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Athletes Who Pursued Their Dreams Despite Major Obstacles

Updated: Aug 18, 2021

By Anthony Mohr

This article goes out to Sullivan, who suggested a sports article!

Many athletes dream of rising to the top in their sport. They need to persevere through countless hours of practice, losses, and, for some, injuries as they reach for their goals. Furthermore, they need to be able to balance their athletic careers with their personal lives.

Every athlete is impressive in their own right. However, there are some athletes who have overcome such immense obstacles that you can’t help but be inspired by them. The following seven athletes demonstrate how you should never give up on your dreams, even when the odds seem stacked against you!


Jim Abbott (Baseball)

Jim Abbott became a top MLB pitcher and Olympic gold medalist—all while having only one hand. Abbott was born with a physical disability, as he had a deformed right arm that ended in a flap of skin. As a kid playing baseball, he was told over and over that he would not be able to keep up with the competition. He did not give up, though, and he ended up having very successful pitching careers for the University of Michigan and the California Angels (now named the Los Angeles Angels). Abbott impressed audiences with his ability to catch the ball, remove his glove, and quickly throw the ball again, all while using just one hand.

Eric Berry and James Conner (Football)

Can you imagine competing in college football or the NFL and having your career be interrupted by a cancer diagnosis? This terrifying possibility became reality for Eric Berry and James Conner, two professional football players. Berry, a former safety for the Chiefs, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014. Fortunately, after going through chemotherapy, he was declared free of cancer the next year and could return to competition. Similarly, James

Conner, a current running back for the Steelers, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015. During the following year, he remained as active as he could until he completed his treatment and could play again. Both athletes are true inspirations, especially to those battling cancer.

Melissa Stockwell (Swimming)

Melissa Stockwell’s athletic accomplishments are all the more impressive given her incredible and harrowing backstory. As a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army’s transportation corps, Stockwell lost her left leg after her vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, which made her the first female American soldier to lose a limb in active combat. This tragic event did not stop her from pursuing her athletic career, as she competed successfully in the Paralympics and Paratriathlon. She earned three Paratriathlon world titles from 2010 to 2012, and she also completed an Ironman Triathlon, which is an extreme challenge even for those without physical disabilities. Stockwell is also a coach and activist, and she is a mentor to many other athletes with disabilities.

Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan (Basketball)

An important aspect of personal health that is often overlooked in athletics is mental health. Depression is a serious issue that is common even among professional athletes. Kevin Love, a player for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and DeMar DeRozan, a player for the San Antonio Spurs, have publicly shared their experiences with depression and anxiety, and in doing so, they hope to increase awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. For these two athletes, their depression has made it difficult to pursue their passion. Love once even needed to step out of a game due to a panic attack. However, they have never given up, and they encourage others to seek help and talk openly about mental health.

Wilma Rudolph (Track and Field)

Wilma Rudolph overcame a series of challenges like none other. When she was very young, she contracted polio and became paralyzed in her left leg, which forced her to wear a leg brace. After years of treatment, she could finally start walking without the brace. She eventually began to run track, and her athletic career skyrocketed from that point. In 1956—when she was merely 16 years old—she qualified for the Olympics and won a bronze medal in the American 4x100-meter relay team. As a Black woman, Rudolph faced many incidents of sexism and racism. In response to these issues, she brought great changes to her community. For example, her homecoming parade, which followed her triple gold medal winning performance in the 1960 Olympics, was the first major non-segregated event in her hometown’s history. Rudolph persevered through every challenge to become one of the top female runners in the world.




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