In the spirit of holiday cheer, we looked back at 2012 and rounded up five feel-good stories about overcoming the odds– some are local, some are professional, and some are just downright awe-inspiring.
Eric LeGrand signed by Tampa Bay Buccaneers—LeGrand is a former Rutgers University football player who sustained a severe spinal injury in a 2010 game. Throughout LeGrand's ongoing recovery, one of his staunchest supporters has been then-Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.
Schiano was hired as head coach of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this year. One of his first personnel decisions was to symbolically sign LeGrand to a player contract. LeGrand spent almost three months as a member of the Buccaneers before announcing his retirement in late July.
Man Climbs Sears Tower Using Bionic Leg—It may not have taken place on a track, field or court, but Zac Vawter's story deserves recognition as a symbol of the convergence of human spirit and advances in rehabilitation. Vawter, who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident three years ago, climbed all 103 flights of stairs of Chicago's Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in November with the help of a bionic leg.
Designed to respond to electrical impulses from muscles, the leg is controlled by the mind. As Vawter climbed the stairs, the leg worked in conjunction with his body and mind to propel him forward. While the device itself will continue to be improved and perfected, Vawter's accomplishment was an inspiration to athletes with disabilities everywhere.
Oscar Pistorius Competes in 2012 Summer Olympics—Pistorius, who has double below-knee amputations, was the subject of a long legal battle to determine his eligibility to run against able-bodied athletes in international competition. This year, the South African star qualified and competed in the men's 400-meter race, where he advanced all the way to the semifinals, racing against eventual gold medalist Kirani James of Grenada.
Pistorius also qualified for South Africa's men's 4 x 400-meter relay team in the London Games before winning two gold medals and a silver in the Summer Paralympics later that month.
Manteo Mitchell Breaks Leg, Continues to Compete in Olympic Event—One of Oscar Pistorius' opponents at the 2012 Summer Olympics was Manteo Mitchell of the United States. Running the first leg of the 4 x 400-meter qualifying heat, Mitchell felt a pop in his left leg. He'd broken his left fibula.
Amazingly, Mitchell continued on—the injury occurred at about the halfway point in his lap— to finish his leg of the relay and keep the United States' medal hopes alive. With a substitute runner in Mitchell's place, the United States would go on to win the silver medal in the finals of the event, cementing Manteo Mitchell's spot in Olympic history.
Adam Greenberg Returns to Major League Baseball—In 2005, Adam Greenberg was a rookie outfielder for the Chicago Cubs. In his very first plate appearance in the majors, Greenberg was struck in the batting helmet by a 92 mile-per-hour fastball. The pitch left Greenberg with a concussion, vertigo and vision problems and derailed his baseball career.
Slowly, he recovered and returned to the sport—a comeback that culminated in signing a one-day contract with the Miami Marlins this past October and earning a pinch-hitting appearance against the New York Mets and eventual Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. The baseball portion of the story doesn't have a fairy-tale ending—Greenberg would strike out against Dickey—but Adam remains determined to continue his comeback.
"Life throws you curveballs," Greenberg said. "Mine threw me a 92 mile-an-hour fastball, and it hit me in the back of the head. I got up from it, and my life is great."