In part one of our Sporting Heroes of 2017 series, we look at a few individuals who shone in the face of incredible adversity last year
Sometimes, defining a sporting hero takes more than just the number of trophies they’ve won in a year, or if they happen to have claimed any sporting titles – you also have to think about the resilience and determination and see how they’ve struggled and triumphed in the face of incredible odds. For that reason, tennis player Petra Kvitová is my call for the sporting hero of 2017.
In December 2016, Kvitová was attacked in her home by a knife-wielding intruder, and suffered tendon and nerve damage to her left hand – for a left-handed tennis player, this was a worst case scenario. But, despite doctors initially suspecting that Kvitová would never be able to play again, and then expecting her to be side-lined for six months, the tennis player’s recovery was fast enough that she announced she would compete in the French Open. She was knocked out in the second round, but her tears after her first-round victory said it all – she was thrilled to be back, to still be able to play the sport she loves.
Kvitová then went on to win the Aegon Classic – her first title since the attack, and a victory her surgeon described as a ‘miracle’. She entered Wimbledon as one of the bookies’ favourites to win, but was knocked out in the second round again. In the US Open, she made it through to the quarter-final, where she was defeated by Venus Williams.
This year has not been a year of victory for Kvitová but, in a way, it counts for more because of the obstacles she has had to overcome. For a sportsperson of her calibre, being potentially robbed of the chance to enjoy her sport could have been the cruellest fate imaginable, but she found a strength inside herself which means a comeback is already on the cards.
Animosity, resentment and hostility are words commonly associated with football rivalry. From intense local derbies to battles for league and cup superiority, conflicts occur both on and off the pitch. It is simply an accepted element of the beautiful game, that has been seen to occasionally lead to ugliness and distasteful behaviour. These tensions are rarely breached, yet, this year the footballing world was privileged enough to be introduced to the young man who bridged these boundaries, unifying a football community and leaving an imprint on both our sport, and on our hearts. The incomparable, endearing, remarkable, Bradley Lowery.
I had the privilege of being able to attend the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards this December, in the presence of some of sports’ brightest talents, teams and coaches. Reading through the vast selection of award winners and nominees, amongst this plethora of athletic masterminds and warriors, sits the name of a boy from the suburbs of Sunderland, who was never named on a Premier League team-sheet, never stepped into the boxing ring at Wembley, never played an innings at the top level of cricket. Bradley’s honour, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Roll-Rollason Award, is not awarded for sporting prowess, but instead for “outstanding achievement in the face of adversity”.
We have a shared devotion and one that transcends tribalism
I was far too lost in the moment to know for sure, but as an audience member I observed a number of standing ovations on the night, none of which sustained longer or more passionately executed than Bradley’s, a moment of genuine admiration for a truly wonderful boy whose lifetime raising awareness for childhood cancer inspired the creation of a charity raising funds for research.
However, most of all, Bradley’s story simply puts everything into perspective for both football players, fans, and the general public alike. That, despite our differences, we have a shared devotion and one that transcends tribalism. His inspirational actions and outstanding attitude have brought this to light, and that is why, in my opinion, the late Bradley Lowery is my sports star for this year. A star that passed us all too soon, but a star that will shine on for years to come.