Profiles In Courage

They faced illness, public humiliation, and even death. Their stories are lessons on how to triumph in the face of crisis.

to see it through, no matter the outcome.

“I stood up for something I thought was wrong, and I showed up every step of the way. If I didn’t do what I could to make sure no one else is ever treated the way I was, I don’t know if I could live with myself. That part of me has nothing to do with how much I weigh. That’s just who I am, and that’s something no verdict can change.”

WINNING ISN’T EVERYTHING, IT’S THE PEOPLE THAT COUNT
Sixteen months after breaking his neck, U.S. tennis star James Blake, 26, squared off against Grand Slam champ Andre Agassi in the 2005 U.S. Open quarterfinals. While he lost to Agassi in a grueling five-sets, that day marked one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of tennis. On May 6, 2004, Blake and his practice partner, Robby Ginepri, were lobbing the ball. Ginepri hit a drop shot that Blake chased down. When Blake went to slide, his foot got caught and he slammed head first into the metal net post.

“I remember my coach just running to get someone to call an ambulance and being on the ground for about 20 minutes before they got there,” Blake says. As he lay there unable to move, Ginepri and a few others carefully rolled Blake onto his back. Pain ripped through his body.

“But the scariest part was the uncertainty at the hospital and just not knowing what I was in for,” Blake adds. As it turned out, he had broken his neck. Right before hitting the post, he turned his head, avoiding a downward fall that could have paralyzed him.

A full recovery was very likely, his doctors told him. But the good news was overshadowed by news that his father, Thomas Blake Sr., was losing his battle against cancer. An unexpected trip home was a bittersweet reunion. Two weeks after Blake shed his neck brace, his father died. Blake had been home for about a month.

“It gave me an opportunity to be home with my father,” Blake said. “It gave me a chance to get a lot of my emotions out and be a part of my father’s life in those last few weeks.”

As if that weren’t enough tragedy for one man, about a week after his father’s funeral, Blake woke up in tremendous pain. The left side of his head was covered in a rash resembling chicken pox, and he couldn’t move the left side of his face. The diagnosis was shingles.

“One of my friends came in and started laughing,” Blake says. “My face was half-paralyzed, IVs going in me, and I was in the hospital bed with shingles.”

Today, Blake is back on his feet and feeling good. Despite a rough year, he continued to work hard on the courts. Now, ranked No. 24, he’s earned more than $2.3 million in his six-year career, and he’s headed to the Australian Open this month. Yet, through the series of events that nearly derailed his career,

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