Professional athletes are some of the most celebrated people in the world. They are watched and admired by millions. Legions of fans chant their names during matches. Some athletes have the power to inspire us. We look up to those who have overcame stinging pain and massive challenges so as to achieve their goals. We all have some ideas of things that we want to do or create. and when we watch inspirational athletes, we are filled with the desire to accomplish these things. To further this inspiration, here are the 5 most iconic athletes in the history of sports and their inspirational stories.
1. Muhammad Ali
He is famously known for the statement, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." Many simply refer to him as 'The Greatest'. The late Muhammad Ali is a boxing legend whose inspiring nature has stood the test of time. He achieved almost every title that a boxer can. He was the world heavyweight boxing champion three times. Muhammad Ali defeated every boxer in his era and his achievements can be listed forever. However, the greatest impact that he made was in how he inspired his fans and the world in general.
Muhammad Ali accomplished victories in and out of the ring. Some of the most memorable ones are the ones he won without his gloves on. Firstly, he decided to convert to Islam. At the time, this religion was controversial in the United States. He changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. Despite opposition from his family and the society, he owned his new religion and eventually became a symbol of strength in Islam.
On April 28, 1967, Muhammad refused to join the U.S. army to go and fight in Vietnam. He indicated that he had no quarrel with the Vietcong and thus did not see why he should go and fight them. Due to his decision, Muhammad was immediately stripped of his boxing heavyweight title and faced up to 5 years in prison for refusing to enlist. He was also fined $10,000 and was banned from boxing for 3 years. He appealed the charges and the U.S. supreme court later acquitted him of the charges. On October 30th 1974, he beat George Foreman and reclaimed his heavyweight title. For 7 years he battled the courts, society, popular opinion, other boxers and emerged victorious.
In the later years of his life, Ali began a final battle. Thanks to decades of taking hits in the ring, he developed a severe case of Parkinson’s disease. This disease is caused by the degeneration of special nerve cells in the brain and this results in an inability to move your limbs properly. It is a progressive disease that gets much worse over time and Ali suffered every minute of the condition.
This disease stripped the heavyweight boxer of his strength and left him with shaking arms and slurred speech. However, it did not take away his strong heart and will. He stood up to the disease just as he had stood up to boxers all his life. He was so determined that he lit the Olympic cauldron in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. His arms were shaking but Ali still lit the fire that inspires athletes during the games. In this way, he inspired generations to overcome physical, mental or social inability. Muhammad Ali remains one of the most iconic and inspirational athletes in the history of sports. Born in 1942, he passed away in 2016. May he rest in peace.
2. Nadia Comaneci
During the 1976 Montreal summer Olympics, Nadia Elena Comaneci at only 14 years and 8 months old was the first female gymnast ever to receive the perfect score of 10 in an Olympic event. Additionally, she was the youngest Olympic gymnastic all-around champion ever, was also awarded 3 Olympic gold medals during the same competition and was later named “athlete of the century” by the Laureus World Sports Academy.
Nadia Comaneci was born on November 12th, 1961 in Onesti, Romania to an auto-mechanic dad and a prima ballerina mom. During her young age, the europeans were very strong competitors in the gymnastics. She started training very young and was discover by Bela Karolyi when she was just 6 years old. After some very hard initial competitions she learned and became one of the most known, talented and skilled gymnasts of her time.
3. Michael Jordan
Quite surprisingly, the best basketball player of all time didn't make the university basketball team. The name Michael Jordan is literally synonymous with basketball. He is a living legend. Also, he has the most successful line of basketball sneakers and is an accomplished businessman too.
His list of achievements is long and detailed. He led his team to 6 NBA championships, led Team USA to 2 Olympic gold medals and won 12 All-Star championships. By the time he retired, Michael Jordan was the most decorated basketball athlete ever. He is often asked where the motivation for his success comes from. To this he answers, “I didn't see my name in the list.”
While attending a high school basketball summer camp with his older brother and some friends, Michael Jordan tried out for the university team. He was already a force to reckon with in the camp. He was a fast player and his dribbling skills were unparalleled. However, he was not tall enough for the university team. When the list of the members who had made it to the team was released, his name was not on it. He had worked so hard to make the team but his name was not listed down. This crushed him and he swore to work hard and shine as a basketball star. So every time he faced a challenge in is path to stardom, he remembered the list and his early failure motivated him to work harder. Michael is known for saying that he has missed more than 9,000 basketball shots. He has also lost more than 300 games. These failures are the reason why he succeeds. Michael Jordan is a basketball star and one of the most inspirational athletes today.
4. Edson Arantes Do Nascimento 'Pele'
Hailed as the greatest professional soccer player of all time, Pele grew up very poor in Brazil. He was born on 23rd October, 1940 in a small town known as Mans Gerais. Being the first born son, Pele had to contribute in providing for the family. He would work as a servant in various tea shops in his town to help make ends meet. As a boy, he enjoyed playing soccer. However, Pele could not afford a proper soccer ball. So he stuffed newspapers in a sock and tied it up with a string to make a ball. When that option was not available, Pele would play with a grapefruit to hone his skills. Over time, his talent was noticed and he played for various indoor and outdoor Brazilian soccer teams.
He began his long journey to super stardom at the Bauru Athletic Club juniors. Before long, he was playing for famous Brazilian football team Santos and eventually the national team. He is a very decorated soccer player. The 1958 World Cup was his crowning moment. He was only 17 years old that year and he made a record as the youngest player to score an international goal in soccer. He also performed a hat-trick and led team Brazil to victory. The football legend indicates that when a victory is difficult, there is much more happiness in the win. Currently a United Nations (UN) ambassador for ecology and the environment, Pele is truly an inspirational athlete.
5. Serena Williams
Currently the world number one female tennis player, Serena Jameka Williams is at the top of her game. The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) ranks her in pole position in the sport. She is one of the very few female tennis players to win all four tennis Grand Slams. She also has 4 Olympic gold medals to her name. Serena Williams was the highest compensated female athlete in 2015 and was indicated as the sports-person of the year by famous magazine, Sports Illustrated. Despite a long list of accolades, the journey to the top was difficult.
There are many instances when the queen of the court has faced racism from fans and tennis administrators. The fact that she is black and female forced her to work much harder to achieve her goals. Many people made fun of her strong physique but Serena used the negativity to push forward in her life. She indicated that negative comments from people can bring you down. However, she has no time for them because she is far too busy working on her next victory. Serena is a truly inspirational athlete.
The Important Take Away
The story of an athlete's struggle can inspire us to stay strong during the hard times of life. The athletes indicated above overcame tremendous problems to achieve success. Borrow a leaf from them and remember their wise words as you navigate the challenges on your path to success. Finally, for sure that there are many other sports icons and legends that can come to our minds, let us know who do you think are the ones that deserve to be called legends or icons!