10 Inspiring Examples of Highly Resilient Sportspeople

May 9, 2023


Resilience is the learned ability to bounce forward from adversity and overcome obstacles, and it's a quality that all successful athletes possess. In the world of sports, setbacks and challenges are inevitable. The stories of these 10 sportspeople demonstrate how resilience enables growth and leads to greatness. Each of these athletes has faced adversity, yet they've managed to rise above it and achieve remarkable success in their respective sports. Let's explore their inspiring stories and the lessons we can learn from their perseverance.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan, widely regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time, was once cut from his high school basketball team. Instead of giving up, he used this disappointment to fuel his determination, ultimately becoming a six-time NBA champion and five-time MVP. Jordan's story of resilience is famously documented in the book "Driven from Within" by Michael Jordan and Mark Vancil (1).

Serena Williams

Tennis legend Serena Williams has faced numerous injuries and health issues throughout her career, including a life-threatening pulmonary embolism in 2011. Despite these setbacks, Williams has displayed remarkable resilience and determination, going on to win multiple Grand Slam titles after her recovery (2).

Lance Armstrong

Despite being diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996, Lance Armstrong overcame the disease and went on to win seven consecutive Tour de France titles. Armstrong's journey is chronicled in his bestselling autobiography, "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life" (3). Although later controversies marred his legacy, his initial comeback from cancer remains an inspiring story of resilience.

Bethany Hamilton

In 2003, professional surfer Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm in a shark attack. Undeterred, she returned to competitive surfing just a year later and has since become a role model for resilience and determination. Hamilton's story is told in her autobiography, "Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board" (4).

Derek Redmond

British sprinter Derek Redmond tore his hamstring during the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Despite the excruciating pain, Redmond continued to limp towards the finish line, with his father joining him on the track for support. This emotional moment exemplifies the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity (5).

Abby Wambach

American soccer star Abby Wambach suffered a broken leg just before the 2008 Olympics. Her resilience and determination led to a triumphant return to the field, where she helped lead the U.S. Women's National Team to victory in the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup. Wambach shares her story in her memoir, "Forward: A Memoir" (6).

Peyton Manning

NFL quarterback Peyton Manning underwent multiple neck surgeries in 2011, putting his football career in jeopardy. Through perseverance and resilience, Manning returned to the field and led the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl victory in 2016, solidifying his legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history (7).

Monica Seles

Tennis player Monica Seles was the victim of an on-court stabbing in 1993, which left her physically and emotionally traumatized. Demonstrating remarkable resilience, Seles eventually returned to professional tennis and won the 1996 Australian Open. Her story is documented in her autobiography, "Getting a Grip: On My Game, My Body, My Mind... My Self" (8).

Kerri Strug

During the 1996 Olympic Games, gymnast Kerri Strug injured her ankle during the vault competition. Despite the pain, Strug completed her final vault, securing the gold medal for the U.S. Women's Gymnastics Team. Her courageous performance and resilience are a testament to her determination and dedication to her team (9).

Niki Lauda

Formula One racing driver Niki Lauda suffered severe burns and lung damage in a horrific crash during the 1976 German Grand Prix. Astonishingly, Lauda returned to racing just six weeks after the accident, ultimately winning two more World Championships in 1977 and 1984. His incredible story of resilience is portrayed in the movie "Rush" and his autobiography, "To Hell and Back" (10).


The stories of these 10 resilient sportspeople remind us that setbacks, injuries, and obstacles are a part of life, but our ability to bounce forward and persist in the face of adversity is what truly defines us. By learning from their examples, we can cultivate our own resilience and continue to pursue our dreams, even when the going gets tough.


(1) Jordan, M., & Vancil, M. (2005). Driven from Within. Atria Books.

(2) Clarey, C. (2017, January 28). Serena Williams Wins Record 23rd Major With Win Over Venus. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/28/sports/tennis/serena-williams-venus-williams-australian-open.html

(3) Armstrong, L., & Jenkins, S. (2000). It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. G.P. Putnam's Sons.

(4) Hamilton, B., & Berk, S. (2004). Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. MTV Books.

(5) Bloom, B. (2012, July 26). Derek Redmond: An Olympic Story of Courage and Inspiration. Bleacher Report. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1271754-derek-redmond-an-olympic-story-of-courage-and-inspiration

(6) Wambach, A. (2016). Forward: A Memoir. Dey Street Books.

(7) Schwab, F. (2016, February 8). Broncos Beat Panthers in Super Bowl 50, Send Peyton Manning Out a Champion. Yahoo Sports. https://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/broncos-beat-panthers-in-super-bowl-50--send-peyton-manning-out-a-champion-032226649.html

(8) Seles, M., & Richardson, N. (2009). Getting a Grip: On My Game, My Body, My Mind... My Self. Avery.

(9) Layden, T. (1996, August 5). Golden Girls. Sports Illustrated. https://vault.si.com/vault/1996/08/05/golden-girls-led-by-the-gutsy-kerri-strug-the-us-women-stuck-their-first-olympic-team-championship

(10) Lauda, N. (1986). To Hell and Back. Stanley Paul.

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