Since the completion of America’s ultimate underdog story ( the American Revolution ), this country has been fascinated by teams and individuals that rise up from humble beginnings and capture our hearts. There was Rulon Gardner, who was raised as a dairy farmer in Wyoming before becoming a middle school teacher who shocked the world at the 2000 summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia by defeating Aleksander Karelin for gold in Greco-Roman wrestling. The Siberian had never lost in 13 years of international competition, but the American, competing in his first Olympics, earned a 1-0 win in what was deemed “the miracle on the mat”.
We also love stories where “David” stands up to and defeats Goliath. This was the case in the 1980 winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York where a rag-tag group of American amateur and collegiate hockey players defeated the hockey world superpower at the time, the Soviet Union. As someone who was not even alive at the time the play by play commentator asked the nation “Do you believe in miracles?”, I still get goose-bumps every time I see the replay of those final seconds.
Another underdog we love to root for is the one who overcomes adversity. Jason McElwain known as “J-Mac” by his friends, is the perfect embodiment of this type of hero. Jason was diagnosed with highly functioning autism at the age of 2 but didn’t use that as a crutch in life, but instead considered himself an average kid. After not making his high school’s JV basketball team, Jason decided to become the team manager, a position he continued on the varsity team his senior year. After watching every game of his high school life from the bench with his white button down shirt and black tie, Jason’s coach told him he would try to put him in the game on senior night, the last home game for Jason’s high school. With 4:19 remaining and his team ahead by 20 points, J-Mac got his chance, and he didn’t miss it. To go from manager to school legend who scored 20 points in 4 minutes and 19 seconds was enough to get Jason McElwain movie offers, Gatorade commercials, a visit to the white house and more than this blog has room to hold. Personally, this is one of my favorite sports stories of all time because of the humility shown by Jason throughout and the power of the back story involved.
Finally, there is Jeremy Lin. Jeremy Lin is the type of underdog we root for because he bucks the stereotypes involved with NBA players. In post-game interviews, he talks about the things he didn’t do well and distributes the praise thrown at him among his teammates and coaching staff, ignoring the fact that he was the game’s leading scorer and hit the game winning shot with less than 1 second remaining for the New York Knicks. Lin got no basketball scholarship offers coming out of high-school and decided to take a guaranteed spot on Ivy League’s Harvard over attempting to walk on at his home town UCLA. He is the first NBA player of Taiwanese decent and came undrafted out of college before getting cut by the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. He scored more points in his first five starts than any player since the NBA merger. While Jeremy Lin is only the latest in a long line of American underdogs to take over the hearts of the average citizen, I hope he sustains his status as the hero of the Big Apple and Lin-Sanity continues for the rest of the NBA season.
Please comment on this post with your favorite underdog story that I did not include in this post. I’m eager to hear which athletes have inspired you!
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