Even for casual athletes, sports can get so competitive that it’s easy to forget about sportsmanship (or even human decency) in the quest for victory. We’ve often seen, read and heard about — or even played against — sportsmen who shamelessly lie, flop, and cheat to gain an advantage over the competition. Thus, it’s quite a rare jolt to the senses to see athletes displaying heartwarming acts of kindness. However, when athletes do show their most loving selves, the resulting episodes can be the most unforgettable and touching moments in all of sports — or even in human history.
Here are ten sports stories that are so incredibly inspiring, you ought to have a pack of tissues on hand when you read about them:
10. Sick Fan Allowed to Score a Touchdown (2013)
5-year-old Jack Hoffman was having breakfast with his parents one day in 2011 when he suddenly became unresponsive. He was later found to have suffered from a grand mal seizure, the result of a massive brain tumor, and worse, Jack’s first brain surgery indicated that only a small part of the tumor could be removed. The positive development that came out of the ordeal was that through it, Jack was able to meet his idol, Nebraska football player Rex Burkhead. The two formed a friendship that lasted through Jack’s second brain surgery and the largest comeback in Nebraska football history. During that game, Burkhead’s team was trailing 20-6 when he told his teammates, “Jack’s not giving up and we’re not giving up.” Nebraska won 34-27.
In April of 2013, the team arranged for Jack to be put into the game as the fourth quarter began. He was then allowed to run 69 yards for a touchdown, after which the players carried him on their shoulders in front of a jubilant Memorial Stadium crowd.
As of April 2014, Jack’s cancer was still found to be in remission.
9. Sick Player Drafted by the NBA (2014)
A week before the 2014 NBA Draft, 20-year-old Isaiah Austin was a hot prospect who was sure to be picked in the first round. In his two years with the Baylor Bears, Austin helped the team win a championship (2013) and was named to the Big 12 All-Defensive Team (2014). Sadly, just days before the 2014 NBA Draft, Austin learned that he was afflicted with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting the body’s connective tissue. The diagnosis meant he could no longer play competitive basketball as doing so would increase the chance of his heart rupturing. However, it was somehow a fulfillment of Austin’s dream when during the 2014 NBA Draft, Austin was invited as a guest and ceremonially drafted by the NBA.
8. Girl Gets Help With National Anthem (2007)
In 2003, Natalie Gilbert won the NBA’s “Toyota Get the Feeling of a Star” promotion, which allowed young singers to interpret “The Star-Spangled Banner” at an official game. Natalie’s turn came on April 25 as the Trail Blazers were about to face the Thunder in Game 3 of their playoff series, and understandably, the eighth grader was incredibly excited. Unfortunately, when Gilbert woke up on the big day, she was suffering from the flu. As a result, during her performance, with nervousness also probably playing a role, Natalie froze on the second line of the song then covered her face in shame. That’s when OKC assistant coach Mo Cheeks displayed the presence of mind to walk over to the young girl and help her continue the song.
Of his heroism, Cheeks explained,
I was brought up the right way by my mother and father. We didn’t have the best life, but they instilled in us to treat people the right way. That’s all it is. It’s no secret. It’s no recipe to it. It’s just treating people correctly, and if you do it correctly, it’ll come back to you.
7. Players Enable Special Needs Teammate to Score Touchdown (2013)
We’ve all known a kid who wasn’t particularly cool and wasn’t very popular. In your school, he might have even been picked on. But probably not if you went to Olivet Middle School in Michigan. There, Keith Orr, who has had to deal with a learning disability, was that uncool and unpopular kid. But instead of being bullied, Keith was given special care by the popular athletic kids, the members of the Olivet Eagles football team.
Weeks before they actually carried out their plan, the football players went behind their coach’s back and designed a play that would allow Keith to score a touchdown while they surrounded him as protection. And during a home game, they carried out the plan perfectly. After witnessing what had happened, Carrie Orr, Keith’s mother, could only remark, “Yes, I’m excited and happy that he made a touchdown, but what have these boys shown this community? That’s what gets to me. They’ve got his back. And he knows it.”
6. Fulfilling a Promise Made to a Special Fan (2013)
In 2012, the Cincinnati Reds allowed the position of “bat boy” at one of their games to be auctioned for charity. The guidelines stated that the winning bidder’s son had to be between 15 to 19 years of age, but the Reds made an exception for the then 29-year-old Ted Kremer to take the position. After all, Ted had Down syndrome.
On August 17, 2013, Ted took his turn as bat boy, and he shocked even his parents when he performed all of his duties exceptionally well. In fact, his enthusiasm had a positive impact on the Reds players, so much so that they asked him to serve as bat boy on another Thursday night. However, Ted had some demands if the team wanted him back: 11 strikeouts for free pizza and a home run by his idol, Todd Frazier. Well, it turned out that with an 11-1 victory and a Frazier homer to center field, the bat boy got his wish.
5. Sick Runner Crawls Past Finish Line (2010)
Then 16-year-old junior Holland Reynolds was the top runner for University High School in California, and during the state championships in November of 2010, she was trusted with representing the school in the last and clinching event: the 3.1 mile race. The team was already in the lead for the overall championship, and all that Reynolds needed to do was finish ahead of a few runners to bring the state title home. That was an especially important feat for the team to accomplish as through it, they hoped to honor their coach, Jim Tracy, who was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Unfortunately, something went wrong as Holland was a little more than a mile away from the finish line. Her leg started to feel really heavy, and while she thought she was still running, she had actually slowed down to a wobbly walk — signs of dehydration and light hypothermia. And then just feet before reaching the finish line, Holland collapsed. “When she fell, I thought, ‘Well, it’s over for her,'” shared Coach Tracy. In fact, a race official went up to Reynolds and worriedly asked her if she wanted to stop and receive treatment. However, when Holland looked up, she saw her coach watching her, so she stubbornly crawled on all fours to cross the finish line before a few runners — just enough for the team to claim the state championship.
4. Terminally Ill Boy Pins Triple H (2014)
In 2012, WWE superstar Daniel Bryan met one of his fans, the then 7-year-old Connor “The Crusher” Michalek. But Connor wasn’t just any other fan — he had brain cancer, and doctors had said that he didn’t have much longer to live. In a touching gesture, the WWE brought the sick boy to Wrestlemania XXX, and there, he met his other superstar idols. More significantly, before the event actually began, Connor made an entrance into the arena with his idol, Daniel Bryan, as various superstars surrounding the ring cheered the boy on. In fact, Triple H even allowed Connor to hit him, then cover him for the pin. Then, when Bryan won the WWE title, the first person he went up to at ringside was his little brave fan to whom he said, “Connor, you mean a lot to me. You give me strength You helped me earn this. Please keep on fighting.”
Sadly, on April 25, 2014, just days after Wrestlemania XXX, the little angel passed away.
3. Team Manager With Down Syndrome Plays Incredible Game (2014)
Kevin Grow, a senior at Bensalem High in Pennsylvania, had been the team manager for the school’s basketball team for four years despite being challenged by Down syndrome. To honor him and give him a special moment, when there were only two minutes remaining in their final game, the team let Kevin play. The first basket he scored wasn’t particularly special — he was allowed a free layup, missed, then was given back the ball, which he shot at close range. And then after that, Kevin did the unthinkable: he sank four three-pointers in less than two minutes.
Coverage of the 64-40 win went viral, and soon, the 18-year-old found himself signing a two-day honorary contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. In fact, the Harlem Globetrotters signed Kevin to play with the team for a special game where he scored a three-pointer and nine other points for a total of twelve points.
2. Runner Takes Last Place to Help an Injured Competitor (2012)
Meghan Vogel, then a junior runner for West Liberty-Salem High School in Ohio, still didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Of course, she knew that winning the 1,600 meter title at the 2012 Division III girls state meet was somewhat of an accomplishment, but Meghan still couldn’t see why what happened afterwards during the 3,200 meter race was such a big deal. During that event, Arden McMath, a sophomore at Arlington High School, collapsed in front of Vogel. But instead of running by her competitor, Meghan helped Arden to her feet, assisted her to the finish line, then made sure that Arden finished ahead of her. The gesture won Vogel a 2012 National Sportsmanship Award, but she still downplays her highly lauded gesture by saying, “Any girl on the track would have done the same for me.”
1. Injured Olympic Runner Assisted in Finishing Race (1992)
Great Britain’s Derek Redmond was the two-time British record holder for the 400 meter race (1985, 1987) and the 4X400 meters gold medalist at the 1986 European Championships, the 1986 Commonwealth Games, and the 1991 Tokyo World Championships. He accomplished all of those despite his career being hampered by multiple injuries. In fact, during the 1998 Seoul Olympics, Redmond had to pull out even before beginning to compete since an injury to his achilles made it impossible for him to run.
By the time Redmond participated in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, he had undergone eight sports injury-related operations. Nevertheless, after the first round of the 4X400 meter race, he was able to register the fastest time, and he also went on to win his quarterfinal. Sadly, in the semifinal, his hamstring snapped, causing him to crumple to the ground in pain. A stretcher was brought to him, but he refused to get on it and instead tried to hobble along the track to finish the race. Then suddenly, a man barged past security and ran to Redmond to assist him. Understandably, security personnel initially tried to escort the man away, but they relented when they realized that the intruder was Derek’s father, Jim Redmond. Together, the father and son pair crossed the finish line.