If you ever feel like you’re falling behind in life, you might start to compare yourself to celebs, athletes or other people you admire. But before you start giving yourself a hard time, remember that everyone was a beginning when they took that first leap, swung their bat or struck a pose. Instead of comparing yourself, we challenge you to get inspired by these iconic athletes and their stories. From a ballerina who overcame the odds to a soccer player who overcame injuries, there’s a world of inspiration out there if you look for it.
Here’s a roundup of the athletes who are inspiring us to be our best selves:
Misty Copeland – Ballet
Aside from the heartbreaking rejection letter narrated during the Under Armour ad featuring her, Copeland faced various setbacks in her career. After starting dance a little bit later than most ballerinas, she later struggled with body image issues and an eating disorder. She was recently promoted to be one of American Ballet Theater’s principal dancers, and no doubt her ability to overcome hurdles certainly helped her get there.
Mia Hamm – Soccer
The youngest American woman to win a World Cup championship, she’s had her fair share of setbacks. Overcoming a knee injury that kept her out of the game for months, she was also reportedly shy, except for on the soccer field. After leading the the U.S. women’s soccer team to two Olympic gold medals, Hamm retired but still gives back via her foundation and continues to inspire athletes as a strong role model.
Michael Phelps – Swimming
Along with the best of them Phelps has also experienced setbacks in his career. After he began swimming as an exercise outlet for ADHD, he continued channeling potential negative situations into positive ones. He faced multiple injuries that interrupted his training regimen and even dealt with some technical issues during the Olympics, such as leaking goggles that nearly upset his ability to finish the race. Regardless, Phelps’ perseverance got him to where he is and continues to propel him forward.
Serena Williams – Tennis
A 20-time grand slam winner, Williams has spoken openly about having trouble not letting her nerves get the best of her during a competition. After undergoing emergency surgery for a blood clot in her lung, she was faced with a major setback that raised questions about her ability to return to the court at her previous level. Clearly she overcame it, going on to win multiple worldwide titles since.
LeBron James – Basketball
After a tumultuous childhood, James continued to persevere as a professional athlete. He’s spoken about his growth as a person and as a basketball player and has been open in admitting that in his early career he still had some growing up to do. Today, he says he plays for his family, and the best inspiration he received was to “play every minute like it’s your last.” Regardless of the sport, that’s definitely a motto to inspire.
Peyton Manning – Football
At 39, Manning is the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. He has set dozens of other career records and won the NFL MVP five times. It’s clear that dedication to excellence has helped him get to the top—outside his athleticism, he’s been known to obsessively study play calls in preparation for games. If anything, Manning serves as an inspiration to never stop breaking new records and to not quit, even when you’re in new territory.