Adversity - a word that resonates with nearly every Indian sportsman. Most Indian athletes, especially those in non-cricket sport, have overcome severe hardship in some form or another. Poverty, patriarchal customs, sexual harassment, corrupt officials are just some of the challenges Indian sportspersons have traditionally faced.
But life is tough everywhere. Even international superstars such as Serena Williams and Cristiano Ronaldo fought their way out traumatic circumstances.
Here are four champions who battled adversity and made their mark on the sporting arena.
The Williams Sisters
Venus and Serena were the youngest of the five sisters in the Williams brood. Coming from a black family in the violent Compton neighbourhood of California, and trying to make their way in a mostly white sport was not easy. But the girls’ father, Richard Williams, was an extremely driven man. After he saw Virginia Ruzici, the 1978 French Open champion, play on television, he thought that he could also make Venus and Serena professional tennis players. Manically motivated, he designed a 78-page plan for his daughters and trained them on public courts, even as gunshots sometimes rang out in the background. Both went on to win Majors. And Serena is regarded by many as the greatest ever women’s singles player.
The Portuguese superstar might be one of the most stylish and highest-earning footballers in the sport today, but CR7’s childhood was not easy.
Ronaldo was the youngest of the four children of Dolores dos Santos and Jose Dinis Aveiro in Funchal, Portugal. His mother was a cook, and his father was a part-time gardener. Life was tough for young Cristiano, as his father was alcoholic and abusive. However, Ronaldo believed in football and had the talent to match his ambitions. Sporting CP in Lisbon was his first major club. A high-profile move to Manchester United followed. The rest is history. Spells at Real Madrid, Juventus and then again at Manchester United, not to forget a Euro Cup trophy for Portugal, have assured him a place among the game’s legends.
Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton is a household name with seven championships to his name. However, fate did not put him in pole position as a child. Hamilton was born to a black father and a white mother in Stevenage, England. His father would do three jobs at a time to fund his son's racing career in go-karting. Despite living an underprivileged life, and facing racism at several junctures, Hamilton's grit and determination to go far in the world of motorsports is a lesson for many. His continued hard work has made him one of the top names in Formula One history.
The former NBA star couldn’t have had a worse set of circumstances around him. His mother had him when she was 15. His drug dealer father abandoned the family soon after. Growing up in Hampton, Virginia, with drugs and violence all around, Iverson himself spent four months in prison after a fight at a bowling alley, a conviction deemed as harsh by many. Iverson maintained he was innocent.
There was no comfort at home either. In an interview, Iverson said that sewage would float up in the house and there would be times when there was no electricity. Sports was a way out of the ghetto. A talented football player, Iverson specialised in basketball, and was picked in the 1996 NBA Draft.
The scars of a bad childhood led to him going astray after finding success. At one point he lost nearly all the millions he made from the sport. But no one can take away his rise from absolute misery to NBA stardom.