Professional athletes are more than just entertainers. To many, they are idols who perform to a degree only their biggest fans can explain. Men and women who sport their skills on the field, court, mat or track are people often admired for their hard work and dedication to the beloved game they play. Many professional athletes were raised by single mothers and it is their mothers who instilled in them the key attributes necessary for success in the athletic world.
This list contains 15 professional athletes whose devoted single mothers brought them up to be gifted athletes with more than just God-given talent propelling them forward. Some of the athletes on this list lost their fathers at young ages, while others never knew their fathers, but with their mother’s perseverance to give their family nothing but the best, these stars excelled in their careers.
Whether it’s on the football field or on the basketball court, the competitors on this list were able to devote their life to the organized physical activity we all love so much, thanks to the love and support from their mothers. When fans are audibly screaming Go Team Go!, these athletic stars are often silently screaming Go Mom Go! Take a look at 15 pro athletes whose success can be attributed not just to the tough grind of the game but to the tough grind of motherhood.
15 Ricky Williams
Errick Lynne Williams Jr., better known as Ricky Williams was raised by his mother Sandy, along with his twin sister Cassie and younger sister Nisey. Williams was a successful athlete right from the start. A four-sport high school athlete, Ricky competed in football, baseball, wrestling, and even ran track. By the time Williams began playing football for the University of Texas, he was already a champ, awarded two-time all American and winning the Heisman. Soon Williams was playing pro, a running back with the New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens before retiring in 2011. As a single mother, Sandy sure was able to raise a star athlete whose ability to carry the pigskin made this Texas Longhorn player the first ever to win the Associated Press College Football Player of the Year award.
14 Lance Armstrong
The former professional cyclist Lance Edward Armstrong was raised without a father. His seventeen year old mother Linda began life as a single mother shortly after giving birth to Armstrong. Linda then found herself getting divorced for a second time, leaving her to raise Armstrong by herself once more after her next marriage fell apart, when Armstrong was only three. Determined to give her son a good life, Linda worked several jobs and just four years later bought Armstrong what would be the most important gift he would ever receive, a Schwinn bicycle. It didn’t take long for the young athlete to begin competing and the rest is history. Armstrong became somewhat of a cycling phenomenon when he won the Tour de France seven years in a row, his racing career culminating in 2005. His mother should be proud not only of her son for his athleticism and endurance to survive after testicular cancer, but of herself for raising such a strong competitor on the bike and in life.
13 Sydney Leroux
Sydney Rae Leroux Dwyer is an Olympic gold medalist who earned the title with her ability to rule the soccer field. Sydney Leroux has a fierce ability to score goals as well as a fierce mother named Sandi. Sandi played softball for the Canadian National Softball Team but ultimately retired her mitt for motherhood, raising Sydney on her own and doing one heck of a job. Leroux played for Canada and the United States, eventually walking away victorious for the U.S. at the 2015 Women’s World Cup and the 2012 London Olympics.
12 Kevin Durant
This small forward has won several awards for his talent on the basketball court. Kevin Wayne Durant is 6’9’’ and 240 pounds of pure talent, playing small forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Born in 1988, Durant’s father abandoned his family when Durant was just an infant. His mother Wanda and grandmother Barbara Davis raised the soon to be star. Durant was the first freshman to have ever won the Naismith College Player of the Year for small forward skills with the University of Texas. He left the Longhorns to go pro and became a decorated basketball player, awarded NBA Rookie of the Year in 2008, FIBA World Championship Gold Medalist in 2010, and Most Valuable Player in 2014. Boy, Durant’s mom and grandma brought him up to be one skilled athlete.
11 Luis Suárez
Known for biting his opponents on the soccer field, Luis Alberto Suárez Diaz (a mouthful of a name) was born in 1987 in Uruguay. He was just nine years old when his parents separated. Suárez’s mother cared for him alone and despite raising a son fond of nibbling other competitors, she sure raised quite a striker. With over twenty awards under his jersey, Suárez continues to shock the world with his soccer skills. Some consider him to be one of the greatest strikers of all time, and his mother can pat herself on the back for helping her son grow into such a gifted footballer.
10 Hope Solo
With two Olympic Gold Medals won with the United States women’s national soccer team, Hope Amelia Solo is viewed as one of the finest female goalkeepers in the United States. Born in Washington in July of 1981, Solo’s parents, Judy and Jeffrey divorced when she was six and Judy became a single mother. Solo experienced quite an unusual event just a year later involving her father. Jeffrey picked up Solo and her brother Marcus, under the pretenses of attending a nearby baseball game. The siblings soon realized their father actually drove three hours to Seattle, where they remained for a few days. Jeffrey Solo was arrested for kidnapping. Years later, Solo attended the University of Washington where she honed her soccer skills and began speaking to her father again. Solo became an international and national success upon graduating college and became a World Cup Gold Medalist.
9 Mike Tyson
Another biter, Michael Gerard Tyson made the list. Unlike Luis Suárez, the ever so infamous boxing champion was born in Brooklyn, New York. Tyson never actually knew his biological father, Purcell Tyson. Instead, Tyson knew a North Carolina man by the name of Jimmy Kirkpatrick to be his father. It was shortly after Tyson was born, that he started experiencing loss. Tyson and his family was deserted by Kirkpatrick and his mother Lorna Mae was left to raise the children alone. At sixteen, Tyson’s mother died and Cus D’Amato, Tyson’s boxing trainer and manager was named his legal guardian. Tyson was no doubt incredibly talented, maintaining all sorts of boxing records. This talent did not however stop him from several run-ins with the law. Nevertheless, Tyson remains the undisputed heavyweight champion.
8 Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod, whose real name is Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez, is often regarded as one of the greatest baseball players to have ever picked up a bat. He was born in New York in 1975 to Lourdes Navarro and Victor Rodriguez. Rodriguez began playing baseball at the ripe age of four, after moving with his family to the Dominican Republic. Approximately six years later, Rodriguez and his family moved once again, settling in Miami. Lourdes and Victor separated soon thereafter, and Rodriguez was cared for by his mother. A gifted athlete, Rodriquez found himself playing shortstop in the big leagues, setting records for the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers, where he signed, a ten year, $252 million contract, the highest paying in the game’s history
7 Jackie Robinson
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was the first black major league baseball player, earning him a special spot in history and baseball. Robinson was born in Georgia to Mallie and Jerry Robinson in January of 1919. Right after Jackie turned one, his father abandoned the family and they moved to Pasadena California, where Mallie raised Jackie and his four siblings alone. Called by many as the greatest baseball player to have ever lived, Robinson just wanted to play baseball, and he did, like no one before him. This hero soared as first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, making his debut in 1947.
6 Ray Lewis
He spent 17 years playing for the Baltimore Ravens, and Raymond Anthony Lewis Jr. never strayed from the Ravens football team and never strayed from his position as middle linebacker. Lewis was born in Florida to fifteen year old Sunseria Smith. Working three jobs, Sunseria raised Lewis and his younger siblings, determined to succeed. Lewis was left most days to fend for himself, often doing laundry, making supper, and watching after his younger brothers and sisters. A member of the Miami Hurricanes football team, Lewis was named All-American twice, leaving after his junior year to play pro with the Baltimore Ravens in 1996. Who said being a homemaker can’t prepare you for the rough and tumble sport of football?
5 Colin Kaepernick
It’s hard to not know the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Colin Rand Kaepernick is a fierce competitor on the football field. Kaepernick’s mother Heidi Russo, was nineteen, alone, and poor at the time of Kaepernick’s birth. Russo decided to put Kaepernick up for adoption and he soon became the younger sibling to sister Devon and brother Kyle. Rick and Teresa Kaepernick eventually moved the family to California, where Kaepernick started his athletic career in football, baseball and basketball. Not only a star player but a star academic, Kaepernick graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA, going on to play football for the University of Nevada. On April 29th 2011, the San Francisco 49ers drafted Kaepernick. During his first season with the 49ers, Kaepernick set an NFL quarterback record for 181 rushing yards in a single game.
4 Julia Mancuso
At the young age of 15, Julia Marie Mancuso began her ski racing career at the 1999 World Cup at Copper Mountain in Colorado. Mancuso was born to Andrea and Ciro Mancuso in 1984 in Reno, Nevada. Julia’s life was forever changed at age five when her father was arrested for running a million dollar marijuana operation. Three years later Mancuso’s parents divorced and she was raised by her mother. Her mother believes Julia channeled her frustration over her father’s arrest into the drive and determination that led her to win four Olympic medals. She now holds the record for most medals earned by a female American skier.
3 Shaquille O’Neal
Measuring just over 7 feet tall, Shaq or Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal needs no introduction. Shaq was born in New Jersey on March 6, 1972. Lucille O’Neal, Shaq’s mother, was left to care for infant Shaq on her own after the imprisonment of Joseph Toney, a talented high school basketball star and Shaq’s father. Lucille, however soon remarried Phillip A. Harrison, a sergeant in the Army Reserve. Shaq has openly stated that he has no desire to speak with his biological father. Shaq did not get parenting from his dad, but he sure got his dad’s skills on the court. In 1992, Shaq was first pick in the NBA draft, getting picked up by the Orlando Magic. Four years later he became an LA Laker, with whom he won three championships.
2 Larry Bird
Twelve-time NBA All-star Larry Joe Bird played for the Boston Celtics for a total of thirteen seasons. Bird was born in West Bade, Indiana to Georgia and Claude Bird. His mother took care of Larry and his five siblings on her own, working two jobs to make ends meet. Bird’s father was in and out of the picture much of his early life, divorcing Georgia when Larry was in high school and committing suicide shortly thereafter. It was basketball which helped Bird get away from his home life. Bird’s mother helped Larry to succeed despite her hardship. Let’s just say she helped him fly, like a bird.
1 LeBron James
Arguably one of the all-time best basketball players to have ever graced the court, LeBron Raymone James was born in Akron Ohio, to his sixteen year old mother Gloria Marie James. Things were incredibly difficult for James and his family, as they moved around constantly while his single mother tried to find solid employment. At nine years old, Gloria thought it was best for her son to move in with his youth football coach, Frank Walker. It was Walker who peaked LeBron’s interest in basketball. LeBron started his NBA career as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, being named NBA Rookie of the Year, a title held by only two other players, one of them being Michael Jordan. James decided to play for the Miami Heat after becoming a free agent in 2010. After four seasons and two championships with the Heat, LeBron went back to the Cavaliers. LeBron may have struggled growing up, but he sure didn’t on the basketball court.