The beauty of sports is that they act as a mirror for society in general. They reflect and amplify the flaws and triumphs of the larger population; the athletes whom we cheer for serving as modern-day icons for the values we most cherish.
And while it seems like every day there is some new world record or breaking video edit that takes the world of action and outdoor sports by storm, the stories we tend to cherish most are those that go beyond the surface and connect with readers on a more basic level.
The stories that awe us, that fill us with inspiration; those are the stories that we most look forward to reading.
So, with that said, here are our favorite human interest stories from the past year in action and outdoor sports. We hope you enjoyed them as much as we did.
2015 was Mick Fanning’s year. The three-time world champion had another dominant year on the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour, started his own beer company and was named GQ Australia’s Sportsman of the Year.
And yet, all of that pales in comparison to what happened on July 19 in Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa.
While surfing in the finals of the 2015 J-Bay Open, Mick Fanning came face-to-face with a great white during a live broadcast and fended off the massive fish. The competition was called off shortly thereafter, with Fanning and fellow countryman Julian Wilson each being awarded second-place finishes.
The attack continued to spread shark safety awareness internationally and gave Fanning a platform to help out shark attack survivors, but also awakened that very real fear most swimmers and surfers have that when you’re in the ocean, you’re never alone.
If Fanning’s run-in with a great white made us all wonder what, exactly, was lurking below the surface, than Robbie Maddison’s crazy “Pipe Dream” made us all dream about what could take place on top of the surface.
In August, through a two-year collaboration with DC Shoes, Maddison unveiled a video edit with a groundbreaking concept: What if you could surf on a dirt bike?
After specially modifying his bike, Maddison drove off into monster Tahitian swells, carving down barreling waves in Teahupoo and completely redefining what the world previously thought was possible on a dirt bike.
The thought of being plummeting to earth and being paralyzed in a skydiving accident sounds like a terrible nightmare for most. For 22-year-old Emma Carey of Canberra, Australia, it was an unfortunate reality.
A 2013 skydiving accident in Switzerland paralyzed Carey from the waste down, robbing the young Aussie of her ability to explore the mountains and beaches of Australia’s Gold Coast which she loved so much.
But, instead of letting her injury keep her down, Carey made a miraculous recovery, defying the predictions of doctors who said she would never walk again. Not only did Carey get back on her feet, but she also become an international celebrity on Instagram.
Inspired by her cheerful attitude and dedication to fitness, more than 40,000 people now follow Carey on her social media website. She says she hopes to continue getting people to appreciate the little things in life more.
When GrindTV caught up with 28-year-old Navy veteran Chris Ring back in September, he was halfway through a six-month swimming journey during which he would become the first American to ever swim the length of the Mississippi River.
And yet, despite his record-setting quest, the most notable aspect of Ring that many connected with was his incredible humility.
“I haven’t thought about becoming the first American to swim the Mississippi,” Ring said about his record-setting quest, insisting he just wanted to help raise awareness. “But I guess it will be pretty cool. It seems like it’s hard to be the first to do anything these days.”
Bailey Matthews is an 8-year-old English boy afflicted with cerebral palsy who was determined to not only finish a triathlon but to do it without the help of his walker.
His story, and the video of him successfully accomplishing that feat, are both undoubtedly inspirational. But perhaps just as heartwarming as Matthews’ dedication and perseverance is the massive support he gained online.
The video of him crossing the finish line at the Castle Howard Triathlon has been viewed millions of times, with hundreds of online fans who have been affected by cerebral palsy reaching out to Matthews to tell him just how influential he has been in their lives.
“Such courage and determination. My 6-year-old son has cerebral palsy and each time he hits a new high it makes life all the more special,” one commenter wrote. “Absolutely brilliant well done to you bailey, what an inspiration!!!”
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