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COMMITMENT | 09.08.2021

The most exciting success stories in the world of sports

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The values of sports involve the ability to go beyond, to surpass existing limits. That is what many athletes around the world have achieved: overcoming barriers that seemed insurmountable.

Sport is synonymous with ambition, exceeding limits so as to be able to carry the body a little further. We’re not talking about breaking world records. We’re talking about each individual’s internal battle to improve and achieve the challenges they face.

The UN itself says that “sport has the power to change the world and has historically played an important role in all societies,” and even goes as far to say that it is “a fundamental right and a powerful tool to strengthen social ties and promote sustainable development, peace, well-being, solidarity and respect.”

A tool within everyone’s reach

Beyond the success stories detailed below, sport is a tool that anyone can use to improve their life. UNESCO’s International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport states the following: “Physical education, physical activity and sport can improve mental health, psychological well-being and capabilities by enhancing body-confidence, self-esteem, self-efficacy, by decreasing stress, anxiety and depression, by increasing cognitive function, and by developing a wide range of skills and attributes, such as cooperation, communication, leadership, discipline, teamwork, that contribute to achievement while participating, learning and in other aspects of life.”

It comes as no surprise, then, that the Olympic motto is “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” meaning “faster, higher, stronger,” because that is exactly what it is about, overcoming any barrier through perseverance and confidence. Otherwise, the world would not have seen Usain Bolt blast across an athletics track or Michael Phelps across a pool. Because champions like them had to overcome obstacles that would have been insurmountable for others. Although the Jamaican has scoliosis (spinal cord deviation) and suffers from intense lumbar pain, the American swimmer had to deal with marked attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when he was a child. Both progressed and became the all-time best in their respective disciplines.

Accidents overcome

The following are just three examples of how an accident was unable to dash the spirit of human achievement. Everything pointed toward the end of careers that had only just started out or were in full swing, but they didn’t surrender and managed to overcome limits that they could never even imagine.

Bethany Hamilton

One of the best-known success stories around the world is that of Bethany Hamilton, a Hawaiian surfer who lost her left arm following a shark attack when she was only 13 years old. The teenager lost 60 percent of her blood and almost did not survive the experience. However, she quickly underwent surgery, and wasted no time in returning to the sea to enjoy her passion once again.

Let it be said though, that surfing with one arm wouldn’t be easy, as she had to learn how to swim again without one of her limbs. Once she did, she resumed her activity on the board and was even able to win some competitions (she was among the 50 best surfers in the world). Cinema immortalized her story in Soul Surfer, a film based on the book she wrote: Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board.

Dani Molina

Madrid-based Dani Molina has dedicated his entire life to sports. In fact, he began swimming at the Metropol Swimming Club in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain) when he was just three years old. Always drawn to sports, Dani Molina suffered an accident at age 22 while riding a motorbike. The accident caused him to lose his right leg from the knee down.

Fourteen operations later and following a year of recovery, he managed to walk again. And when it seemed like it was time to step away from sports, he decided to do the exact opposite, which was when he had to push himself hardest.

Dani Molina went back to swimming and even took up water skiing and windsurfing again. His determination was so steadfast that he qualified to compete in the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, and later became a triathlon champion.

Alex Zanardi 

Another example of beating the odds after suffering a horrific accident is that of Italian Alex Zanardi, a racing driver who raced in the Formula 1 world championship. After leaving this championship, he suffered a crash in the Champ Car tournament where he almost lost his life and had to have his legs amputated.

But that didn’t stop him from getting in cars to compete. So much so that he even returned to test-drive a specially adapted Formula 1 car. And, more recently, he embarked on an effort to complete the New York Marathon on a handcycle. A great example of beating the odds.

Battling prejudice

Perseverance and force of will are not always achieved by testing the body, but society as a whole. And sometimes this is even more complicated, as the limits are external.

Jesse Owens

Perhaps the most well-known case of all time was the triumph of athlete Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936, as the entire Nazi propaganda machine tried to demonstrate the superiority of the white (Aryan) race.

The story of how American Jesse Owens won four gold medals and beat all his rivals is well known. This triumph, however, did not free him from having to continue fighting, for his entire life, against the racism he suffered in his own country, where segregation laws were in place in the mid-twentieth century.

Wojdan Shaherkani and Sarah Attar

Two names perhaps unknown to most, as they did not succeed in becoming world champions. However, Wojdan Shaherkani and Sarah Attar were the first female athletes to represent Saudi Arabia at any Olympic Games, thereby overcoming the barriers maintained by Saudi Arabia with regard to women’s freedom.

Wojdan Shaherkani competed in judo at the London 2012 Olympics, while Sarah Attar competed in the 800-meter athletics event. Both competed while wearing a hijab out of respect for Islamic culture, although doing so almost hindered Wojdan Shaherkani’s efforts, as wearing such a garment was not permitted in judo. In the end, she was able to compete and, in doing so, toppled a barrier that once seemed unthinkable.

As you can see, all of these stories are merely a small sample of the obstacles facing millions of people around the world every single day. But many of them, thanks to their dedication and the values of sport, have been able to overcome them.