Sports heroes are a staple in our global society. Whether they play hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer, ping pong or darts, professional athletes are adored by millions. We emulate them in the streets, in the gym and in our homes. We strive to be like them and wish we could be them. When our heroes win, we rejoice and when they lose, we weep.
Today I would like to focus on a few of the sports heroes who truly transcended their individual sports. Heroes whose tremendous contributions to society outweigh their amazing contributions to their sports.
Many sports heroes give back to their communities, start foundations to combat disease or poverty and give their time to make someone else’s day better. Here are four athletes who stick out for me as exemplary heroes beyond the world of sports.
Tillman was a star safety for the Arizona Cardinals when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001. In May of 2002, Tillman turned down a contract for 3.6 million dollars so he could enlist in the U.S. Army and fight in the war on terror.
He turned down a lifetime of security to fight for freedom…his and yours.
Tillman made the ultimate sacrifice for what he believed in. He was killed in action in 2004.
Billie Jean King
King was the best female tennis player of her time. She was ranked #1 in the world and won 39 Grand Slam titles. Her tireless work for women’s equality in the 1970’s made her as much of a hero off the court than on.
She fought for equal prize money and won.
King created the Women’s Tennis Association, the World Team Tennis competition and the Women’s Sports Foundation and they were each a success.
She played Bobby Riggs (once ranked #1 male in the world) and beat him in three straight sets in the “Battle of the Sexes” match in 1973.
King was a key figure in the fight for women’s rights.
Ali remains, arguably, the greatest heavyweight boxer to ever set foot in the ring. He was also flamboyant, charismatic and a devoted humanitarian.
“The Greatest” has been all over the globe as an ambassador for peace. He has secured the release of hostages in Lebanon and Iraq. He made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea. Ali even met Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison.
Ali has donated millions to relief efforts, has helped the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Special Olympics and founded the Muhammed Ali Parkinson Center and the Ali Center.
A true hero with a heart of gold.
Fox was not a famous professional athlete like the other heroes I have mentioned, but he was a distance runner and basketball player in university.
Cancer took Fox’s leg in 1977 and, after winning three wheelchair basketball national championships, he started his Marathon of Hope in 1980. His goal was to raise 24 million dollars for cancer research.
In April of 1980, Fox started running from St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada on an artificial leg and ran the equivalent of a full marathon every day. He ran for 143 days and 5 373 kilometers (3 339 miles) before the cancer spread to his lungs and he was unable to continue.
Fox succumbed to his cancer, but his legacy lives on. The annual Terry Fox run now includes millions of participants in over 60 countries. Over $650 million has been raised in his name for cancer research.
You can probably thank Fox for every other run for charity as well.
Terry Fox is a hero who holds a very special place in my heart, because I was lucky enough to see him run. The six-year-old boy who watched him run past did not understand the magnitude of what he was seeing, but the man writing this blog remains in awe of Fox’s accomplishments.
Thanks for reading.