Avoiding injuries in sports is nearly impossible, especially in highly physical sports like football or hockey. Even professional athletes who mold their fitness to perfection experience injuries throughout their careers.
We often see renowned athletes fall with devastating setbacks. Seeing athletes rebound creates incredible comeback stories; Klay Thompson returning to playoff basketball after a torn ACL and Achilles is one recent example.
These are 10 comebacks that defied the odds.
Alex Smith Recovers from Terrifying Leg Injury
In November of 2018, Alex Smith was sacked by the Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt. The routine play turned into a nightmare. Smith’s leg was turned the wrong way, it immediately looked like a brutal injury.
The fracture was the worst-case scenario. His fibula and tibia — both bones in the lower leg — were fractured. The injury only got worse through becoming infected. Smith’s leg was in danger, amputation was a possibility.
After 17 surgeries and an arduous road to recovery, Smith returned to football in Week 5 of the 2020 season.
He would appear in eight games and start in six. Smith was honored with Comeback Player of the Year after the season. The 36-year-old vet decided to retire after his first year back.
At one point, Smith’s leg, and his life, were on the line. Simply returning to the football field in any capacity was an amazing feat.
Adrian Peterson Might be Superhuman
Adrian Peterson was one of the NFL’s elite running backs. Toward the end of the 2011 season, the superstar tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee. The injury required reconstructive surgery, most expected a long recovery time.
Eight months removed from surgery, Peterson was ready for the season-opener. Many running backs struggle to return to normal from an ACL tear. Not Peterson, he won the MVP award a season after shredding his knee.
His comeback story is unfathomable for several reasons. Not only did he return quickly, but he was back to being elite right away.
Tiger Woods Returns to Golf After a Serious Car Accident
Since 2013, Tiger Woods has dealt with back injuries. He had spinal-fusion surgery in 2017. After a serious car accident in February 2021, most assumed Woods’ career was over.
The all-time golfer crashed into a tree followed by the vehicle rolling. Woods was pinned in the mangled vehicle; the “jaws of life” were used to pull him from the carnage.
He suffered two fractures in his right leg along with a shattered ankle. After surgery involving metal rods, pins, and screws, Woods’ chance to golf again looked slim.
Despite the dire situation, Woods recovered and returned in the 2022 Masters. Early on, he was contending but fell off as the tournament progressed. Woods will compete in the 2022 PGA Championship, which takes place May 19-22.
Andrew Jones is the Ultimate Fighter
During his sophomore season with Texas basketball, Andrew Jones was experiencing flu-like symptoms. Jones continued to play but was sidelined after breaking his wrist.
After visiting the doctor in January of 2018, Jones was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Jones went into remission after a month of chemotherapy. In the 2018-19 season, Jones decided to redshirt following his treatment but continued to practice with the team.
He made his full return in the 2019-20 season and averaged double-digit scoring outputs for three straight seasons. During the 2020-21 season, Jones started every game while scoring over 14 points per game.
Jones has entered his name into the 2022 NBA Draft where he will try to make his dreams come true. One thing’s for sure, no one can knock his fight.
Paul George is Still a Star After a Gruesome Leg Injury
During the 2014 offseason, Paul George was competing for a roster spot on the United States National Team for the FIBA Basketball World Cup. In an exhibition game, George jumped to defend James Harden on the fastbreak. This is when his gruesome injury occurred.
George’s right tibia snapped in half, causing his bone to protrude from the skin. He underwent emergency surgery to realign his lower leg. Fortunately, his injury was not dire.
Serious leg injuries like this can go South quickly. Infections can arise, like in Smith’s case, or damage to the artery is possible. George’s devastating was displayed on national television. His career was now in doubt.
Eight months after breaking his leg, George returned to the Indiana Pacers. Since then, he has appeared in five NBA All-Star games, proving anything is possible.
Loads of Injuries Would Not Stop Lindsey Vonn
Lindsey Vonn is one of the best women’s skiers of all time. She has the second-most World Cup wins of any male or female skier and three Olympic medals.
Her storied career did not come without injuries. Vonn built a reputation as an aggressive skier that separated her from the rest, but it came with risk. Through the years, she has experienced many injuries that would have ended others’ careers.
Since 2011, Vonn has sustained a concussion, torn ligaments in her right knee, a broken right leg, a broken left ankle, fractures in her left knee, and a broken right arm. Every time, she hit the road to recovery to compete at the highest level yet again.
Vonn is the epitome of never stay down, always get back up.
Mario Lemieux is One of the NHL’s Best Stories
Mario Lemieux pieced together one of the greatest NHL careers ever while playing for Pittsburgh. He was a unanimous inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997 and has the second-highest points-per-game rate in NHL history.
During his stretch of dominance, the Penguins announced on January 12, 1993, that Lemieux had cancer (Hodgkin’s lymphoma). He left the team and underwent 22 treatments of radiation therapy. After his last day of treatment on March 2, 1993, Lemieux immediately returned to the team.
There was no rest period for the superstar centerman. Lemieux jumped right back into action,
playing a game the same day as his last treatment of radiation.
After receiving a standing ovation from Philadelphia fans, he scored a goal in his first game back. He missed 23 games while undergoing cancer treatment, but that didn’t stop the NHL legend. Lemieux went ballistic in his return and secured the 1992-93 scoring title.
Not only did he immediately rebound from a life-threatening diagnosis, but Lemieux had no drop-off as one of the NHL’s best.
Bethany Hamilton Refused to Quit
At 13-years-old, Bethany Hamilton spent a morning surfing with her best friend. Then, the unthinkable happened.
Hamilton’s left arm was taken by a tiger shark. After arriving at the hospital, her life was in danger after losing 60% of her blood. Hamilton refused to let the traumatic event stop her.
About one month after the incident, she was already back to surfing. Hamilton quickly entered competitions and worked up the ranks. She rose to stardom as one of the world’s best surfers and became the first female surfer to win the Rip Curl Cup in 2012.
The documentary “Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable” was released in 2018; watch it to learn more about the incredible comeback story.
Buster Posey Wins NL MVP After Season-Ending Injury
The Giants’ star catcher, Buster Posey, was on the brunt end of a nasty home plate collision in the 2011 season. During the collision, Posey’s ankle made a nasty turn, resulting in a fractured fibula and torn ligaments in the ankle.
After undergoing season-ending surgery, Posey came back with authority in the 2012 season. The fourth-year big leaguer posted a career-high .336 batting average and won NL MVP. Plus, the Giants won the 2012 World Series.
Instead of ending his career, the injury sparked Posey’s career in a way. The 2012 season marked his first All-Star appearance, which was the first of six All-Star honors between 2012 to 2018.
Peyton Manning’s Career Was Far from Over
Neck injuries are a serious matter, especially in football. Peyton Manning had a herniated disc in 2011. The injury made it nearly impossible for Manning to play.
The first surgery for the herniated disc left him with no throw power. Manning decided to have a second surgery so he could keep playing football. It was a long, grueling recovery period for the Hall of Fame QB. He even had to completely relearn how to throw.
Manning missed the entire 2011 season and the Indianapolis Colts released him in March of 2012. He signed with the Denver Broncos — where he played from 2012 to 2015.
The all-time quarterback won Comeback Player of the Year in 2012 and finished second in MVP voting. In 2013, Manning was an All-Pro for the second straight season and won MVP. In his final season, Denver won Super Bowl 50.
Manning goes down as one of the best to ever do it. His journey to recovery after a serious neck injury adds to his resume.
The unbelievable grit demonstrated by professional athletes after challenging setbacks leads to admiration. For most, these are life-changing injuries or illnesses. However, these athletes found a way. They clawed their way back to competing at the highest level.
Sports can teach us valuable life lessons. Incredible comebacks are surely another important lesson, never give up.