5 Anthony Robles
Anthony Robles isn’t necessarily a household name, but he is widely renowned in the sport of wresting as one of its most inspiring athletes. Robles won the 2010-2011 NCAA wresting championship in the 125-pound weight class with a match record of 36-0. He also wrote and published the book “Unstoppable: From Underdog to Undefeated: How I Became a Champion,” released in September 2012. Why would anyone care? Robles was born with one leg. In a sport where strength, balance and body leverage are critical, Robles became one of the top performers despite his disability.
4 Bethany Hamilton
Rarely does a professional surfer have a chance to inspire the masses, but Bethany Hamilton’s story is unique. The Hawaii native lost her left arm at the age of 13 after a shark attack. Just one month after the incident, Hamilton was back on the board and on her way to winning surfing championships and becoming one of her sport’s icons. Her inspiring comeback received greater recognition with the April 2011 theatrical release of “Soul Surfer,” a major motion picture about her story.
3 Kyle Maynard
Though he hasn’t achieved greatness as a mixed martial arts fighter, the story of Kyle Maynard is awe-inspiring. Maynard had a perfect 50-0 record as a high school varsity wrestler. He was also named “GNC’s World’s Strongest Teen” in high school after bench pressing 240 pounds 23 times. Remarkably, Maynard accomplished these feats despite having no arms or legs as a congenital amputee. In 2004, ESPN honored Maynard with the “Best Athlete with a Disability” ESPY award.
2 Melissa Stockwell
Melissa Stockwell’s athletic accomplishments have a patriotic flare to them. Stockwell received the purple heart after losing her left leg above the knee in a roadside bomb explosion while stationed as an officer in Iraq. Stockwell is a paralympian and paratriathlete who often runs with an American flag emblem on her prosthetic leg. In 2008, she set U.S. records in both the 100-meter butterfly and the 100-meter freestyle at the Paralympic Games.
1 Jim Abbott
Jim Abbott was a professional baseball pitcher from 1989 to 1999, most prominently with the California Angels (now Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) and New York Yankees. A top draft pick, Abbott achieved the pinnacle for a Major League Baseball player when he pitched a no-hitter while with the New York Yankees. Remarkably, Abbott was born without a right hand. After each pitch, he would transfer his glove from his right wrist to his left hand. If he fielded the ball, he would then remove the glove and throw the ball to first.