Source: Barcroft Media
There are rare people in this world who are role models for the rest of us. Whether it is physical, mental, age or circumstances, they achieve astonishing greatness regardless of any challenges they may face. While others may not face any personal challenges, they show remarkable abilities in intelligence, selflessness and character. Here are 51 stories of awe-inspiring people:
1. Jared Stevens and Justin Kievit
Jared and Justin, two Tennessee middle school boys, inspired the world during their 18 second wrestling match. Jared didn’t allow Cerebral Palsy to get in the way of his dream of being on the wrestling team, and Justin showed great sportsmanship when he helped Jared pin him during the match. The video not only went viral in two days, but brought tears to news announcers’ eyes as they told the story. The boys were featured on Good Morning America’s “You’re Not Dreaming” segment and have received various honors and awards for showing great character, strength and sportsmanship.
2. Robby “Kid President” Kovak
Robby, a.k.a. “Kid President”, a nine-year-old, third grader with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (Brittle Bone Syndrome) is a YouTube sensation. He does his best to teach the adults of the world how to improve with his energetic personality, intelligence beyond his years and a contagious laugh. Kid President has met the real president, interviewed several celebrities and been a guest on national talk shows. He is an inspirational speaker who advocates being awesome and dancing. His “Pep Talk” video will teach you not to be boring because you’re “gooder than that” and he challenges everyone to be awesome. Vote for Kid President in 2040.
3. Nick Vujicic
Australian, Nick Vujicic was born with only a left foot and no limbs. He was able to get past his anger and depression and learned to type on a computer, throw tennis balls, drum, brush his teeth and hair, as well as participate in sports like golf, swimming and skydiving. At age 19 he started the non-profit organization Life Without Limbs and began travelling the world doing motivational speeches to share his story and help others with disabilities. He’s now 30-years-old, married and was blessed with a baby boy February 13, 2013.
4. Carly Fleishmann
Carly was diagnosed with severe Autism and an oral motor condition when she was very young, which prevented her from being able to speak. Her parents were told that she wouldn’t progress intellectually beyond the capabilities of a small child. At age ten she began typing words on a computer and shocked her parents and the team of experts who were assisting her. They had no clue she knew how to spell or use the computer. Since then Carly and her father wrote the book Carly’s Voice, launched a multimedia campaign and made several public appearances to educate people about Autism.
5. Nithin Tumma
At the young age of 17, Nithin changed the future of breast cancer treatment. The child genius won the 2012 Intel Science Contest for his research on the pathogenesis of breast cancer. By knowing where breast cancer begins, researchers can develop a more fine-tuned treatment for the disease.
6. Buster Martin
Buster became the oldest man to run a marathon when he was 101-years-old. In the documentary How to Live Forever he explains that he only took five breaks during the marathon to have a beer and a cigarette, but no water. He was still working at a plumbing company when he died at age 104.
7. Yash Gupta
In ninth grade Yash broke his eyeglasses and had to wait to get replacements because his family couldn’t afford new glasses. After his experience he started the non-profit organization Sight Learning to help other kids in his situation get the glasses they need in order to live normal lives. His organization has given over $300,000 worth of eyeglasses and opened several eye clinics. His goal is to have $500,000 worth of eyeglasses by January 2014.
8. Randy Pausch
Randy, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006, and then in 2007 he was given a terminal diagnosis with only three to six months to live. He gave an empower lecture titled “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”. The lecture became an internet sensation which led to many other media appearances and touched millions of people’s lives. Before he died in 2008, he authored the New York Times best-selling book The Last Lecture.
9. Arthur Winston
Arthur was given the “Employee of the Century” award by Bill Clinton for working at the Los Angeles Metro Transit Authority for 76 years. He only missed one day of work to attend his wife’s funeral. When he turned 100-years-old he retired, and died a month later.
10. Cody McCasland
Cody is a 10-year-old boy who plays multiple sports. What makes him special is the fact that he was born with Sacral Angenesis, a rare birth defect that required his legs to be amputated at the knee at age five. Although he has endured 20 surgeries and 20 sets of prosthetics, he hasn’t let that stop him from living the life of any other energetic kid.
11. Justen Beer
Twelve-year-old Justen inspired millions with his short film titled With a Piece of Chalk. He showed how he used breakdancing to escape a chaotic home life and being bullied at school. He was named Dutch B-Boy Champion in 2008 and now travels the world competing in dance battles.
12. Peter Larson
Since the age of six Peter has given up his warm bed in Plymouth, Minnesota to sleep in a cardboard box and sleeping bag during sub-zero degree winter weather. He does this to raise money for Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners to provide housing assistance for homeless families. After spending over 300 nights outside he has raised over $500,000. He says that he doesn’t sleep outside during the summer because he doesn’t think he would get as much attention as he does during the winter months.
13. Peng Shuilin
Peng shocked physicians in southern China when he recovered from having half of his body amputated after being run over by a truck. The cheerful, resilient man turned what most would use as an excuse to give up into a clever business opportunity. He opened a discount supermarket aptly named the Half-Man Half-Price Store.
14. Ben Underwood
Ben lost his eyesight at age three due to retinal cancer, but found a way to “see” with his ears. He learned to use echolocation the same way dolphins and bats do and is the only person in the world who has been able to do this. His story has reached millions through heartwarming videos. Sadly, in 2009 Ben died from the disease.
15. Olive Riley
At 107-years-old, Olive was the oldest blogger. From 2007-2008 she posted over 70 entries on her blog or “blob” as she jokingly called it. She also created a YouTube series of her life in Australia. She died at age 108 after posting her final entry about her failing health.
16. Kelvin Doe
Kelvin, a.k.a. DJ Focus, is a self-taught engineer. He began picking up broken electronics and scrap metal to build things. At the age of 13 he built a radio station for his small town in West Africa where he gives talks, addressing the issues of the area. When he turned 16 Kelvin focused on helping his area’s energy problem by building generators for houses and plans add windmills in the future. His innovations attracted the attention of Harvard and MIT, which brought him to the U.S. for a short time. During his visit he gave a very motivational Ted talk.
17. Liu Wei
Liu Wei lost both of his arms at the age of ten after touching high-voltage power lines during a game of hide-and-seek. With encouragement from his parents he learned to take care of himself beginning with learning to dress himself, brush his teeth, and swim with no arms. At the age of 16 he began playing the piano. In 2010 he won China’s Got Talent.
18. Julia Bluhm
At the age of 14 Julia stood up to Seventeen Magazine with a petition of 84,000 signatures and forced the magazine to stop showing unrealistic images of women. She asked the magazine to show one issue featuring women with a diverse range of beauty and unaltered photos. She named the movement SPARK in honor of sparking change. Seventeen not only agreed to do one issue, they agreed to stop using Photoshop to alter all images in their magazine. SPARK is now working on a petition to get Teen Vogue to follow in Seventeen’s footsteps.
19. Jordan Burnham
Jordan is a mental health advocate. Although he was popular in school and an athlete, the pressures were building to be the next great African-American star athlete. He hid his feelings of depression, and tried to commit suicide by jumping out of his nine-story bedroom window at the age of 18. After a long, painful recovery he now uses his nightmare to educate others about the importance of mental health and teen suicide.
20. Victor Thomas
Victor was born addicted to drugs and was abused by his biological parents. After he and his siblings moved in with their foster parents he became an honor student and received a scholarship for college. The tragedy on 9/11 inspired him to become a firefighter. He proved he had chosen the perfect goal on his eighteenth birthday when his neighbors’ house caught fire. He immediately jumped into action with a water hose. Before fire trucks arrived on the scene, Victor and his father had put the fire out and saved his neighbors. He is now attending college to receive his degree in Forestry and Fire Protection.
21. Alanna Wall
At the age of 10, Alanna started the non-profit organization PolishedGirlz.org. She took her love of all things girlie and used it help girls in hospitals, Downs Syndrome associations, and special needs centers. She gives the girls manicures, promoting self-esteem and teaching the importance of hand washing. By the age of 13 her organization spread to four states and serves hundreds of girls each year.
22. Jessica Cox
Although Jessica was born without arms, she hasn’t let that stop her from living a normal life, driving cars and flying airplanes. She holds a Guinness World Record for being the first armless person to earn an aviation license. She has also visited over 20 countries as a keynote motivational speaker.
23. Winifred Pristell
At age 40 Winifred, a.k.a. “Heavy Metal”, became interested in weight lifting, and 20 years later entered her first weight lifting competition. Now 70-years-old, she is still going strong with two world records under her belt and aspirations to earn more.
24. Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli
Luca, a.k.a. “Lazylegs”, is a Canadian B-Boy who was born with Arthrogryposis, a rare disorder that causes limited joint movement and poor muscle growth. At age 13 he was also diagnosed with Scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and has undergone 16 surgeries. Growing up he never let his disabilities slow him down. He participated in swimming, skateboarding, horseback riding, skiing and diving, but then he discovered breakdancing. He developed his own style using strong upper body strength and his crutches. He has made appearances in movies and on several television shows, including America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance Canada and the Today show. He put together an international dance crew named Ill-Abilities, consisting of the world’s greatest “ill-abled” dancers. On top of his successful dance career, Luca is also a motivational speaker.
25. Clara Ma
In sixth grade Clara won a 2009 NASA contest and had the honor of naming the Mars Science Laboratory Rover “Curiosity”. Now a high school student in Kansas, she chooses to spend her time volunteering and making her community a better place. She has been a volunteer for a presidential campaign, a recycling center, and is a member of Rachel Alexander Girls Grant Project, which aims to better the lives of young women. She is also a leader in her school’s Environmental Club, which in 2012 became the first district high school to implement a composting program.
26. Warren MacDonald
Warren is an Australian environmentalist, explorer, mountain climber, motivational speaker, writer and double above-the-knee amputee. While mountain climbing in 1997 his legs were crushed beneath a huge boulder. Fortunately he had befriended Dutch traveller, Geert van Keulen, who was able to run down the mountain for help. Ten months after the life-changing experience, Warren climbed Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain with a modified wheelchair and “the seat of his pants”. In 2003 he became the first double above-the-knee amputee to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. He has also climbed El Capitan in Sierra, California and Weeping Wall in Alberta, Canada. When he’s not committing death-defying feats, he is a motivational speaker and author.
27. Patrick Henry Hughes
Patrick was born with no eyes and unable to fully straighten his limbs, making him unable to walk. He is a multi-instrument musician who, with the help of his father, “marches” in the University of Louisville marching band. He has been featured on several television programs, played at the Grand Ole Opry and with the Louisville Symphony.
28. Craig Koonz
Craig was born with Cerebral Palsy, but doesn’t think of himself as handicapped. He became a competitive weight lifter and is an inspiring athlete.
29. Jaylen Arnold
Jaylen was born with Tourette’s syndrome and was later diagnosed with OCD and Autism. His twitches became worse at age 9 after kids in his new school started bullying him. He started the website Jaylen’sChallenge.org to educate people about bullying and uses wrist bands that say “Bullying No More” to spread his message. His campaign caught the attention of many celebrities who now wear his wristbands and support his cause. His message has been further spread by his appearances on many television programs and the documentary Tourette’s Uncovered.
30. Reinaldo Ojeda
Reinaldo was born in Columbia with a spinal injury that required doctors to amputate his left leg. Against all odds he became a salsa dance sensation. With one leg and a crutch he performed at the Los Angeles Salsa Congress and the 2008 Japan Salsa Congress.
31. Kyle Freas
In 2007, Plano, Texas High School senior, Kyle won the Staples “That Was Easy” award for founding the non-profit organization Youth Together. His organization works with school programs to get children involved in helping abused and homeless children, as well as, animals. Youth Together has spearheaded programs for children in need such as, Operation Backpack, which provides school supplies and backpacks. The organization has also helped support various no kill shelters with its program Operation Paws.
32. Sean Swarmer
At age 13 Sean was diagnosed with advanced stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After enduring harsh chemo and radiation treatments he went into remission only to be diagnosed with Askins Carcinoma at age 15. He had a golf ball sized tumor on his right lung, a six percent chance of surviving and given 14 days to live. He is the only person ever diagnosed with both types of cancer. After surviving past his “expiration date”, the doctors feared the treatment would kill him faster than the cancer and decided to put him into a medical induced coma for one year. Against all odds he survived and became the first cancer survivor to climb Mount Everest. He then went on to climb the Seven Summits.
33. Mary Jane Rathbun
Mary Jane, a.k.a. “Brownie Mary”, was a 70-year-old medical marijuana activist. She became known in San Francisco as the grandmother-ly volunteer who illegally distributed pot brownies to A.I.D.S. patients. She lobbied for the use of medical marijuana and was instrumental in helping to pass California law making it legal to use marijuana for medical purposes. She also contributed to the opening of the first medical cannabis dispensary in the U.S.
34. Vinod Thakur
Vinod is a legless B-Boy who became famous as a contestant on India’s Got Talent. His friends encouraged him to try breakdancing after seeing other amputees online. After only three months Vinod mastered his moves and went on to stardom.
35. Teagan Stedman
At only 8-years-old Teagan started the non-profit organization Shred Kid’s Cancer after his friend was diagnosed with the disease. The organization gets kids involved in helping children who are suffering, and helps children with cancer not feel so isolated. At a very young age Teagan ran the organization, got corporate sponsors and taught other kids how to run events like bone marrow drives.
36. Mark Playle
Mark was born with a missing left forearm. At the age of 14 he decided to pick up a guitar. After he and his friend tried several different methods for him to be able to play, including taping a pick to his arm, they finally came up with a prosthetic that would work. They made a cast of his arm out of acrylic resin and attached tools that enabled him to do techniques necessary to play the guitar. He went on to win contests such as Guitar Idol and placed high in Dean Shredder.
37. Ronald Cunningham
Ronald, a.k.a. “The Great Omani”, was the oldest escape artist and stuntman at age 92. In 1950 he performed his first stunt after reading a book about Houdini. There were several death defying stunts to follow, including performing a hand stand on a cliff while holding a Union Jack flag between his toes during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. He died in 2005 in his home in Sussex after relaxing and enjoying a whiskey and cigar.
38. Adam Bender
Adam was born with a cancerous tumor in his left thigh and had to have his entire leg removed five days after his first birthday. The doctors had to remove it from the hip socket, leaving no tissue to attach a prosthetic limb. He didn’t allow something like a missing leg stop him from playing sports. From a very young age he not only participated in sports but played prominent positions, such as catcher in baseball and quarterback in football. The Lexington, Kentucky boy hopes that by seeing him play it will show others with disabilities and their parents that they can too can play sports or do anything they choose.
39. Elizabeth “Liz” Murray
Liz is an American inspirational speaker and best-selling author who became well-known after being accepted into Harvard after being homeless during her high school years. Her parents were poor, drug addicts and contracted HIV. Her mother died of AIDS when Liz was 15, and her father died of the same disease a few years later. Although she was on her own and supporting both herself and her sister, she graduated high school in just two years and received a scholarship for needy students. She earned her doctorate in clinical psychology and her sister, who graduated from Purchase College, became a teacher for Autistic children.
40. Lacey Henderson
In the fourth grade Lacey’s parents took her to the doctor expecting to hear that she was experiencing growing pains. The diagnosis turned out to be a cancerous tumor in her right knee. When chemotherapy wasn’t shrinking the tumor, Lacey told her parents to go through with the amputation so she could get back to her life. After her brave decision she went on to become a cheerleader and ran track in the 2012 London Paralympics.
41. Jennifer Figge
At age 56 American athlete, Jennifer Figge, became the first woman to swim across the Atlantic Ocean. The journey took her 24 days to complete and she faced waves up to 30 feet high.
42. Dave Heeley
Dave found out he was going blind when he was 10-years-old. When he started feeling sorry for himself as a teenager, he made the decision to change his outlook and live a positive life. In 2008 at age 50, he was the first blind man to complete the seven-marathon challenge, 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents. In 2011 he ran 10 marathons in 10 days and cycled between each stage.
43. Marian Bechtel
At age 17 Marian became a 2012 Intel Talent Search finalist when she invented a low-cost landmine detector. The idea came to her when she was playing the piano and noticed that a nearby banjo would make a sound when she would play certain keys. The device she invented is a common metal detector equipped with a microphone and seismic vibrator.
44. Sam Povah
Seventeen-year-old Sam contracted an E-coli infection after enduring a 10 hour surgery to have metal rods implanted in his back to help him combat his Muscular Dystrophy. He was in intensive care for six weeks and missed six months of school. Instead of slacking off, Sam used his time to write and publish the thriller T for Terrorism.
45. Dustin Carter
At age 5 Dustin had to have both legs amputated at the hip, his right arm below the elbow and his left arm above the elbow. In high school he became one of Ohio’s top wrestlers, placing third in the Division II championship. Although he couldn’t cut his own steak (according to his father), he could do 20 chin-ups with a 40 pound weight around his neck, and finished the season with a 41-2 record.
46. Tom Willis
Tom was born without arms, so he learned to do everything with his feet to lead his very extraordinary life. After earning his master’s degree he worked as a video producer and communications director for the federal government in Washington D.C., a television producer, a photographer and motivational speaker. He also did a Pitch for Awareness tour, in which he threw the opening pitch in every major baseball park in America to raise awareness for people with disabilities.
47. Jack Andraka
Jack was awarded the Gordon E. Moore Award at age 16 for discovering a test strip that detects the early stages of pancreatic cancer. He now attends John Hopkins University on a full scholarship.
48. John Bramblitt
John paints beautiful works of art in vivid colors although he lost his sight due to a seizure disorder. His story is told in the award-winning documentary Blind Ambition.
49. John Sundquist
At the age of nine John was diagnosed with bone cancer. After spending a year enduring chemotherapy treatments, he had to have his left leg amputated. When he turned 16, just three years after doctors declared he was cured, he began snow ski racing. He is the only person in history to make both the US Paralympic Ski Team and US Amputee Soccer Team. He is also an internationally-known motivational speaker, author of Just Don’t Fall and YouTube personality.
50. John Cudworth
At age 19 John decided to do a DIY project normally reserved for NASA. Using a homemade spacecraft, he sent a camera 20 miles into the air and captured beautiful pictures that showed the Earth’s curvature.
51. Mattie Stepanek
In Mattie’s short time on Earth he made a powerful impact on millions of people’s lives through his poetry and passion as a peace activist. He was born with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy. After seeing the same disease take the lives of his three older brothers, it took his life just short of his fourteenth birthday. At the age of three he wrote his first poem or “Heartsong”, which he explained were, “gifts that reflect each person’s unique reason for being”. Before his death he wrote and published five New York Times Best Seller books, and two more books were published posthumously. The final book was a collection of peace poetry and email correspondences with his hero, former President, Jimmy Carter. He gave motivational speeches to a variety of audiences, such as, school children, business leaders, the Oprah Winfrey show, Larry King and Good Morning America. He lobbied for better guidelines in children’s health care and hospice care, helped launch the We Are Family Foundation and served as a three-term National Goodwill Ambassador for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He was widely recognized through honors, awards and namesake programs for his role as an advocate for hope, peace and people with disabilities. The city of Rockville, Maryland created a memorial for Mattie named Mattie’s Peace Garden. A bronze statue of Mattie and his service dog, Micah, are encircled by chess tables, quotes from his poetry are spread throughout the park and people can listen to his voice on a nearby sound post.
The next time you may be feeling that life is too hard or that there is no way to find the light at the end of your tunnel, think back to these amazing human beings. We all have greatness inside of us and a reason for existing. It is up to us to find out what that thing is and do it. Make the decision to do better, be better and expect more of yourself. Remember, don’t be boring… you are “gooder than that”.