9 Famous Athletes Who Overcame Arthritis

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Alia Bucciarelli on June 4, 2021
  • Shaquille O'Neal ready to shoot a free throw
    1: Shaquille O'Neal
    The athlete known as Shaq has been a superstar of basketball since he was drafted into the NBA in 1992. He's won four NBA championships and a host of other honors despite having arthritis in his big toe for several years. He blames his arthritis on years of running, jumping, and dunking with his 320-pound frame.
  • Golfer Kristy McPherson
    2. Kristy McPherson
    This Ladies Professional Golf Association golfer picked up a golf club for the first time at age 7, just four years before she was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Exercise helps keep McPherson pain-free and on the green.
  • Figure skater Dorothy Hamill
    3. Dorothy Hamill
    The grace and talent of this Olympic gold medal figure skater still shines despite her diagnosis of osteoarthritis of the hips, neck, and knees. In fact, you can still find Hamill on the ice five days a week, thanks to her long warm-ups.
  • Baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax
    4. Sandy Koufax
    In 1972, the left-handed baseball legend became the youngest player, at 36, to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Arthritis caused by an injury to his left elbow in 1964 cut his career short, but not before he was given the nickname "Atomic Bomb" by his teammates because he used a salve made of red hot chili peppers to dull the pain.
  • Cyclist Kristin Armstrong
    5. Kristin Armstrong
    Olympic gold medal cyclist Armstrong decided to focus on cycling after being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her hips in 2001. She is the second American woman to win a gold medal in cycling. In addition to cycling, a stretching and yoga routine keeps her pain at bay.
  • Boxer James Braddock
    6. James Braddock
    Also known by his nickname, "The Cinderella Man," Braddock became the heavyweight champion of the world in 1935. While defending the title in 1937, few knew that Braddock, who had arthritis, was taking medicine for it.  His life story was made into a movie starring Russell Crowe.
  • Skater Kristine Holzer
    7. Kristine Holzer
    Olympic speed skater Holzer took up the sport at age 24. Before skating, she was a talented rower. Diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis as a child, she says the experience taught her to not take for granted what she could do well.
  • Hockey legend Gordie Howe
    8. Gordie Howe
    Known as "Mr. Hockey," Howe is thought to be one of the best all-around players in National Hockey League history. The hockey champ retired in 1971 because of arthritis in his left wrist. But two years later, he underwent surgery after he was offered the chance to play hockey for the Houston Aeros with his sons. That year he was named the World Hockey Association's Most Valuable Player.
  • Jack Nicklaus
    9. Jack Nicklaus
    This world-famous golfer has been named "Player of the Century" or "Player of the Millennium" by almost every major golf publication in the world, even though he played with an injured hip for most of his career. It wasn't until 1999 that he underwent surgery to replace his hip. He's still active today, with an exercise routine that takes up to 1.5 hours every day.
9 Famous Athletes Who Overcame Arthritis
  1. Koufax’s Dominance Was Short but Sweet. ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016063.html
  2. Arthritis. FamilyDoctor.og. American Academy of Family Physicians. Jan. 2011. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/bone/115.html
  3. Notable Comebacks – Gordie Howe. SI.com. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/1003/notable.athlete.comebacks/content.10....
  4. Pitcher Perfect. Sports Illustrated.com, Feb. 24, 2003. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/si_online/news/2002/09/03/pitcher_perfect/
  5. A Patient’s Experience with Osteoarthritis. American Arthritis Society. 2010. http://www.americanarthritis.org/portal/loader.php?seite=a_patients_experience_with_osteoarthritis
  6. Dorothy Hamill: Skating with Osteoarthritis. Arthritis Today. http://www.arthritistoday.org/community/people-profiles/dorothy-hamill.php
  7. Kristin Armstrong: Olympic Gold Medalist Wins with Arthritis. Arthritis Today. http://www.arthritistoday.org/community/people-profiles/kristin-armstrong.php
  8. Kristy McPherson. The Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritistoday.org/community/people-profiles/kristy-mcpherson.php
  9. The Man. James J. Braddock the Official Website. http://www.jamesjbraddock.com/theman/
  10. Mr. Hockey – History. Mr. Hockey.com, 2008. http://www.mrandmrshockey.com/History.php
  11. What to Watch for Sunday. USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/torino/2006-02-11-ahead_x.htm
  12. Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal. WorldAtheltes.com. http://www.worldathletes.com/sports_biographies/Shaquille_ONeal.htm
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jun 4
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