20 Athletes Who Overcame Injury and Handicaps Part 1

A list of twenty famous athletes and sports stars who overcame major injuries or handicaps.


1. ROCKY BLEIER--football

Drafted during his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers and sent to Vietnam, where his right foot and leg were severely injured (40% disability) by an exploding grenade. After years of a self-imposed regime of exercise and struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds, Bleier became a regular in the Steeler backfield after distinguishing himself on special teams. His superb blocking and running helped carry Pittsburgh to four Super Bowls.


Blinded during W.W. II while rescuing a buddy from a tank that was under fire. A gifted athlete and pro baseball prospect, he took up golf, a sport he had never before attempted. In 1947 won the National Blind Golf tournament, a feat that he repeated 13 times. Received the Ben Hogan Award (1958) and the Distinguished American Award (1965).

3. LOU BRISSIE--baseball

Both legs badly mangled in W.W. II, requiring 23 operations over a two-year period. Made it to the majors as a pitcher. Was 14--10 for the Philadelphia A's in 1948.

4. HAROLD CONNOLLY--track and field

Born with slightly withered left arm; took up hammer throw to strengthen it. Won the gold medal in the hammer in the 1956 Olympics; held the world record until 1960.

5. GLENN CUNNINGHAM--track and field

Both legs severely burned in schoolhouse fire at age 8. Became the NCAA and AAU champion in the mile. Won the Sullivan Trophy for athletic achievements and sportsmanship. Despite a toeless left foot, he set world record in the mile in 1934 with 4:06.7. Took silver medal in the 1,500 meters in the 1936 Olympics.

6. WALTER DAVIS--track and field

Polio victim at age 9; used athletics for rehabilitation. Excelled in high school and college basketball. Won the gold medal in the high jump in the 1952 Olympics with 6 ft. 8 1/4 in; set world record in 1953 with 6 ft. 11 1/2 in.

7. RAY EWRY--track and field

Stricken with a form of paralysis in childhood. Confined to bed, then a wheelchair. Regained use of legs through daily exercises. Won Olympic gold medals in various standing jumps in 1900, 1904, 1906, and 1908. Still holds the record for the most medals won in Olympic competition (10).

8. PETER GRAY--baseball

The only one-armed major leaguer in history, Gray lost his right arm in an accident at age 6. In 1944 the Southern League voted him Most Valuable Player, and the following season he was signed by the St. Louis Browns. He played 77 games with the Browns and batted .218.

9. LIS HARTEL--equestrian

The Danish riding champion contracted a severe case of polio in her mid-20s. Was finally able to walk on crutches after months of grueling daily exercises. Three years after illness, took second in the women's dressage in the Scandinavian riding championships, though she was still paralyzed below the knees. Took the silver medal in the dressage in 1952 and 1956 Olympics.

10. JOHN HILLER--baseball

The ace reliever for the Detroit Tigers suffered a heart attack in January, 1971. Rejoined the team midway in 1972 season. Set record in 1973 with 38 saves. Won the Fireman of the Year award, Comeback Player of the Year, Tiger of the Year, and the Hutchinson Award, given to the player exhibiting extraordinary courage.

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