Ten sporting winners who triumphed in the face of adversity


babe-ruthBabe Ruth said: “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.”

A winner isn’t always someone who remains unchallenged. Sometimes winners are those who achieve great things, in spite of challenges.

Here we have compiled a list of ten winners, who have triumphed in the face of adversity to become the champions they are today.

Bethany Hamilton – American professional surfer

Bethany Hamilton is a native Hawaiian who has won numerous surf competitions including the Open Women’s Division of the NSSA, the NSSA National Competition, the T & C Pipeline Women’s Pro and the Surf ‘n’ Sea Pipeline Women’s Pro.

She began her career as a rising surf star aged 11. However, when she was 13, Hamilton was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark at Tunnels Beach, Kauai.

The attack left her with a severed arm just below the shoulder. She also lost 60% of her blood and her survival was deemed ‘a miracle’.

Despite the trauma of the incident, she was determined to continue surfing.

One month after the attack, she returned to the water and within two years had won her first National title. In 2007, she realised her dream of surfing professionally.

In 2011, Soul Surfer, a biographical film about Hamilton’s life as a surfer after her attack was released in cinemas.

Usain Bolt – Jamaican sprinter

Usain Bolt is an eleven-time World champion and regarded as the fastest person ever timed.

He is the first man to hold both the 100 metres and 200 metres world records since fully automatic time measurements became mandatory in 1977.

He is the reigning Olympic champion in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, and is the first man to win six Olympic gold medals in sprinting.

At the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, he broke new ground, setting the world record for the 100m sprint with a time of 9.68.

He broke this record again in Berlin, Germany in 2009, with a new record time of 9.58.

However, his record-breaking achievements aroused suspicion among some commentators, particularly as the sport had had a history of high-profile drug scandals.

At the start of 2015, Bolt announced that he intends to retire from athletics after the 2017 World Championships in London.

Serena Williams – American professional tennis player

Serena Williams has won 36 major titles – 21 in singles, 13 in women’s doubles and two in mixed doubles – and is the reigning champion of the French Open, Wimbledon and Olympic women’s singles and doubles.

She holds the most major singles, double and mixed doubles titles combined amongst active players, male or female.

Williams’ career began at an early age and was pushed by her father who was determined to see her succeed.

She began playing tennis aged three, training in intense, daily two-hour sessions.

Her father also purposely moved the family to Compton – an area with a high rate of gang activity – so that his daughter would be exposed to the ugly possibilities of life if she did not work hard and get an education.

The week of February 8th 2016 marked Williams’ 156th consecutive week ranked world No. 1 and she is regarded as the greatest female tennis player of all time.

Lewis Hamilton – British Formula One racing driver

Lewis Hamilton is the 2008, 2014 and 2015 Formula One World Champion. He has more race victories than any other British driver in the history of Formula One.

At the age of five Hamilton took up karate to defend himself as a result of bullying at school.

Around this time, Hamilton’s father also instilled a passion in him for racing and told him that as long as he did well at school he would support him. To maintain this he was employed in up to three jobs at a time.

In 2008, Hamilton won the World Championship, becoming the then-youngest Formula One world champion in history.

In 2015, he became the first British driver in history to win consecutive F1 titles, and is the only driver in the history of the sport to have won at least one race in each season he has competed to date.

He is currently racing for the Mercedes AMG Petronas team.

Conor McGregor – Irish mixed martial artist

Conor McGregor is the current UFC Featherweight Champion, and the former Cage Warriors Featherweight and Lightweight Champion.

McGregor has faced significant adversity on his way to achieving commercial success.

He was an apprentice plumber when he announced to his father that he was quitting his career to focus on professional cage fighting.

His father was against the idea and fought hard to change his mind. It is said the pair even came to blows over McGregor’s decision.

From 2007, McGregor participated in amateur events and made his professional MMA debut in March 2008.

In 2013, he made his UFC debut. Before this, he was living on welfare but after knocking out opponent Marcus Brimage in the first round he returned home victorious and $60,000 richer.

As of 22 February 2016, he is No. 3 in the official UFC pound-for-pound rankings and ranked as the No. 1 featherweight and No. 5 pound-for-pound fighter in the world by Sherdog.

Pete Sampras – retired American tennis player

Pete Sampras is a former world No. 1 regarded as being one of the greatest players in tennis history.

He retired with 14 titles – seven Wimbledon, five US Open and two Australian Open.

He also won seven elite indoor titles and still holds the ATP record of six year-end No. 1 rankings.

Sampras was famously sick on the court during the quarter-finals of the 1996 U.S. Open.

His worse-for-wear appearance was a result of physical and emotional exhaustion for the last eighteen months.

Two months earlier, he had also lost his former coach, and best friend, Tim Gullikson, who died of cancer.

Sampras remained on court and went on to beat his opponent, Alex Corretja, 9-7 in a match that made history.

In 2007, four years after his retirement, Sampras was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Valerie Adams – New Zealand shot putter

Valerie Adams is a four-time World champion, three-time World Indoor champion and two-time Olympic and three-time Commonwealth champion.

She has overcome many hurdles on her way to the top. These include the death of her mother when Adams was 15; her split with coach and friend of 12 years, former javelin thrower Kirsten Hellier; and divorce from her husband, discus thrower Bertrand Vili.

Throughout her career, Adams has faced fierce competition from Nadzeya Ostapchuk. In the 2010 IAAF World Indoor Champions, Adams lost her first title in two years to her rival. She lost to Ostapchuk again in the 2012 Olympics, placing second.

However, she was promoted to the gold medal when it was revealed Ostapchuk had failed two drug tests.

Adams has dominated women’s shotput for the last decade and had gone 56 straight competitions without losing until her defeat to Christina Schwanitz in the 2015 Diamond League meet in the Stade de France.

Lionel Messi – Argentine professional football player

With Barcelona, Messi has won seven La Liga titles and four UEFA Champions League titles, as well as three Copa del Rey titles.

In childhood, he was noticeably smaller than others in his age group and was eventually diagnosed by doctors as suffering from a hormone deficiency that restricted his growth.

His parents agreed to nightly growth-hormone injections for their son but couldn’t continue payments for the medication.

At the age of 13, Messi was offered the opportunity to train at FC Barcelona’s youth academy and have his medical bills covered by the team.

Messi is often considered the best player in the world and he holds the records for most goals scored in La Liga, a La Liga season, a calendar year, a single season, a Champions League match, and most Champions League seasons.

He is also the only football player in history to win the FIFA Ballon d’Or five times.


Simone Biles – American professional gymnast

Although just 18 years old, Simone Biles has already made a huge impression on the gymnastics scene.

She is a three-time World all-around champion, three-time United States national all-round champion, three-time world floor champion, two-time world balance beam champion and a member of the gold medal-winning American team at the 2014 and 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.

Biles was formally adopted and raised by her grandparents after her mother, who struggled with drug addiction, was unable to care for her.

In 2013, at the World Artistic Gymnastics she became the first African-American to win the world all-around title.

After the event she became the target of racist remarks from a competitor. Although Biles wasn’t surprised by the reaction she won’t let the moment define her career, instead choosing to focus on her talents.

In 2015, she announced she would turn professional and is set to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Rory McIlroy – Northern Irish professional golfer

Rory McIlroy is a four-time major champion. He is also the first European to win three different majors and is one of three – with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods – to win three majors by the age of 25.

He started playing golf at age two, with encouragement from his father.

His father worked three jobs, and his mother worked extra night shifts, to support his golf education, and McIlroy left school at age 16 to focus on the game.

He went pro in 2007, and became the youngest player to rank among the world’s Top 50 golfers. He took home his second major title at the 2012 PGA Championship, becoming the youngest PGA Tour playoff winner to date.

In 2014, his engagement to fiancée Caroline Wozniacki was called off, just months before the wedding date. After announcing the breakup, McIlroy went out to win the BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour.