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The Most Inspiring Sporting Greats of 2019

Steve Shoup

So often when talking about elite-level sport, we focus on those who are simply head-and-shoulders above the rest in terms of natural talent.

But there is more to pro sports than just being born with a God-given gift. How about those for whom hard work, dedication, and perseverance are key?

It’s not so glamorous, but sometimes the most inspiring stories are about those who aren’t blessed with bucketfuls of conventional talent.

If you want a wider-lens view of the most stirring sporting greats of this year, be sure to check out Lottoland’s list of inspiring athletes, but we thought we’d compile a rundown of inspirational stars from the world of sport that have enraptured fans in 2019 with their unique and awe-inspiring stories.

Bethany Hamilton

Young sporting stars of the future often have all sorts of obstacles to overcome on their way to greatness, but few can offer up tales that quite match up to that of Bethany Hamilton.

A supremely talented young surfer, Hamilton had the gifts that would see her turn pro and travel the world competing in the sport.

But then disaster struck… quite literally. Aged 13, she went for a routine surf in California and was attacked by a 14ft tiger shark. In the attack, her left arm was severed just below the shoulder, and she was lucky to survive, let alone recover.

Just a month later, she was back on the board – inspirational or just plain crazy? Either way, Hamilton learned how to surf with just one arm, and soon she had taught herself how to cope with what is a monumental handicap for a surfer.

She has won countless medals and competitions as both a junior and a senior, and her career – while on hold following the birth of her second child – is far from over – with her biopic film, Unstoppable, being released earlier this July.

Yusra Mardini

When you hear the staggering backstories of some athletes, you can’t help but be inspired. Born and raised in Syria, Yusra Mardini and her sister had to flee the war-torn country when their home was destroyed by a military strike.

Without money, they made the dangerous decision to try and enter Greece as refugees, traveling across the Aegean Sea in a rubber dinghy in what is an all-or-nothing journey. The boat was meant to carry six-or-seven people, but 20 had crammed in as desperation took hold.

The vessel began to sink, and so Mardini, her sister, and two others decided to jump from it to prevent the boat from taking on more water. They swam and trod water for more than three hours to save the lives of those on board.

Her strong swimming stroke at least brought some positivity: Mardini competed in the 2016 Olympics as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team and won her heat in the 100m butterfly event. Now settled in Germany, she recently competed in the FINA World Championships in July of this year, recently released her debut novel, Butterfly, and the 21-year-old is in training for the Olympics in 2020.


Kieran Behan

If Kieran Behan qualifies for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, it will cement the Irishman’s position as one of the most influential athletes on the planet.

As a youngster, Behan dreamt of performing at the Olympics in his chosen field of gymnastics, and he was making decent strides towards that goal.

However, at age 10, a benign tumor was found on his leg, and while it proved not to be cancerous, the surgery to remove it suffered complications that left Behan confined to a wheelchair.

Proving strength comes from within, he defied doctors and returned to training 15 months later.

But inspirational stories tend to have more than one setback, and so it proved when the Irishman fell from the high bar in training and suffered head and ear injuries, which, again, left him confined to a wheelchair, needing to re-learn even basic motor skills such as sitting upright.

Most people would have given up at this point, but Behan is the kind of superhuman we can all aspire to be. He returned to training, despite a catalogue of further injuries, and eventually qualified for the World Championships.

Then came another hiccup: the Irish Sports Council did not offer funding to gymnasts at the time, and so Behan, his family, and friends had to raise the money needed for him to travel and compete.


He qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and during his floor routine dislocated his kneecap. But in true Behan fashion, he managed to carry on and complete his display. Talk about a true warrior of modern sport.

Now aged 30, he will aim to qualify for the Olympics in Tokyo next year… what a story that would be.

Hopefully, these inspirational sporting stories have given you a bit of get-up-and-go today. If you’re contemplating about putting yourself out there and taking part in a sport you’ve always wanted to, go ahead and do it.



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