5 athletes who have overcome life-threatening injuries

Phil Packer. Photo by danperry.com / Featured photo of Phil Packer by Steve Punter

Matador’s Juliane Huang profiles five athletes who came back from near-lethal injuries.
Ben Hogan

Professional golfer Ben Hogan held the title of PGA Player of the Year and won multiple golf competitions before a serious car crash nearly killed him.

On February 2, 1949, Hogan and his wife Valerie were driving home along the West Texas Highway when they collided head-on with a Greyhound bus. While Valerie sustained minor injuries, Hogan suffered serious injuries, including multiple pulmonary embolisms in his right lung. Sixteen weeks later, he was barely clinging to life.

After undergoing a risky vascular surgery, Hogan’s condition stabilized, and the golf pro was discharged on April 1st.

Richard Zednik. Photo by catshots128

Less than a year and a half later, Hogan won the 1950 U.S. Open. In 1951, Hogan held on to his U.S. Open title and won his first Masters. In 1953, he won another Masters, a U.S. Open, and a British Open. He now sits third on the all-time win list of tour golfers, with 63 career victories.

Richard Zednik

In a freak accident during an NHL game last February, Florida Panthers player Richard Zednik lost an astounding amount of blood when his throat was accidentally cut by a teammate’s skate.

Doctors were able to repair his slashed carotid artery. While he was discharged a week later, Zednik did not return to ice hockey until the 2008-2009 season.

Bethany Hamilton

Professional surfer Bethany Hamilton hopped on a board at age four and began winning her first surf competitions at age eight. By 13, Hamilton’s success was attracting major sponsors like Rip Curl.

In 2003, a shark attacked Hamilton during a practice surf session, leaving her without a left arm and hemorrhaging blood. Just weeks after the attack, she was back in the ocean, riding the waves.

Bethany Hamilton. Photo by Spoungeworthy

In addition to winning competitions, Hamilton is also a published author. Her book, Soul Surfer, was adapted into a feature film by Dolphin Entertainment.

A.J. Foyt

“Tough” doesn’t even begin to describe professional race car driver A.J. Foyt.

In 1965, he broke his back due to brake failure. In 1972, he was set on fire when a broken hose sprayed two gallons of fuel onto his head. In 1990, he broke his left knee, dislocated his left tibia, crushed his left heel, and dislocated his right heel after another brake failure.

After the 1990 accident, many assumed the severity of Foyt’s injuries would encourage the then 55-year-old driver toward retirement, but he put himself through a grueling physical therapy regimen to race again in 1991 and 1992.

A.J. Foyt. Photo by Peter.Hamer

Throughout his amazing career, Foyt won nine 500-mile races and seven Indy-car national races. He is the only driver to win the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, and 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Phil Packer

Dragged under a vehicle during a rocket attack in Iraq, Major Phil Packer of the U.K.’s Royal Military Police lost the use of both his legs. That didn’t stop him from rowing the English Channel or completing a marathon.

After the accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, Packer, 36, spent a year in rehabilitation. Last March, he took his first steps. In May, he successfully walked the London Marathon. Currently, Packer has his sights on climbing California’s El Capitan mountain.

Community Connection

For more stories of survival against all odds, check out Eight Incredible Survival Stories in Brave New Traveler.

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  • http://matadortrips.com/ Hal

    I can’t believe Zednick had his throat cut by a skate! Makes me cringe.

    The clarity of purpose athletes (and normal people) find after accidents like these is remarkable. Very inspiring.

    • http://evaholland.com Eva

      Hal, it was unbelievable. If you’re squeamish, I don’t recommend watching the video. He basically saved his own life — clapped his gloves over his throat and skated to the boards, where the trainer performed an emergency tracheotomy (I think that’s the term) on the ice. If he hadn’t had the presence of mind to skate off, I’d be surprised if the trainer would have been able to get to him in time.

      The league made the players finish the game without him, too. Unreal. Afterwards, some a-hole reporter asked the player whose skate it was “how he felt” when he realized he’d almost killed his teammate. The player (Jokinen, maybe?) just said: “What the fuck kind of a question is that?”

      • Juliane

        Eva, knew I could count on you for the details! :) But seriously, what the fuck kind of question is that?

        • http://evaholland.com Eva

          I know, right?! :D

  • http://matadorabroad.com Tim Patterson

    Yeah, I echo the cringing throat cut response. Wow.

  • http://collazoprojects.com Julie

    I dunno- if I’d have been Foyt, I think I’d have locked myself in the house and hidden all the matches and sharp objects.

    Seriously– these folks are totally inspiring. Thanks for this article!

    • Juliane

      I’m with you on that for sure. He is one tough man to keep getting back in the car like that..

  • http://www.keepingpaceinjapan.com Turner

    I know it was more of a disease than an injury, but what about Lance?

    • Juliane

      Lance for sure is a serious contender. Though he didn’t survive an injury, surviving his cancer and going on to be an amazingly successful athlete is more than impressive!

  • Sarah

    Hey Juli! Awesome article! Scary to think that things like this can happen just like that, but encouraging that these athletes don’t let their injuries slow them down.

    Another contendeder: Jesse Billauer – Surfer who became paralyzed when he hit his head on a sandbar after he got knocked off his board when he was 17. …Now he’s a pro surfer who travels all over, surfing some pretty dangerous breaks. He’s definitely out there charging it and doing things that put us non-quadriplegics to shame. :)

  • medical negligence Ireland

    I feel Bethany deserves a big applause because going back to surfing after a shark attack took her arm away is indicative of a very strong person.
    Jeff @ Medical Negligence Ireland

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