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Famous Athletes Who Battled Disease

0 2 years ago

Elite athletes are often thought of as warriors. They’re seemingly invincible as they excel in their sports. But throughout history, many famous athletes have lived with diseases before, during, or after they made a name for themselves.

Lou Gehrig and ALS

The first famous athlete to go public with a major health condition, baseball great Lou Gehrig had his career cut short by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS is a progressive, degenerative, and fatal disease affecting motor neurons. Gehrig was so loved and well-known that ALS became known worldwide. The disease is now commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”

Muhammad Ali and Parkinson’s disease

One of the greatest boxers in history, Muhammad Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984. Parkinson’s is a degenerative condition that affects the central nervous system. Ali was a staunch activist for Parkinson’s research and established the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in 1997. He died in 2016 after experiencing a respiratory illness. Respiratory illnesses can be complicated by neurological conditions like Parkinson’s. In a statement released in remembrance of the three-time world heavyweight champion, President Barack Obama said, “Muhammad Ali was the greatest. Period.”

Martina Navratilova and breast cancer

Tennis great Martina Navratilova went public with her breast cancer diagnosis in April 2010. The nine-time Wimbledon singles champion had ductal carcinoma in situ, a noninvasive form of the disease. She had the tumor surgically removed and went through six weeks of chemotherapy. Navratilova initially wanted to keep her condition quiet but decided to go public to raise awareness.

Hank Gathers and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Hank Gathers was a college basketball star for Loyola Marymount University. Gathers collapsed during a game in December 1989. He was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and was prescribed medication. He later stopped taking it on game days because he thought it affected his play. On March 4, 1990, he collapsed again during a game and died just a few minutes later. An autopsy later found that he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This condition causes the heart muscle to thicken.

Venus Williams and Sjogren’s syndrome

Tennis star Venus Williams announced in 2011 that she has Sjogren’s syndrome. Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder. The main symptoms are fatigue and joint pain, which caused Williams to withdraw from the 2011 U.S. Open.

Since then she has returned to tennis with a new diet and modified training program. Williams believes a vegan and raw foods diet helps reduce inflammation associated with Sjogren’s. Her training now allows for one or more rest days to let her body recover.

Phil Mickelson and psoriatic arthritis

Pro golfer and winner of three Masters championships, Phil Mickelson thought his career was over when he began experiencing severe joint pain in 2010. He was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, a type of autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the joints. Symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include joint pain and swelling along with psoriasis, a condition that causes red, itchy, scaly patches to form on the skin. Now with regular treatment to help manage his condition, Mickelson is able to compete at the elite level in the sport he loves.

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