Sports events like the Olympic Games, Super Bowl, and FIFA World Cup garner mass attention, and fans gather worldwide to catch a glimpse of athletes doing otherworldly things. But it's not always about winning and losing for these competitors. They're challenged in ways requiring split-second reactions that can change the course of the game and even their entire life. If you're ready to see things you didn't think were humanly possible, check out some of these athletes' real stories.
A Split Second to Decide What Type of Person You Are
Two runners were coming head to head during the Burlada Cross Country race in December 2012. Iván Fernández was running right behind Abel Mutai when he noticed Abel slow down. Abel suddenly thought he had already crossed the finish line, although he was ten meters too early. Iván could've taken this opportunity to run even faster, pass Abel, and steal the first place. But he chose to value honesty and respect in a split second and didn't take advantage of his competitor's mistake.
Instead, Iván guided Abel to the finish line and let him cross first. Later, revealing it was the right thing to do and that he deserved first place.
Eleftheria Tosiou Fufilled a Dream on Mount Olympus
Long-distance runner Marios Giannakou learned that his friend who used a wheelchair, Eleftheria Tosiou had a dream of climbing to the summit of Mount Olympus. He wanted to help her fulfill this dream and decided to schedule a trip. With his long-distance running skills, he wasn't intimidated by the adventure that lied in front of him and began to prepare for the trek. When the day came, he carried her on his back the entire way up to the highest peak in Greece.
It was a beautiful moment when the two reached the top of the mountain, showcasing that you can still follow your dreams despite limitations. An inspiring story of how anything is possible when people help and look out for each other.
Kiran Gandhi Ran 26 Miles Bleeding Freely on Her Period
Kiran Gandhi shared her inspiring story online, and it went viral. People were immediately amazed by her courage. She was preparing for an entire year to run this marathon, and the morning of, she woke up to her period. It was an important day for her, and she was dedicated to finishing the marathon and raising money for Breast Cancer Care. There wasn't a chance she could miss it. So she chose to run. It would have been way too uncomfortable to worry about a tampon for 26.2 miles, so she free-bled.
"I ran with blood dripping down my legs for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist. I ran to say, it does exist, and we overcome it every day. The marathon was radical and absurd and bloody in ways I couldn’t have imagined until the day of the race."
Despite a Skull Fracture, Sky Brown Won Big at the Tokyo Olympics
Sky Brown is an impressive professional skateboarder who was only 13 years old when she competed in the Tokyo Olympics and had a scary accident that would traumatize most. She attempted a trick on a mega ramp when she crashed and was left with skull fractures, lacerated lungs, and a broken arm. Fortunately, she recovered quickly and competed again a year later. This young athlete was fearless and earned herself a bronze medal.
Sky Brown may have once been hospitalized for skateboarding, but she overcame her injuries against all odds. In fact, who would've known that this prodigy's path to recovery would end in bronze?
Brotherly Love Saves the Race
During the Triathlon World Series in 2016, the brother's Johnny and Alistair Brownlee were leading the race. Suddenly Alistair noticed that Johnny was weaving all over the road, looking disoriented. He ran even faster, caught up to him, and propped him up for the remainder of the race. As they approached the finish line, Alistair gave Johnny a push, ultimately earning him second place. Johnny was severely dehydrated and exhausted but did terrific in the race.
The brothers were bonded more than ever after this race, and of course, Johnny was grateful for Alistair noticing his struggle and being there for him when he needed it most.
15-Year-Old Misugu Okamoto's Competitors Lifted Her up in a Moment of Panic
Misugu Okamoto is a skateboarding teen sensation. While she was competing in her final run at the Tokyo Olympics, she fell, unfortunately moving from first to fourth place. She looked distraught and hurt; however, the other competitors immediately ran over to comfort her. As devastating as it must have felt for the young skateboarder, it was a moving moment to see the girls gather around and lift her up on their shoulders.
Although Misugu was full of regret about not landing her trick, she was grateful the other girls were so supportive. It's impressive to see young people lifting each other up...quite literally, amid competition as serious as in the Olympics.
Nothing Can Stop This Dynamic Duo
Steen and Peder Mondrup are twins that felt destined to experience life very differently. That was until they decided it didn't have to be that way. The two brothers completed an Ironman triathlon despite Peder's cerebral palsy, in which he uses a wheelchair. Steen carried, pulled, and pushed his brother through the whole competition so they could compete together. And it didn't stop there; they've competed in many marathons since, resulting in an incredibly positive impact on their relationship and the stigma for disabled athletes.
They even created their own running community in Denmark in which they pair up a disabled athlete and a recreational athlete, who pushes their running buddy in a custom-made racing wheelchair.
Artistic Swimmer, Anita Alvarez, Fainted Underwater and Was Saved by Her Coach
Anita Alvarez is an artistic swimmer who was competing at the world aquatic championships. She was underwater when her coach noticed she was starting to sink to the bottom of the pool after completing her free solo. She realized quickly that Anita was unconscious and dove in to save her. If Anita's coach, Andrea Fuentes didn't jump into action as fast as she did it could have been a very dangerous situation.
Luckily her coach saved her life and they were able to bring Anita to the surface. She had fainted and lost her breath while underwater and was able to get medical attention fast enough to be just fine
Canadian Coach Justin Wadsworth Rushes to Fix Anton Gafarov’s Broken Ski
While the Russian athlete, Anton Gafarov, anticipated finishing the course at the cross-country skiing semifinal of the Sochi Olympics, a skier's worst nightmare occurred. On the slope, he crashed and damaged one of his skis. It became incredibly difficult to finish the race, and he struggled way behind the others. Watching in disbelief, Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth grabbed a spare ski he had and rushed out to help him. Without a word spoken, he helped Anton strap on the new ski and continue his race.
The Canadian cross-country ski coach made a powerful and compassionate move that let Anton cross the finish line with dignity. This is what the Olympics are really about.
These Olympic High Jumpers Wouldn't Fight for the Title
During the Tokyo Olympics of 2020, Qatari Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italian Gianmarco Tamberi competed for the top spot in the Men's High Jump category. Ironically they both made a jump of 2.37 meters, and the only option was to compete again in a tie-breaking jump-off. Although, they didn't let competitiveness overpower them. Instead, they decided they both deserved the win and chose at that moment not to participate in it.
The athletes agreed to split the win, receiving gold medals for their efforts. They could've quickly competed in a jump-off so one person could claim first place. But they recognized each others' efforts and embraced the victory together.
Once Attacked for Running a Marathon, Kathrine Switzer Now Runs Freely
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Although, it wasn't easy. As she ran, she was harassed by a mob of angry men trying to rip her number off. Though she didn't let that scare her away. In fact, fifty years later, she's running in the same marathon. And this time she is free from any men trying to hurt her. She always believed in herself and is a role model to many women today.
Even at seventy-five years old, Kathrine still runs almost forty miles a week. She runs daily and tells people it gives her a sense of empowerment.
Derek Redmond’s Dad Came to His Rescue When His Hamstring Tore
Derek Redmond was competing in the semi-finals of the 1992 Olympics when a wave of jolting pain shot through his body. He realized he had torn his hamstring and struggled to stay upright, yet he couldn't give up. Determined to finish the race, his dad noticed his son not stopping. So he barged past security and joined Derek on the track, helping him complete his lap. Derek leaned on his father's shoulder for the rest of the race, and they crossed together.
As heartbreaking as it may have been for Derek, training your entire life for this moment and having it gone in an instant, he was still determined to finish. The love between Derek and his father at that moment is palpable and one in Olympic history that will never be forgotten.
Tatjana Schoenmaker’s Opponents Hug Her as She Wins Gold
South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker competed in the Tokyo Olympics. She did so well that she won a gold medal and set a new world record leaving the audience in amazement. But what left her in awe was the reaction of her opponents afterward. They immediately swam over and congratulated her, wrapping her in big hugs and giving her words of encouragement. An overwhelming and exciting experience; nonetheless, the sportsmanship was incredible.
After witnessing the embrace between the swimmers Kaylene Corbett, Annie Lazor, Lilly Kin, and Tatjana Schoenmaker, you would think they were best friends before meeting at their competition.
Chloe Kelly Celebrates Scoring the Winning Goal in the Women’s Euro 2022 Final
It was a memorable day for Chloe Kelly; she was sitting on the bench during the Women's Euro 2022 final match against Germany. She was substituted in, full of passion and determination. A move that undoubtedly paid off because soon enough, she scored the winning goal for England. She ran around with her teammates in excitement, ripping her jersey off and swinging it around. England officially beat Germany 2-1 and came out as champions.
A moment Chloe Kelly will never forget, one she will likely tell for years. What an exciting privilege to be a part of a championship like that and know you made the winning goal.
Olympic Swimmer Amy Van Dyken Became Paralyzed but Didn't Let That Stop Her
The American competitive swimmer, Amy Van Dyken, won six Olympic gold medals in her career. However, in 2014, she was tragically injured in an ATV accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Although it was devastating and a complete lifestyle change, she didn't let it stop her. Five years later, she participated in the WheelWOD Games, a fitness competition between the top 12 athletes who use wheelchairs worldwide.
Though Amy's life completely changed after her accident, she found a way to stay active and lift her spirits. She could even retake her first steps with the aid of bionic legs.
Nijel Amos and Isaiah Jewett Were so Close to a Silver Medal
Isaiah Jewett was approaching the final leg of the men's 800-meter run in the Tokyo Olympics and was well on his way to a silver medal. Unfortunately, in a matter of seconds, Nijel Amos accidentally tripped him, and they both stumbled on the track. This moment cost them both the race. Although Jewett was about to finish the race with a medal, he didn't get angry at Amos. Instead, he helped him up, and they hugged him as they walked off.
Most would assume if they were in Jewett's position, they would be infuriated and devastated that they lost, and it wasn't even their fault. But the two men were incredibly calm and respectful of each other, true winners.
Murtaza Ahmadi Met His Idol on the Field, Lionel Messi
A photo went viral of a little boy from Afghanistan named Murtaza Ahmadi, just five years old at the time. He stole the hearts of football fans worldwide, posing with a homemade Lionel Messi shirt made out of a plastic bag. It reached so many people that he was invited to a game in Qatar a year later. While there, he got the opportunity to meet his idol and was, of course, gifted an authentic autographed Messi jersey.
The two embraced on the field, and the adorable little boy didn't want to leave Messi's side. Murtaza will for sure cherish this experience forever.
Ahmed Hafnaoui Swims to an Unexpected Victory
Ahmed Hafnaoui from Tunisia had the slowest qualifying time for the 400-meter freestyle at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. People weren't very confident in his skills, but he didn't let that discourage him. He went on to compete and outstandingly outswam every other athlete. He made a shocking triumph and took first place, winning the gold medal. He was only eighteen years old and only the fifth Tunisian athlete at the Olympics.
His performance left viewers stunned and even himself. At such a young age, one of his dreams came true, and he had the gold medal to prove it.
Alessandra Perilli Turns San Marino Into the Smallest Country to Win a Medal
San Marino is a small country in the mountains near Italy and is, in fact, the third smallest country in all of Europe. So when Alessandra Perilli represented San Marino in the Tokyo Games, it was exciting and new. But it was astounding when she went on to win bronze in women's trap shooting. Although the sport is lesser known and the country has only 34,000 residents, it wasn't as publicized.
Nevertheless, it was a proud moment for Alessandra and her country. Hopefully, the country will see some more recognition in future games.
Shawn Crawford Made a Heartfelt Move And Gave Away His Silver Medal
Shawn Crawford finished fourth in the 200-meter sprint during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. However, he ended up walking away with second place. This is because the original second and third-place athletes were disqualified for stepping on the lines. Therefore he was moved up the ranking and received the silver medal. But Shawn felt it wasn't quite right. So as soon as he got home, he got rid of his award.
Shawn sent his silver medal to Churandy Martina, who he believed to be the true second-place race winner. He said, "In my heart, I felt he deserved it."
The Swimmer, Maarten Van Der Weijden Won Gold After Battling Leukemia
The legendary Dutch swimmer Maarten van der Weijden was diagnosed with leukemia in 2001 and had to stop swimming. This was devastating for the swimmer, as he thought his career and passion were over. He didn't know if he would make it out alive and decided he could no longer think about swimming. However, in 2008, he fully recovered and had been swimming again. He participated in the Beijing Olympics and walked, better yet, swam away with the gold medal.
Later, Maarten shared that he had been through two surreal moments in his life. The worst was experiencing leukemia, and the best was being on top of the podium in Beijing.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Could've Never Guessed How His Life Would Change
Kareem Abdul- Jabbar met John Wooden, his coach, when he was a young man and still in college. Little did he know the impact John would have on his life. Their friendship is so important to Kareem that he even wrote a book called Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court. After John passed away, Kareem reflected on how much he meant and how influential he was in his life.
The esteemed athlete shared that his professional basketball career wouldn't have been the same or as meaningful without the support and aid of John Wooden by his side.
Abebe Bikila Won a Gold Medal While Running Barefoot
Abebe Bikila was an Ethiopian marathon runner who was a consistent champion at the Olympic games. He won his and Africa's first gold medal in Rome during the 1960 Olympics. Not only did he take first place, but he did so barefoot. How on earth does that happen? He realized the running shoes he had been given did not fit, so he chose to run barefoot. Officials were unsure what to do, so they allowed him to continue running.
Abebe set a new record time of completing a marathon in 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 16 seconds. All while barefoot, arguably the most shocking but impressive part of it all.
Mesut Ozil Donated His World Cup Winnings to Children in Need
German player Mesut Ozil had won the World Cup and earned a lot of money. Most take the money and buy themselves expensive clothes, gifts for their family, or go on a vacation. But Mesut had other plans. Before the World Cup, he helped support the surgery of eleven sick children. Once he won, he donated to another twelve children, a total of twenty-three. The number is symbolic to honor the number of players it took to make up the winning German team.
As an ode to Brazil for hosting the World Cup and a thank you for their hospitality, all the children Mesut Ozil helped and donated money to were Brazilian.
Emmanouil Karalis Left the Olympics With a Heartfelt Message
Emmanouil Karalis is a Greek pole vaulter who competed in the Tokyo Olympics. As he left the final, he took his number off to reveal a sweet message; written on the back was a big "Thank you, mom and dad." He wanted to take that opportunity to ensure that the world knew he was grateful for his parent's support. Way to take an experience that is already overwhelming and exciting and make it heartfelt.
Competing in a big championship stirs up a whirlwind of emotions for most athletes, so it's touching he took this moment to think of his parents.
Real Madrid Players Wore Shirts to Support Former Barcelona Coach Tito Vilanova
Real Madrid players posed for a picture while sporting special jerseys in a moment of true sportsmanship. They all had messages of encouragement printed on them in support of their opposing team's head coach. Tito Vilanova, the former Barcelona coach, had been battling cancer. Saddened by the news, the Real Madrid team decided to show their support in this small way. Barcelona and Real Madrid are historically the biggest rival teams, so this moment amazed many.
It may not seem like much, but all greatly appreciated the gesture. It was a touching move that showed respect for the other team and their coach.
After the 1912 Olympics, Shizo Kanakuri Disappeared for 50 Years
In 1912, Shizo Kanakuri took a long eighteen-day trip to Stockholm to participate in the Olympics. Although due to the hot weather and his exhaustion from traveling, midway through the race, he lost consciousness. He was so embarrassed that he left the race and the country! He made his way back to Japan and never said a word. Therefore Swedish authorities thought he was missing the entire time. Fifty years later, people discovered he was alive and was in Japan that whole time.
He was offered the opportunity to complete his run in 1966, a moment full of closure. He shared, “It was a long trip. Along the way, I got married, had six children and 10 grandchildren.”
The Grateful Dead Funded the Lithuanian Basketball Team in the 1992 Olympics
The Lithuanian basketball team wanted to participate in the 1992 Olympics, but after the breakup of the Soviet Union, they were left high and dry. They didn't have the expenses or resources to make their way there. As random as it may sound, the Grateful Dead heard about their struggle and decided to fund them! The band even sent the team different tie-dye and colorful outfits. Who would've known there was a connection between the Grateful Dead and a Lithuanian basketball team?
The Lithuanian team slam dunked their way to a bronze win that year. Accepting their awards in tie-dye, Grateful Dead-inspired outfits was a scene to remember.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic Shows off Tattoos to Raise Awareness About World Hunger
During a game in 2015, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Paris Saint-Germain player, made a powerful statement. He took off his shirt to reveal temporary tattoos on his chest. He wanted to raise awareness about the World Food Programme and bring attention to the real issue that millions go hungry daily. "I had 50 names temporarily tattooed on my body. They are the names of real people who are suffering from hunger around the world."
It was an intense and emotional moment for those watching the game. Zlatan couldn't miss this opportunity to raise awareness about something important to him.
Brazil's Most Famous Fan Made a Heartfelt Move After World Cup Loss
This man is Clovis Fernandes, who attended seven World Cup finals to root for his home country of Brazil. He became famous around the country because of his enthusiasm and consistency in attending all their games. He even had a replica trophy made that he carried with him each time. But in 2014, Brazil lost to Germany; instead of becoming devastated, Clovis chose that moment to pass on the torch and love. He gave his replica of the World Cup trophy to a German fan, proudly wishing them luck.
The Brazilian national soccer team may have lost the World Cup that year, but they never lost their hope or their most famous indebted fan.
Luz Long Offers His Rival Jesse Owens Advice, Ending in an Olympic Gold Medal
Jesse Owens, American long jump champion, and his rival Luz Long, the European record holder, had a heart-to-heart. Jesse was struggling in his attempt to qualify for the final and was at a crossroads for what to do next. That's when Luz offered advice on what to adjust to improve his form. Jesse took his advice, and his next jump was so good that he won gold that year at the 1936 Olympic Games. His buddy Luz trailed right behind him, walking away with a silver medal.
When Jesse Owens was asked about the moment, he said, “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have, and they wouldn’t be a plating on the twenty-four-carat friendship that I felt for Luz Long at that moment.”
Husband and Wife Win Olympic Medals at the Same Time
People say romance is dead; check out this story that shows otherwise. In 2014 at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Alena Zavarzina and Vic Wild, a husband and wife were gearing up for their big day. They set off for their races, competing simultaneously in the women's and men's snowboarding events. Only minutes apart, they both placed in their events. Alena earned a bronze medal, and Vic claimed a gold medal.
The couple couldn't help but embrace each other in joy, excited that their hard work paid off and happy that their partner got to share in the experience.
Avery Bradley Comforts Isaiah Thomas Over His Sister's Passing
Isaiah Thomas learned his sister had passed away only one day before the first game of the playoffs. He didn't want to miss the game and instead chose to play in her honor, even writing, "R.I.P. Lil Sis." on his shoes. Though he was strong and decided to continue playing, he couldn't help but feel emotional. It was touching to see the Celtics players, Avery Bradley and Isaiah embracing. Avery didn't hesitate to comfort Isaiah throughout the entire game.
Despite the tragedy, Isaiah was dedicated to his sport and his teammates. Thankfully he had a great support system and friends like Avery, who were there to keep him going.
Toronto Maple Leafs and Black Hawks Stop Mid-Game to Help a Player
An ice hockey game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Black Hawks suddenly came to a halt when the players discovered something. Toronto's player Bob Nevin lost a contact lens and was frantically searching for it when every player from both teams stopped. They all dropped their hockey sticks and began helping him look for the contact lens mid-game. It was an immense act of understanding between all of the athletes.
Rather than continue playing, they recognized this small but important moment and displayed camaraderie. It was a funny act to witness but sweet nonetheless to see the players looking out for each other.
Tom Brady Retired Then Decided to Come Back for One Last Hoorah
After twenty-two long seasons playing American football, Tom Brady announced he was retiring. He won seven Super Bowl titles in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2021. Many people consider him one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. As shocking as his retirement announcement was, people were even more stunned yet excited when he suddenly reversed it only a few days later, deciding to come back for one more season.
Tom is all geared up to play his twenty-third season in the NFL with the Buccaneers in Tampa, Florida. Will it actually be his last? Only time will tell.
David Purley Tried to Save Roger Williamson During A Formula One Disaster
The Dutch Grand Prix in 1973 was one people couldn't forget. It was the eighth lap, and Roger Williamson crashed his car when it immediately went up in flames. David Purley abandoned his car and ran over to try and save his friend. He grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to put out the flames, but the fire was already too much for him to take on. He stood there feeling defeated and scared as his friend was stuck in the car.
David Purley was awarded a George Medal for outstanding bravery in his attempt to save his friend, but unfortunately, Roger Williamson died in the fatal crash.
Kobe Bryant Celebrates His Retirement With His Family by His Side
In April 2016, Kobe Bryant retired after a twenty-year-long career playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. A year later, he was invited to a jersey retirement ceremony and celebrated with his family by his side. It was a big moment for them and fans worldwide as Kobe Bryant was considered one of the most legendary basketball players of all time. Many reported it felt like the end of an era.
The most unfortunate part is that Kobe Bryant passed away in a tragic helicopter crash with his daughter Gianna only a few years after his retirement.
Denmark’s Players Rally Around Christian Eriksen as He Receives Treatment
During a Denmark vs. Finland game in June 2021, a Danish player Christian Eriksen suddenly started experiencing cardiac arrest. He had to be resuscitated with a defibrillator on the field. In what was a traumatizing incident, the Danish teammates all stood around him to give him privacy and offer support. It was a scary and intense moment full of emotions that could be felt throughout the stadium. He was immediately taken to the hospital while the team was left to worry.
The Danish soccer association on Twitter let everyone know Christian was doing okay. He shared he was thankful for the messages of support from around the world and grateful to be with his family.
Lebron James Brought His Hometown Its First Championship in 52 Years
Lebron James was born and raised in Ohio and always dreamt of winning a basketball championship in his hometown. In 2016, he made that dream come true. While playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, he broke the 52-year-long championship drought bringing the city its long-awaited NBA championship. One of four that he won in his career. A full circle moment for the basketball player; he was filled with satisfaction and happiness.
Lebron James vowed to bring a championship home in his career, and he did it. He never lost sight of his dreams and goals and made them happen—an inspiring story.
The Amateur Hockey Team Defeated USSR in 1980 Olympics
The Miracle on Ice is one of the most iconic moments in U.S. sports history. It was the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, and the U.S. ice hockey team was up against the USSR. This was intimidating because the Soviet team had placed first and received the gold medal in five out of six previous Olympic games. The U.S. team mainly consisted of amateur players, so the anxiety was on. Yet, in a win that shocked everyone, the Americans managed to beat the Soviet team against all odds.
The American team beat the strong Soviet team that was known for its winning streak, and they also went on to place first and acquired the gold medal.