A fitting advert for the power of self-confidence if ever there was one, Muhammad Ali’s mantra of “I am the greatest” helped him on his way to becoming widely regarded as the greatest athlete of all time. Following a boxing career that contained some of the greatest fights ever seen (see our Top 10 best sporting moments of all time), Ali dedicated himself to helping others, and was recognised for his humanitarian efforts just as much as his power in the ring. He died in 2016.
Richard Branson didn’t let the fact that he struggled in school get him down, and dedicated himself to becoming a self made entrepreneur at just 17 years of age. In 1970 he started a small record business out of the basement of a church, and by 1978 he was a multi-millionaire and owned his own private tropical island. He is now the head of a business empire worth billions, and it’s safe to say that the teachers who doubted him in school are having second thoughts about his abilities.
Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of the UK during World War 2, the largest global conflict of all time. His talent for inspirational speeches kept the British population going through these bleak years, with his never-say-die attitude spreading throughout the nation like wildfire. Churchill’s belief in resilience and perseverance was summed up with one of his most famous quotes, which we would all do well to live by: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Despite being the only person in the world to have suffered from both Hodgkin's Disease and Askin's sarcoma, Sean Swarner defied all the odds and miraculously survived. Not content with simply beating cancer, he thoroughly showed it who was boss by completing the Seven Peak Challenge, which involves climbing the highest mountain on every continent. Not bad for someone who at one point was given only two weeks to live.
When Neil Armstrong directed his lunar module towards the surface of the moon he was faced with blaring warning alarms in the cockpit, a proposed landing site that was actually full of giant boulders, and a computer that wasn’t working properly. Nobody could have blamed him for panicking in this situation, yet Armstrong calmly directed the craft to another landing point, and brought it down with just 25 seconds of fuel left. He then became the first man to walk on the moon, and is a true testament to the benefits of staying calm and collected when faced with stress or danger.
Arguably the most well known martial artist of all time, Bruce Lee’s fame didn’t come without some serious hard work. He trained two or three times every day, and spent countless hours perfecting his own personal techniques and nutritional methods. After a back injury, Lee was once told he could never practice martial arts again, but through dedication and perseverance was able to completely recover and carry on making movies and winning tournaments left, right and centre.
In his first training session as an 18 year old rookie for the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan took part in a mini game where the losing team would have to run laps as a punishment. Jordan practically single handedly took his team to an 8-0 lead, only for the coach to switch him to the other side. Unphased, his new team scored 10 points without conceding to win the game 10-8. This attitude of overcoming any challenge he was faced with led him to a hugely successful career in basketball, which was reflected by one of his most famous quotes: “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying.”
Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King used the power of speech and peaceful protest to spearhead the civil rights movement in the United States, and changed the lives of millions of people in doing so. It’s impossible to listen to his renowned “I have a dream” speech without feeling inspired, so it’s no surprise to hear it was voted the top American speech of the 20th century.
Even though his parents couldn’t afford to keep sending him to school, Malawian teenager William Kamkwamba still had a hunger for learning so paid a visit his local library. After reading a book about energy he decided to attempt to build a windmill for his village, despite the limited resources available to him. Using trees and scrap parts he was able to build a functioning windmill and provide electricity for his small village. He went on to speak at a global science conference and have a book written about him because of his ingenuity and resourcefulness.
Possibly the greatest scientific mind of his generation, Stephen Hawking has refused to let his disability hold him back, gaining worldwide fame for his sizeable contribution to science. He has written bestselling books, travelled the world, experienced weightlessness, and been honoured by institutes the world over. He has proven that no matter what set-backs you face, life is what you make of it.