It’s safe to say 2016 hasn’t exactly been the greatest of years. We lost some of the biggest names in popular culture while becoming divided over politics. But in a time littered with aggression, angst and sadness, there’s plenty to be thankful for – there’s plenty that inspired in 2016.
When it comes to the world of sports, several stories in 2016 helped us forget about the competition and focus more on the aspect of life, like the lessons learned from playing a game. From sportsmanship in the Olympics, to helping people in need, here’s a look at the year’s inspiring stories.
Runners display sportsmanship at Rio
Professional sports can be cutthroat, especially when it comes to the Olympics, a primarily individual driven event. But there are instances where life transcends sport. Such was the case last summer at Rio, when U.S. runner Abby D’Agostino and New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin collided on the track during the women’s 5,000-meter race.
After tumbling, Hamblin accidently took D’Agostino with her. Rather than pressing on and attempting to get back into the race, an injured D’Agostino offered Hamblin a hand up. Later in the race, D’Agostino stumbled again and this time Hamblin was there to return the favor. As a result, the two were awarded International Fair Play Committee Awards and while it might not be an Olympic medal, it proved that sometimes it’s better to do the right thing.
(Click pic to watch)
LeBron James ends Cleveland’s drought
For more than a century, the city of Cleveland was the laughingstock of the sports world, unable to obtain a championship in three of the major professional sports. So, when the city’s beloved Cavaliers went down 3-to-1 against the Golden State Warriors, it appeared as though history wouldn’t change. But Cleveland’s prodigal son, LeBron James, had other intentions.
The Cavaliers stormed back to take the series and win the NBA Championship in a series for the ages, ending a 52-year title drought. The parade lived up to expectations and featured several iconic pictures of LeBron. Not bad, considering it was just a few years earlier the city was badmouthing and burning his jersey in a fit of rage.
NHL phenom nets four goals in debut
Last summer, the National Hockey League had one player that teams coveted at the draft. He had the sort of talent that hadn’t been seen since Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin burst on to the scene in the early 2000s. So when the Toronto Maple Leafs took Auston Matthews with the first overall pick, it was clear the team was banking on the then 18-year-old to be the future of the franchise – and he didn’t disappoint.
Matthews potted four goals in his first game against the Ottawa Senators – which still resulted in a loss for Toronto – including a hat trick in the opening 22 minutes. Pretty encouraging stuff for a team that hasn’t really been relevant since Rick Moranis had a prominent acting career.
Shaq plays pickup game with children
It’s no secret that former NBA great and current TV analyst Shaquille O’Neal has a soft spot for the police. Earlier this year, he surprised the Gainesville Police Department and some local children.
Neighbors had called the police to complain about children playing basketball too loudly, but when officer Bobby White made it to the scene, he elected to take part in the pickup game and posted the video online. He even promised that next time there was a game, he’d bring backup with him – and thanks to the viral video, he kept his word.
After seeing the video, Shaq joined in and the 7-foot-1, Hall of Famer spent time with the children playing a pickup game and left a valuable message. Hopefully, they used Hack-A-Shaq to their advantage, since we all know he can’t shoot from the line.
78-year-old woman is deadlift record holder
There’s a pretty good chance that Shirley Webb can deadlift more than you. At 78-years-old, the Illinois native can easily deadlift 225 pounds and holds the state record for her age group in both Illinois (237 pounds) and Missouri (215 pounds). So, how exactly did she manage to do it? Well, Webb credits mowing her lawn and joining a local health club with her ability to lift more than most her age.
Cubs player rides bike to Wrigley Field with son
It was one rollercoaster of a season for the Chicago Cubs and, in the end, was topped off with a euphoria that left Bill Murray in tears and fans popping open beer cans from the 1980s.
During the historic run, one Cubs player shared a special moment with his son – a kind of Field of Dreams moment. The day after the Cubs clinched the National League Central Division title, Ben Zobrist donned his entire uniform – including a sweet pair of PF Flyers – and rode his bike with his son to Wrigley Field in celebration.
We can’t imagine what it would’ve been like to see the eventual World Series Most Valuable Player cruising around Wrigleyville, but thankfully his wife managed to capture the moment on her Instagram. What Zobrist and the Cubs accomplished weeks later was just as inspiring – to a city, a state and a nation.
Cancer survivor featured in EA Sports’ FIFA 17
For Kenton Doust, life hasn’t been easy over the last year. Diagnosed with three brain tumors late last year, Doust battled for months to beat the issue. But it was Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps and EA Sports’ FIFA 17 that helped keep his spirits high during such a challenging time.
The teenager received a ton of support from the team and its players and, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he was included in this year’s copy of FIFA 17 as a card that can be obtained in Ultimate Team mode. His character’s skill setting is an impressive 95 overall – Lionel Messi’s got nothing on this young survivor!
Tim Tebow prays with man having seizure
Some call it a miracle, but we’re not going to go that far. Back in October, former college football great and current member of the New York Mets organization, Tim Tebow, was signing autographs for onlookers, when one of the fans began to have a seizure. Tebow then placed his hands on the fan and began to pray with him until paramedics arrived on the scene.
Some who were there said the man was not breathing until Tebow, a devout Christian, placed his hands on him. We aren’t quite sure what happened that afternoon, but we do know he could certainly use those hands in the outfield.
Andre Johnson drops $20K for Houston children
Former Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson is feeling the holiday spirit. Known for giving back to the city that gave him so much, Johnson recently bought under-priviledged children a whole bunch of holiday toys – almost $20,000 worth, to be exact.
The seven-time Pro Bowler hosted the ninth year of his annual Christmas Shopping Spree with the Texans cheerleaders, providing plenty of smiles and each child also got a new gaming console with their purchases. Maybe Santa lives in the greater Houston area, or maybe Johnson is just one of the NFL’s most generous players.
Steve Smith asks student with autism to prom
This is easily our favorite, and most inspiring, story of the year.
Born with a rare form of Autism, Aubrey Bridges faced a great deal of challenges in her life, but the North Carolina native’s love for Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, Sr. has never waned. The former Carolina Panthers star got wind of how big a fan Bridges is, thanks to the Dream on 3 Foundation, and asked the 18-year-old to prom last spring.
Bridges, who has conquered a great deal in life and currently attends Winthrop University, got a very special experience with the five-time Pro Bowler, dancing the night away and making a dream come true. It’s amazing how something so simple can make someone so happy and have such an impact.