Overcoming Obstacles: Five athletes Who Refused to Acknowledge Limitations
Lester went to see doctors and heard words he never expected: He had cancer. It wasn’t just any form of the disease, but the extraordinarily rare blood cancer known as anaplastic large cell lymphoma. To beat back the cancer’s spread, Lester would require intensive chemotherapy.
“I didn’t once ask why,” Lester tells SUCCESS. “Instead, I asked how we get rid of this. I wanted to think positively and look forward.”
With that approach, Jon Lester became a hero to many. From that diagnosis in August 2006, Lester went through treatment, worked his way back into the major leagues, pitched—and won—a World Series game and then, in May 2008, became only the 18th pitcher in the history of the storied Red Sox organization to throw a perfect game.
And Jon Lester is cancer-free.
“I don’t think I had any idea what it would mean to others when I made it back,” Lester says. “I was just trying to win each day, to make sure I was doing whatever it took to be as disciplined and successful in treatment as I was in baseball.”
By doing so, Lester earned a legion of new fans, many of them cancer survivors. Web sites were loaded with letters of thanks, with words of encouragement. Many of those writing wanted Lester to know his top-flight accomplishment gave them reason to believe. “I was surprised, honestly,” he says. “There were so many things said that were wonderful, but all I was trying to do was make my way back.”
Lester is one of many athletes who have handled adversity on a grand stage and have used the same strengths that made them champions to get them through tough times. The stories of those athletes and their successes have long proven inspirational.
Reclaiming His Mastery
Famous for his stringent discipline in practice, Ben Hogan was one of the premier golfers of the 1940s when his career— and his life—nearly ended in a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus. The 1949 accident left him with a fractured collarbone and ankle, a double-fractured pelvis, blood clots and a cracked rib. It also left him with the burning desire to fight back.
Less than a year after doctors told him he’d never walk again, Hogan placed second in the 1950 Los Angeles Open tournament, losing to Sam Snead in a tightly fought playoff round. Six months after that, he clinched the U.S. Open title for the second time in his career. In 1951, he won the U.S. Open—for the third time—and the Masters. In 1953, he won both again, adding the British Open and Pan American Open titles to his record, as well.