When athletes demonstrate amazing feats of the human body, we are impressed. But when stellar athleticism is paired with extraordinary feats of the human spirit, we are inspired. Athletes who are both champions of sport and character transcend into champions of the people; exemplars of human tenacity and a person’s potential to persevere through hardship, overcome challenge, and excel against all odds.
As a three time All American, as well as a 3 time Pac 10 champion, Anthony Robles is a superstar of wrestling. A formidable force on the mat, Anthony Robles stunned audiences time and time again when he dynamically pinned his opponents, despite his seemingly disadvantage of being born with only one leg.
From the age of three, when Anthony Robles refused his prosthesis, it became apparent he had no intention of letting his disability keep him from excelling in sports. By the 6th grade, Anthony had set numerous athletic records for his school, including one for the most push ups. His accomplishments motivated him to join the wrestling team in 8th grade. The rest is history.
“I don’t care whats probable, through blood sweat and tears I am unstoppable.”
Jim Abbott is a retired professional baseball player who pitched for the New York Yankees. His impressive career includes winning a gold medal against South Korea during a demonstration game at the Summer Olympics, and receiving the Golden Spikes Award as well as the James E Sullivan award for best amateur athlete.
Jim Abbott’s athletic performance distinguished him on the mound as a formidable challenge for any opposing batter, but what transcends his performance from impressive to inspiring is the astonishing fact that Jim Abbott was born without his right hand.
Jim Abbott’s greatest performance, both of body and spirit, took place in 1993 during a game against the Cleveland Indians, forever locking his reign as one of the most inspirational athletes of his generation. Watch how his fellow Yankee teammates respond when Jim Abbott clenches a “perfect game,” pitching a no hitter, for what is deemed one of the most inspiring sport’s moments ever caught on camera.
“It’s not the disability that defines you; it’s how you deal with the challenges the disability presents you with.”
Billy Miske, was a boxer during the 1920s. With a record of 48-2-2, Miske was, according to sport’s historians, one of the most under-appreciated fighters of his era. Miske’s opponents included numerous boxing legends such as Jack Dempsey, Battling Levinsky, Jack Dillon, Tommy Gibbons, and Harry Greb. Miske’s promising career was cut short when he was diagnosed with a terminal kidney disease. Though advised to retire from boxing, Miske, who financially supported his family, continued to climb into the ring for the money, hiding his diagnosis from everyone, including his wife. It would take a devastating defeat against boxing legend, Jack Dempsey, with a knock out during the first round for Miske to finally hang up his gloves, conceding his ailing body couldn’t take it any longer.
Unfortunately, Miske was unable to attain an alternative means of income, and with his family struggling to get by, he persuaded promoters to give him one more fight in the ring.
Physically unable to train for the fight, and barely able to walk, Miske entered the ring, an underdog with the odds against him, touching gloves with a much younger, more favored fighter. The epitome of an underdog, but the paragon of a warrior’s spirit, Miske fought his heart out, and knocked out his opponent in the 4th round.
Miske took home the $2,400 purse, buying back the furniture he had pawned earlier, as well as a piano for his wife, and toys for his children. Shortly after his final bout, Miske succumbed to his disease, dying at the age of 29.
Jack Wegner, respected boxing historian, ranks Billy Miske as one of Boxing’s most inspirational athletes saying: “Billy Miske was one of the greatest fighters to ever lace up the gloves, but you don’t have to be a boxing fan to admire what this man did. Miske leaves a legacy of raw courage, of hope for what is possible for people while they are sick–for what you can do while while you are sick even terminally sick. He leaves behind a role model for fathers, husbands and for fighters.”
Professional sport’s arenas are not the only platform for inspirational athletes to inspire a nation. Case in point, high school senior Jason McElwain. J-Mac, as he is affectionately called by his peers, is autistic, and a lifelong Basketball fanatic. Even though he did not make his high school’s basketball team, the coach gave him a uniform and enlisted him as the team’s equipment manager.
Serving his basketball team faithfully and enthusiastically, his fellow players and coaches wanted to express their appreciation by giving Jason the thing that would mean the most to the young man, a chance to play. So during the final moments of the last home game of Jason’s senior year, the coach put Jason into the game.
The stands cheered as Jason stepped onto the court and his fellow teammates made sure to pass Jason the ball so he could take a few shots. Jason’s first 3 point attempt missed terribly. Air ball. But the young man was undeterred. What transpired next, electrified every person in that gymnasium and quickly became a viral sensation, inspiring people across the country, and even garnered the attention of the president of the United States.
Cell phone video taken from the high school Basketball game captures those magical minutes of Jason’s performance. it also showcases the incredible community, fellow players, and coaches who buoyed up this champion, giving him the opportunity to shine.
With an ever growing awareness of the bullying epidemic plaguing so many public schools, it’s heartening to witness a student body encourage and embrace a kid who may be a little different.
During an era when professional sports were segregated and male dominated, Jackie Mitchell, a 17 year old girl, confounded critics when she became a professional pitcher with the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts in 1931. Beyond transcending misogynistic confines, Jackie Mitchell demanded respect from her fellow baseball players, and won the admiration of baseball fans forever distinguishing herself as one of baseball’s most unusual, but still inspiring athletes, when she pitched against the New York Yankees, going up against two baseball legends, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, striking them both out, back to back.
The great Bambino was obviously enraged after being struck out by a girl. The New York Times reported: Babe Ruth “flung his bat away in high disdain and trudged to the bench, registering disgust with his shoulders and chin.”
Courage is contagious, so if these inspirational athletes left you in awe, transcend your marvel into motive. Work a little harder, strive a little longer, and aim a little higher in your own life, so you too can become a champion over circumstance.