Feeling down? Need a boost of inspiration? Read on to see five inspiring stories of athletes with chronic conditions. From the diving board to the boxing ring to the batter's box, professional competitors of yesterday and today continue to persevere despite being their diagnoses.
Athletes With Chronic Conditions - Venus Williams
Condition: Sjogren’s syndrome
Her Story: Formerly ranked number one in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association, Venus Williams is one of the most well known names on the court. She holds a world record for fastest serve struck by a female – registering a speed of 130mph at the Zurich Open – and holds four Olympic gold medals. What many do not know about this world-class athlete, however, is that she suffers from Sjogren’s syndrome. Symptoms of this autoimmune disease include: dry eyes and mouth, general tiredness and joint pains. Venus has been forced to withdraw from tournaments due to the severity of the condition, but she currently manages it with a vegan diet to help reduce her inflammation and fatigue.
Athletes With Chronic Conditions - Muhammad Ali
Condition: Parkinson’s syndrome
His Story: He floated like a butterfly but stung like a bee. Nicknamed “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali is considered among the best heavyweights in the history of boxing. He won the world heavyweight championship at the age of 22 and proceeded to win 56 of his 61 career fights. All those years of being on the receiving end of muscle-packed punches did not spare his health, and he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s syndrome in 1984. Parkinson’s syndrome is characterized by tremors, rigidity, and postural instability. While his boxing career ended shortly after his diagnosis, he still receives honors for his commitment to sports and social responsibility, and fights his symptoms each day to make it to the various events held in his honor.
Athletes With Chronic Conditions - Lou Gehrig
Condition: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
His Story: You didn’t have to live in the 1920s to be familiar with Lou Gehrig’s smashing success as part of the New York Yankees. Over his fourteen-year, 2,130 consecutive game stretch, he maintained an impressive .340 batting average, and holds the record for most career grand slams. “The Iron Horse,” as he was called, won six World Series and was twice awarded MVP status. In 1939 he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease as it was later named. This neurodegenerative disease attacks motor neurons and sends patients into increasingly severe stages of paralysis. He refused to let the disease – which still lacks a cure – get the best of him, and gave a very memorable “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” speech in front of a crowd of fans during the later stages of his ALS progression.
Athletes With Chronic Conditions - Kareem Abdul Jabbar
His Story: Standing at a towering height of seven feet, two inches, Kareem Abdul Jabbar is not an easy sight to miss. His list of NBA records cannot be easily overlooked either, as he currently has made more points, shot and made more baskets, played more minutes, and played more All-Star games than any other basketball player. In 1989 his career ended, but to this day he serves as a special assistant coach to the LA Lakers, and mentors young centers for the LA Clippers and the Seattle SuperSonics. His diagnosis of leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, couldn’t stop the powerful center from continuing to play and teach the sport he loves. In 2011, he stated that he was completely cancer-free, after two years of medication and check-ups. In addition, he suffers from migraines, and uses cannabis to control his symptoms (see who else uses cannabis for their medical conditions).
Athletes With Chronic Conditions - Greg Louganis
His Story: Many of us would cringe at the thought of jumping from a thirty-foot-high diving board. Greg Louganis does it often, and does it well. An Olympic diver, Louganis is the only male to ever sweep the diving events in consecutive games. During the 1984 Olympics in LA, he snagged the gold in the 3m springboard and 10m platform events, receiving in addition the title of most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. In the 1988 games in Seoul, he repeated his victory, despite having a six-month-old diagnosis of HIV. He no longer competes, but has survived over twenty years with his condition. He is a public advocate for those that are gay and HIV positive, and is one of the first athletes to be inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.