In reviewing 2015 in the sports world, pessimists might get caught up in issues like “Deflategate.” (And, it’s not an insignificant topic; we’ve previously written about it.) In highlighting the year, though, we prefer to focus on the stories that showed true courage, sportsmanship, and spirit in athletic competition. We’re continually astounded by the ways sports evoke these (and many other) positive values, and those moments are worthy of the spotlight.
Here’s our picks for the top stories from 2015 that showcase the good in sports:
Olivia Quigley wins gold at Special Olympics
“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
The famous Special Olympics oath, sworn by its thousands of athletes, rang especially loud at this year’s Los Angeles World Games in July. And one of those athletes, Olivia Quigley, was on a special mission.
We often emphasize the spirit of competition and sportsmanship over the reward of championship hardware, but sometimes, taking home the gold does matter. It did for Olivia. Winning a gold medal, she hoped, could be a way to inspire other women who, like her, battle breast cancer.
24-year-old Olivia was first diagnosed in February and, in the months before the World Games, she underwent exhausting chemotherapy. Doctors, family, and coaches questioned if she’d be able to compete, let alone do so at a high level. But in Olivia’s mind, her track races ran longer than 100 meters. To her, competing meant the opportunity to inspire women across the globe.
Marty Smith, who covered Olivia’s story for ESPN, wrote of her grace and attitude. “She requested just one thing,” Marty wrote. “Tell the world how positive she is, and that those with cancer can achieve beyond what they believe to be their limit.”
I can’t help but see the comparison between Olivia and Lauren Hill, who we profiled last year, and who tragically passed away this April while battling an inoperable brain tumor. Lauren, who has become a source of inspiration in the sports world, similarly kept playing, and fighting, so that she could “speak for all the kids who can’t speak.”
We’re inspired by the strength and selflessness of Olivia, Lauren, and all athletes who use their sport as a platform for causes greater than themselves. We encourage all athletes to do the same.
Devon and Leah Still Honored with Jimmy V Award
Last year, we wrote about how Devon Still was cut from the Cincinnati Bengals just as he learned his daughter, Leah, would need to battle Stage 4 cancer. In response, the Bengals offered Still a spot on their practice squad, which would ensure he’d have steady benefits to cover the costs of Leah’s treatment.
That move clearly sparked a new awareness in the sports world; this year, the Cleveland Indians similarly vowed not to trade free-agent-to-be Mike Aviles when his daughter, Adriana, was diagnosed with leukemia. With her treatments happening at a nearby clinic in Cleveland, the team wanted him to know he could stay close to his daughter.
We were thrilled to learn that Devon and Leah would receive this year’s Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the 2015 ESPYS.
“We could have lost faith, and just let this battle with cancer get the best of us,” Devon said during his acceptance speech. “Or I could give my daughter’s battle with cancer purpose and use my platform to try to raise as much awareness as possible.
“We decided not to give up,” he said, perfectly capturing the attitude of Jim Valvano himself, after whom the award is named.
Watch Devon’s entire acceptance speech here.
Little League sportsmanship
Kids can teach us a thing or two! In August, during a Little League World Series game, an inside ball from Chinese Tapei pitcher Wei Hung Chou clipped Joshua Olara, the batter from Uganda. Olara took first base, but not before Chou tipped his cap to him, a sign of respect and a show of concern for the batter’s safety. Olara responded in kind.
It didn’t end there.
The next batter for Uganda bounced a grounder to the shortstop, who made the force play on Olara at second base. But Olara, running hard, slid into second, taking out the much smaller second baseman. With immediate concern, Olara helped him up, checked on him and gave him a half hug.
Unfortunately, it’s not too often we see that kind of incredible sportsmanship in the big leagues. It’s also, I’d imagine, part of the reason the Little League World Series has become so popular. These moments, where kids play for the love of the game and the joy of competition, abound.
Surfer gives fan the ride of his life
Martin Passeri, a five-time National Argentine Surfing Champion, can offer a lesson on championship culture.
As Passeri was participating in the Corona Reef Classic in Playa Mariano, Argentina in January, he noticed Nicolas Gallegos, a paralyzed fan, sitting on the beach watching from his wheelchair. Seizing the opportunity, Passeri decided to bring Gallegos out into the water with him, carrying him on his back as he rode the waves.
“Surfing is sharing the experience,” said Passeri, reflecting on the new bond. “And when you share it, and you really carry the other person, and see the same smile that you get when sliding over a wave, that’s a new wave.”
In any level of competition, Passeri’s act of selflessness and love is a great model. Ultimately, those bonds off the field and moments of championship character say far more than a trophy could.
Watch the full story of their relationship and memorable ride, and you’ll realize just how much this simple act meant to Gallegos.
High school athlete receives special support from his opponents
Colorado-area Prarie High School senior Zacc Winn plays hard. From his game on the basketball court, in fact, you’d think he was any normal, competitive student-athlete.
That was certainly the case for one group of opponents, a team from Holly High School. In Zacc’s last high school basketball game, Holly beat Prarie 64-50, but the Holly team was impressed with Zacc’s defensive prowess. Zacc played so hard that game, though, that he wound up in the hospital, where he’d spent much time over the previous several years.
When he was 13 years old, Zacc was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, which causes his liver to leak bile. Eventually, it will fail, and he’ll need a transplant. Word spread of his return to the hospital following the game, and soon, Holly learned of his disease. In response, they set up a GoFundMe page with a goal to raise $5,000 to help Zacc’s family with rising medical expenses. They surpassed that target within days.
“We all felt compelled to help [him] out,” said a Holly basketball player. “As hard as he played, we needed to do it for him.”
What a statement of respect. Indeed, Zacc competed for a Holly opponent, yet it was because of and through competition that respect for Zacc as an athlete and as a person grew. It is worth remembering: without an opponent, there is no game, and so competitors deserve respect both as athletes and as people, all pursuing excellence.
Like these stories? Check out last year’s post, too: Top 2014 moments showcasing the good in sports