude!
These are but just five examples among hundreds of possible others where man had the courage and the faith to defy society, its conventions and prejudices to work relentlessly towards what he had his heart set on to make the world realize the incredible power of passion and hard work.