Athletes like Tom Brady, LeBron James and Aaron Judge normally grab the headlines, but when it comes to the inspiring stories in sports, there are people like Carlos Arredondo, the hero in the white cowboy hat at the 2013 Boston Marathon, who decided to run this year’s race. There’s also Chelsea Werner, a champion gymnast turned fashion model, who has Down syndrome. Then there’s Tish Guerin, the Carolina Panthers’ director of player wellness who is serving as a resource for players, coaches and staff who are struggling with depression, anxiety, loss or a major life transition.
Those are just a few of the people from the world of sports who made our list of the Top 18 Inspiring Sports Stories in 2018 (as measured by pageviews). Here’s a look at the rest:
Sure, it’s never too late to go back to school. But, to go back to school and play college sports? Perhaps there’s no limit to that either. Look no further than 61-year-old Don Byers, a grandfather, insurance agent and the only freshman on Bellevue University’s men’s golf team, making him one of the oldest college athletes in history.
The college bound 1-handicapper from Nebraska was recruited by Bellevue University head coach Rob Brown, who first met Byers over the summer during a round of golf.
Cliff Devries, 44, loves the sport of diving so much that despite being paralyzed on his right side, he climbs up the ladder of the three-meter springboard each birthday, walks to the edge of the board and takes the head-first plunge with lifeguards waiting to pull him out.
Devries, who coaches the diving team at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), might tell you he takes the once-a-year dive to give the lifeguards practice, but truly, it’s to quench his proverbial thirst.
Imagine, as a casual fan, if you could stand on the field with NFL players on a Sunday. Or rebound for LeBron James before Game 7 in the NBA playoffs. Yes, it’s a far-fetched dream for any fan of pro football or pro basketball to be that involved in the gameday action. But, when it comes to professional golf, fans are actually encouraged to go behind-the-scenes and inside the ropes. All they have to do is put on a volunteer cap and get a little dirt under the fingernails.
Phil Jackson is a big believer that a little salt in the air and sand in the hair can do a body good.
That’s why in 2014, the 38-year-old from Garden City, South Carolina founded the Surf Dreams Foundation, an organization that “provides children with the proper knowledge, lessons, equipment and ocean safety to enjoy surfing.”
Surf Dreams goes beyond that, too. The group takes children on surf trips, mostly up and down the east coast, and supports its competitive surfers by assisting with contest entry fees when they can’t afford it.
There’s a saying in the Lone Star State, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.”
Such is the case of thirteen-year LPGA veteran and Texas transplant Brittany Lang, who is competing on her home turf at the Volunteers of America® LPGA Texas Classic at Old American Golf Club this week.
Lang bounced into her press conference decked out with state of Texas earrings, Texas flag fingernails, and a refreshing authenticity that’s rare at these events. In an environment where athletes often regurgitate carefully crafted soundbites, she was all about keeping it real.
The Philadelphia Eagles made some big plays on their way to a Super Bowl victory, but in terms of making an impact, none of those actions on the gridiron will come close to what they did for Giovanni Algarin, a 10-year-old who suffers from a rare genetic disorder that affects his bones and muscles.
Ski suit? Check. Poles? Check. Perfectly waxed skis? Check. Glitter? Check.
Before every race, four-time World Champion cross-country skier Jessie Diggins, 26, makes sure she sparkles on the outside because that’s exactly how she feels on the inside.
“I think ski racing is so fun, and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing with my life,” Diggins told us from Austria.
Jim Walmsley may have had a mountain lion atop his first-place trophy following Saturday’s Western States 100, but it was a different type of animal that nearly thwarted his record-breaking performance.
Just before setting a new course record by running 100 miles through the mountains of Squaw Valley to Auburn, Calif. in 14 hours, 30 minutes, 4 seconds, he encountered two cubs and a mama bear on the trail.
Shaquem Griffin serves as an inspiration to many people who are missing limbs, and for good reason. The Seattle Seahawks linebacker who is missing his left hand was selected in the fifth-round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Thanks to his success, kids with physical differences are realizing that they, too, can reach the pinnacle of professional sports or any other interest for that matter. That’s why when an 11-year-old boy from California named Daniel received a Griffin jersey, he broke down in tears, and the clip went viral.
Carlos Arredondo, 57, became a recognizable face for his heroism immediately after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings that claimed three lives and injured hundreds more. He was the man in the white cowboy hat who pulled victims to safety and wrapped mangled limbs near the finish line on Boylston Street. Five years later, he is running the race for the first time and raising money for charity.
Less than a year after walking around in a carbon halo so his broken neck could heal, world-class triathlete Tim Don completed the 2018 Kona IRONMAN World Championship.
That alone is astounding, but when you consider that the 39-year-old Brit who lives in Colorado finished the the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run in 8 hours, 45 minutes and 17 seconds, it’s nothing short of jaw-dropping. His performance made him the 53rd person overall to hit the finish line out of more than 2,300 competitors.
When an NFL player dislocates his finger or severely twists his knee, it’s off to the training room where trainers can have a look and come up with an adequate treatment plan. But, what happens when there’s a wound to the mind beyond slumps, X’s and O’s and teammate discord?
That’s a concern of the Carolina Panthers, one of the first teams to hire an in-house psychological clinician. In late-September, the team brought on Tish Guerin, 35, to be their director of player wellness.
In covering 140.6 miles, Hiromu Inada, at 85, has traveled more miles in one day than most 85 year-olds travel in a single year.
On Saturday, the Japanese triathlete became the oldest person to finish the Kona IRONMAN World Championship, and even beat his own personal record in the process.
Competitors must complete the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and the 26.2-mile run in under 17 hours, and Inada did it in 16:53:50, proving that when the mind wants something, the body can follow.
At this point in their lives, it’s fair to say Alex and Jamie Schneider tell the world their story with their legs rather than their voices.
The 27-year-old identical twins from Great Neck, N.Y. have a form of autism so severe that they’re completely non-verbal and require 24-hour-a-day care. However, in running shoes and out on the roads, they’re making a statement larger than any words can convey.
Though identical in DNA, the brothers are very different long distance runners. Alex, who is gearing up for the 2018 Boston Marathon, his 18th marathon overall, can hit the finish line in well under three hours. He swooped through New York City’s five boroughs in November in 2 hours, 50 minutes and 5 seconds to set a new personal record.
Jamie, on the other hand, is a social runner, happy to linger around water stations during races and shake hands with volunteers.
There aren’t many 10-year-olds who can quickly garner international attention. Then again, there aren’t many kids who are skateboarding like Sky Brown, a girl who is already beating grown men in competitions.
Sky, who’s from Miyazaki, Japan, started skateboarding (much to her parents’ dismay) at two years old.
If there’s a life worth studying, it’s Lou Batori’s. At 107 years old, he’s still ripping turns down the mountain as a skier.
His status of “ski legend” is marked by a “100+ Ski Club” patch on his jacket and his own parking spot at Crystal Mountain in Michigan. He no longer races, but he became the world’s oldest NASTAR competitor at age 100.
Chelsea Werner, a 26-year-old woman from Danville, Calif. with Down syndrome, realizes that life is all about balance. It’s something the former champion gymnast learned away from the balance beam.
Werner, who still competes in gymnastics around the world, is also a model. She signed with We Speak, a New York-based agency that aims to create a positive change in fashion advertising by working with women who have a “positive outlook, healthy lifestyle, and unique features.”
An act of kindness, even in the midst of a competitive basketball game, can go a long way. Just ask Kyle Kwarcinski, a high school senior from Nebraska who has Down syndrome.
Kwarcinski is the varsity team manager at his school, and because he’s a fantastic long-range shooter, he occasionally suits up for the junior varsity squad.