It takes hard work, dedication, and true grit to become a professional athlete. While some individuals grew up equipped with all the bells and whistles to help them succeed, others had to scratch and claw just to make it to practice.
In fact, some of sports’ most famous athletes have rigs-to-riches stories that will inspire you to never give up on your own pursuits, no matter what they are. Here are four athletes that defied all odds to become famous.
Hershel Walker (NFL)
While very few professional athletes have been as successful as NFL running back Hershel Walker, the road to elite status was full of speed bumps and paved with gravel.
Walker was bullied as a kid because he was overweight and had a speech impediment. Rather than letting the insults hurled at him determine his self-worth, he developed a rigorous workout regime to shed the extra weight and get in shape to become a professional athlete.
His hard work paid off. He played college football for the University of Georgia, winning the 1982 Heisman Trophy. He was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 5th round of the 1985 NFL Draft and went on to play 13 seasons in the league.
He also competed in the 1992 Winter Olympics as part of a two-man bobsled team and won two mixed martial arts matches in 2010 and 2011.
LeBron James (NBA)
L.A. Lakers superstar LeBron James needs no introduction. His accomplishments and NBA Championships speak volumes. However, King James hasn’t always had it so easy. His road to greatness was earned, not given.
James’ mother was just 16 years old when he was born. She raised him as a single mom and struggled to find a steady flow of income until he was nine years old. Devoid of a dependable father figure, James and his mother moved from apartment to apartment every few months.
In order to provide her son with a more stable home environment, James’ mother allowed him to live with a local youth football coach. The coach introduced James to basketball and the rest is history. He was recruited out of college by the Cleveland Cavaliers and has never looked back.
Manny Pacquiao (WBA)
Considered one of the greatest professional boxers of all time, Manny Pacquiao has a true rags-to-riches story that will make Rocky Balboa look as if he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
Born in the Philippines, Pacquiao lived in a shack with a dirt floor and helped his family by selling bread along the busy city streets. At just 16 years old, he discovered his gift of fighting, often in self-defense against those much bigger than him.
Pacquiao pursued this passion, eventually becoming a professional boxer. He has won 11 major world titles in four different weight classes: welterweight, lightweight, featherweight, and flyweight. He is also the only eight-division world champion.
To top things off, Pacquiao was elected as Senator of the Philippines in 2016 and is serving a six-year term.
Darnell Dockett (NFL)
When former Florida State defensive end Darnell Dockett was just 13 years old, his mother was murdered inside her home. Four months later, his father died of cancer.
Raised by his uncle, Dockett was determined not to let his childhood experiences keep him from succeeding in life. He became a standout high school football player and a star athlete in college.
Despite a few run-ins with law enforcement, Dockett was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2004 NFL Draft. After a conservative first few seasons, he recorded nine sacks in 2007. During a surprise playoff run in the 2008-09 season, Dockett had three sacks in Super Bowl XLIII, tying Reggie White’s record.