In a time littered with aggression, angst and sadness, there was also plenty to be thankful for and to be inspired by in 2017. When it comes to the world of sports, several stories in 2017 helped us focus on the inspirational aspects of life. From sportsmanship to helping people in need, here’s a look at this years inspiring stories.
Blind man runs New York City Marathon without a guide
Simon Wheatcroft made history Sunday when he crossed the finish line of the 2017 New York City Marathon. That’s because relying on the very technology he helped develop, he became the first blind person to run a marathon with ‘touch’ technology, meaning no one was leading him along the course. The 35-year-old British man ran the race in 5 hours, 17 minutes and 40 seconds thanks to using a system which helped warn him of obstacles along the way. With the Wayband app he helped bring to life as a technologist, Wheatcroft wore a GPS device that detects nearby people, curbs, cars and other obstacles by sending out small vibrating pulses to his arm and chest pads.
However, according to the New York Times, his accomplishment didn’t come without a few hiccups.“At the first water stop, about two and a half miles into the race, a guide for another runner stopped in front of Wheatcroft,”wrote. “His chest sensor was set to alert him when an obstacle was seven feet away. He did not have enough time to stop and clipped the woman from behind, but neither was hurt.” Three miles in, the technology signaled he was running in the wrong direction even though he was not. At the halfway point and in later miles, the device did the same thing.
Despite the glitches, Wheatcroft put up a great time, especially considering he had never tested the technology in a race before — a detail race organizers weren’t thrilled about.
Shalane Flanagan is first American woman to win NYC Marathon in 40 years
Shalane Flanagan became the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon on Sunday since 1977, pulling away from Mary Keitany in the last three miles of the race for her first major marathon victory.
Keitany had won three straight New York marathons, but Flanagan pulled away from the Kenyan great with about three miles to go and finished with an unofficial time of 2 hours, 26 minutes, 53 seconds, about a minute faster than Keitany.
The last American woman to win New York was Miki Gorman, who won consecutive titles in 1976-77.
The Dutch Destroyer
Quarterback Carson Wentz was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles within days of 8-year-old Lukas Kusters being diagnosed with stomach cancer.
A radiation technician who worked on Lukas’ case reached out to the Eagles to tell them his story. Not long after, a bunch of Eagles swag was delivered to his hospital room, along with a video message from Wentz courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Lukas’ Make-A-Wish was to thank Carson Wentz for a video that the QB sent him while he was in the hospital. The QB also took Lukas — known as “The Dutch Destroyer” on the football field — for a guided tour around the Eagles’ practice facility along with linebacker Jordan Hicks, made him a smoothie in the cafeteria and interrupted interviews in the locker room so that Lukas could get autographs. Lukas died 13 days after meeting with Wentz at the age of 10; he was buried in Wentz’s jersey.
Wentz and the Eagles have continued to keep the family close, according to Lukas’ mom, Rebecca. Wentz presented the family with the game ball after the Eagles’ win.
Air Force Sgt. Isreal Del Toro received Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2017 ESPY Awards
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro was given the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 25th ESPYS on July 12 in Los Angeles.
Del Toro was injured in Afghanistan in 2005 when his Humvee rolled over a bomb. He lost most of his fingers, was burned over the majority of his body and was in a coma for three months. When he came out of the coma, he was told he’d likely never walk or breathe on his own again.
Del Toro used sports as part of his rehabilitation and was not only able to walk and breathe on his own, but he also became the first 100 percent combat disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist in the service.
Brian Boyle Beats Leukemia Diagnosis, Comes Back to Play for Devils
A cancer diagnosis during training camp put Brian Boyle’s life on hold, but in October, the New Jersey Devils forward returned to the ice to resume his NHL career. Making his first game appearance for New Jersey since signing a two-year, $5 million contract with the Devils in July, Boyle got a warm greeting from the fans at Rogers Arena in Vancouver and nothing but love from his teammates in red and black as he skated in warm up less than two months after finding out he had leukemia.
Boyle’s health issues began back in August when he started to feel increasing fatigue. A standard physical followed by additional testing at the start of training camp showed that the 32-year-old had a rare form of blood and bone marrow cancer called chronic myelogenous leukemia, which was officially diagnosed on September 19. Since the cancer was revealed, Boyle weighed out treatment options and made a plan for his battle, eventually deciding to go the oral-medication route while working to make a comeback to his new team and the game he loves. Boyle expressed his gratitude for the support he’s received from across the hockey community to reporters after the team’s morning skate on Wednesday.
Iowa Tradition Waving to Kids in Hospital
Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium has a seating capacity of 70,585, which gives the Hawkeyes incredible strength in numbers in one of the coolest new traditions in college football. The stadium is located next to the new University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital and hospital patients have a view that overlooks the sea of gold and black on game days.
High atop the 12-story building was to be a room overlooking the football field, in which patients and their families could escape from the painful and emotional toll of the exam rooms below. What started as a fan suggestion on an Iowa Facebook fan page has turned into a full-blown movement: Iowa fans collectively waving to the top floor of the hospital, where the children and their families gather to watch Iowa, at the end of the first quarter during Hawkeye home games.
JJ Watt Raises Money for Hurricane Harvey Victims
After the devastating Hurricane struck the southwest, Houston Texans star J.J. Watt announced the plans for his Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund after raising more than $37 million to assist those in Southeast Texas. After it was clear that Hurricane Harvey had devastated Houston and the surrounding areas of southeast Texas, Watt jumped into action and launched a fundraising campaign on Aug. 27.
Fans and friends of the NFL star quickly poured their money into the fundraising campaign, causing Watt to up the goal multiple times. Within the first hours, he had pushed it up to $500,000. Then it became $1 million, $2 million, then $10 million and so on.
Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and an estimated 27 trillion gallons of rain fell over Texas and parts of Louisiana over a span of six days. Watt said that it is estimated the total recovery could require upwards of $200 billion. Watt says $30.15 million will go to Americares, Feeding America, SBP and Save the Children to be distributed over the next 18 to 24 months. Money will be used to rebuild homes, restore child-care centers, provide food and address the health needs of those affected by Hurricane Harvey and the surrounding communities. The remaining $7 million will be set aside for distribution in 2018 after assessing and analyzing future relief efforts. Watt also worked with his foundation to fill 12 semi trucks with supplies, which were taken to Houston and distributed in part by Watt and his teammates in the aftermath of the hurricane.
Chris Long Donates Entire Paycheck for the 2017 season
Eagles defensive end Chris Long is donating his entire 2017 base salary, worth $1 million, to benefit educational charities.
Long, through the Chris Long Foundation, announced that he will donate his game checks to organizations that support educational equality in the three cities that he has spent his 10-year career playing in – Philadelphia this season, Boston (New England Patriots) and St. Louis (the former St. Louis Rams). Chester High School Football Coach LaDontay Bell goes out of his way to get his players to practice, so the Philadelphia Eagles are helping him get to the Superbowl.
“I’m playing the entire 2017 NFL season without collecting income because I believe that education is the best gateway to a better tomorrow for EVERYONE in America,” Long wrote in a statement. “I’m encouraging fans, businesses and every person with a desire to join in my pursuit of equal education opportunities for all students to make their own pledge.”
Brian Dawkins Awards Chester High School Coach with Trip to Super Bowl
Chester High School football coach LaDontay Bell goes out of his way to get his players to practice, so the Philadelphia Eagles are helping the him get to Super Bowl LII. Coach Bell is the kind of man that gives these young men a chance in a world where chances are hard to come by. Over the summer, the Chester football team mourned the loss of a 16 year old teammate after he was shot and killed as he was walking to school. The tragedy struck Coach Bell and he didn’t know what to do. He said to himself that he needed to love his team more than he already did so he offered assistance to the team in any way, shape, or form. As summer football practice kicked into full gear, Coach bell would go to and from Chester High School in early mornings and late nights to make sure all of his players had rides to practice to keep them encouraged and to keep them motivated. Players were blown away by the response of the coach. Brian Dawkins as a kid also had different coaches take him to and from practice and that example of gratitude still stands with him today so he wanted to return the the gesture for the appreciation he shows his student athletes.
Blind Football Player Enters the Game for USC
Jake Olson has been blind since he was 12 years old. He lost his left eye as a baby because of a rare form of cancer called retinoblastoma, and he lost his right eye at the age of 12.
He joined the USC Trojans football team as a walk-on long snapper in the fall of 2015, and a week after the NCAA cleared him to play, that September he was making snaps in live drills at practice. In November, he finally got to enter a live game in the fourth quarter of USC’s win over Western Michigan.
With the Trojans up in the fourth quarter, Olson launched a clean snap to set up an extra point. Olson was emotionally moved, and so was anyone who watched. The entire thing was awesome all the way around. “I loved being out there,” Olson said after the game. “It was an awesome feeling, something that I’ll remember forever, getting to snap at USC as a football player. “I think that, more than anything, touches me, just to see so many guys just absolutely embrace and love me on this team. That’s just something that, when I’m running out there, takes away the nerves.”