Being an athlete is more than just a label. For some, sports are more than just a game. Being an athlete is a daily task of discipline, determination, and perseverance. This is what propels athletes from average to excellent. However, many athletes have to overcome challenges in order to excel in their sport and create a legacy.
One athlete who has had to constantly fight for her place in swimming is Simone Manuel, who is an American competitive swimmer, specializing in sprint freestyle. As an African-American, she has been bombarded with the stereotype that “black people can’t swim.” However, Manuel did not let public criticism take her down. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Manuel won two gold medals, one in the 100 meter freestyle and the 4×100 meter medley. She won an additional two silver medals in the 50-meter freestyle and 4×100 meter freestyle relay. It’s safe to say that she proved her critics wrong.
When thinking of athletes who have had to overcome physical challenges, the first that comes to mind for many is Shaquem Griffin, a linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League (NFL). Born with amniotic band syndrome, a rare occurrence with babies that restricts blood flow and can inhibit limb development, Griffin had his left hand amputated at the age of four. Despite this, he continued to play many sports as he got older, and was eventually offered a football scholarship to the University of Central Florida. He played football his entire college career, and on May 17, 2018 he signed a four-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks. One amputated hand is no problem for Griffin, who proves game after game that he came to play.
Ashleigh Johnson is another athlete who is no stranger to criticism and racism. As an African-American water polo player, Johnson began her career in high school. As a successful goalkeeper, she eventually went on to become a part of the gold-winning 2016 U.S. Women’s Water Polo olympic team, and has won many other awards.
Lastly, Ibtihaj Muhammad is another woman that has had to overcome the difficulties of being a Muslim-American in U.S. sports. Muhammad was the first athlete in the U.S. to compete wearing a hijab. She has since gone on to compete at the 2016 Rio Olympic games, where she won a bronze medal on Team USA. She also won a gold medal and was named Most Valued Player in the 2015 World Fencing Championships.
It is clear that all the successful athletes possess qualities that allow them to overcome challenges. One of these necessities is discipline: the ability to train in the absence of motivation. Along with that comes the thick skin necessary to absorb the words of hate rather than dwell on them. Lastly comes perseverance and the will to keep going when it is far easier to find reason to give up. As American sprinter Wilma Rudolph sums it up, “The triumph can’t be had without the struggle.”