Even history’s greatest athletes are still human at the end of the day, a fact we are often reminded of when they end up being affected with serious health conditions. Even though illness is something we should not wish even on our worst enemies, there’s some inspiration to be derived from seeing how the greats handled themselves in the face of great adversity.
In many cases, athletes not only managed to retain their grace while ill, but also managed to bring plenty of awareness to the disease by talking publicly about it. Awareness and, perhaps more importantly, donations to help with treatment and research for other patients suffering from the same conditions.
Here are some great athletes who suffered serious illnesses.
1 – Muhammad Ali – Parkinson’s disease
Still considered to be one of the greatest boxers in history, Muhammad Ali suffered from Parkinson’s disease for a large chunk of his life. He was diagnosed with the disease in 1984, and passed away in 2016 due to respiratory problems — which are a common complication in patients with degenerative neurological conditions.
In the 32 years he spent afflicted with the condition, Ali did all he could to bring awareness for the disease, and he continued being an active voice in the black community and the sports world. In 1997, he established the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, a specialist hospital that focused on researching the condition and offering treatment to those afflicted by it. His efforts regarding Parkinson’s changed the lives of thousands of people around the world.
At the time of Ali’s death, then-President Barack Obama said: “Muhammad Ali was the greatest. Period”.
2 – Wilma Rudolph – Polio, and more
In 1960, when she was just 20 years old, Wilma Rudolph became the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field at a single Olympics. You could never tell, watching her run, that she had survived polio as a child.
Her difficulties were even greater. Wilma was born as the 20th of his father’s children, and he proceeded to have two more kids after her. As a child, Wilma suffered not only from polio, but also double pneumonia, whooping cough, measles, and scarlet fever. Polio left her foot deformed, and it was only through physical therapy and perseverance that she was able to become a great athlete.
3 – Lou Gehrig – ALS
To this day, ALS is still commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”. That’s because Lou Gehrig, one of the great baseball figures of his time, was also the first famous athlete to go public with a major health condition.
ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. It is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in both the brain and the spinal cord, slowly rendering those afflicted unable to function, eventually leading to death.
The disease cut Lou Gehrig’s career short, but his decision to go public with the condition helped raise awareness, and it served as an example for the athletes that came after him.
Today, athletes have access to the full power of modern medicine, as well as natural supplements and treatments in the form of meditation, acupuncture, and CBD oil. However, they are still human, and when bad things happen to their health, it’s up to fans like you and me to support them in any way we can.