Athletes can come from a wide variety of different backgrounds and walks of life. Some are born rich with everything they could have ever wanted, some are born middle class and others are born into poverty and need to fight for everything they have. The latter group is the one that this list will focus on.
There is a deep, internal strength and resilience that is present inside of an individual that has to overcome such hardships early in life. That is why so many athletes in the major sports nowadays come from less than desirable backgrounds. In fact, some of the greatest current and all time athletes have come from broken families and tough childhoods.
This article will look at 15 of the most challenging athlete childhoods in history. Of course, there are hundreds of good athletes that have been born into poverty, these are just 15 with some of the most difficult childhoods and your list might be different.
Some of these athletes lost their parents at a young age, some were in and out of homeless shelters as children and other were born into wars. Read on and learn something new about these 15 athletes who were born and lived in extreme poverty.
15 Lebron James
Lebron James is undoubtedly the best player in the NBA at the moment and is one of the best players in history. However, he wasn’t destined for greatness right from birth. James was born to a 16-year old mother who raised him on her own. Life was a struggle throughout his childhood, as he and his mother moved from apartment to apartment while she tried to find solid work. James ended up moving in with a football coach when he was nine years old for a more stable environment.
14 Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo was born in Portugal, where his mother was a cook and his father was a gardener. His family grew up in poverty and less than ideal conditions. In fact, Ronaldo shared a ingle room with his brother and two sisters. He claims that they had very little and that he never had any toys.
Ronaldo also had a rough time growing up. He was well liked in school, but got in major trouble at school and was eventually expelled for throwing a chair at his teacher.
13 Caron Butler
Butler was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin and suffered through a rough and impoverished childhood. As he got older, things continually got worse and worse. He got into drug dealing by age 11, due to this dire situation, and was arrested 15 times before the age of 15. It was during a lengthy stay at a detention center that he re-discovered his love for basketball. He was eventually successful enough to be able to secure a scholarship at UConn and the rest is history.
12 Jose Aldo
Jose Aldo is the current UFC Featherweight Champion and is considered by many to be the best pound for pound fighter in the UFC today. Aldo was born in the impoverished favelas in Manaus, Brazil. As a baby, he was rolled on to a barbeque pit by his sister and suffered severe injuries that led to him having a large scar on the left side of his face. After getting sick of getting beaten up, Aldo took up martial arts and actually lived in the gym and slept on the same mats that he and his teammates trained on.
11 Yasiel Puig
Yasiel Puig is an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is one of the more interesting stories on this list. He was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba and though not all the details are known about his childhood, his story is just too crazy not to share. From a young age, Puig wanted out of Cuba and tried to defect to Mexico. He grew up in poverty and when he began to play Baseball for a living, he received $17 a month. He was eventually illegally smuggled out of Cuba by a cartel into Mexico, where they held him captive to try and extort more money from the people who organized the smuggling. We suggest reading this full interpretation of his story, at LAMag.com.
10 Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson is regarded as one of the hardest hitters in combat sports history, but also had one of the hardest childhoods in sports history as well. Tyson was born in poverty-stricken Brooklyn, NY. When he was two years old, his father abandoned his family and left Tyson’s mother to care for the family. As they continued to struggle, they had to move to an even more dangerous neighbourhood. Tyson was arrested more than 30 times by the time he was 13, including being involved in various armed robberies.
9 Knowshon Moreno
Knowshon Moreno, who's currently without an NFL team, had one of the roughest upbringings in league history. Moreno was born in the Bronx to an unmarried, young couple. There was not much stability in the household and eventually Moreno ended up living primarily with his father. With money short, the two often went from homeless shelter to homeless shelter just to survive. He lived like this for the first decade of his life, until his grandmother thankfully adopted him and offered him some much needed stability.
8 Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona is legendary in world football, for both his skill and his off-field issues, as he, along with Lionel Messi, are arguably the two best players to ever come out of Argentina. Maradona was raised near Buenos Aires with a very poor family. Maradona was actually one of eight kids, who all shared one room together. He had incredible passion for soccer from a very young age and was eventually able to work his way out of an incredibly difficult situation.
Pele is widely regarded as one of the top football players of all time and is an absolute legend in the sport. Pele was born in Tres Coracoes, Brazil. His father was also a professional soccer player, but failed to earn a solid living with it, thus the family lived in poverty. Even in this impoverished upbringing, Pele developed a real talent for soccer and eventually found his way out of poverty. Pele actually first learned the sport by playing soccer with a rolled-up sock, stuffed with old rags.
6 Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic is the current number one tennis player in the world, who's won countless tournaments and majors. Djokovic was born in Serbia during a time of a war and poverty in the country. He was raised in Belgrade during some of the worst years in that city's troubled history. His parents did their best to give Novak and his brother an easy life, but during their time in Belgrade they lived through two wars. Due to that, at times, they didn't have access to things like milk or bread.
5 Tyrann Mathieu
Mathieu is a currently with the Arizona Cardinals, but he might be best known for his various off the field issues at LSU. However, what most people don’t know is that he also had a very rough upbringing. His biological father has been absent, as he's been incarcerated for the entirety of Mathieu's life after he was found guilty of murder and his mother was not a suitable caregiver. All of this ultimately led to Mathieu living with his aunt and uncle for most of his years.
4 Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka was born in Brazzaville, Congo as one of 18 children born to his parents. Ibaka used basketball as an escape from a young age to take his mind away from his mother’s untimely death and his father’s imprisonment that took place during the Second Congo War. After numerous attempts to get away from the Congo, Ibaka finally moved to Europe at the age of 17.
3 Michael Oher
Michael Oher is one of the more famous stories on this list. His life was the influence behind the film “The Blind Side,” starring Sandra Bullock which won numerous awards. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee into an impoverished household of 12 children, in which his mother was an addict and his father was frequently in prison. He was put throughout the foster care system and was even homeless for a period until he was eventually adopted into a loving family.
2 Bibiano Fernandes
Bibiano Fernandes is an MMA fighter and current Bantamweight Champion in Singapore based promotion, ONE Championship. He is often regarded as one of the best fighters not currently in the UFC. Like Jose Aldo, he grew up in Manaus, Brazil in the slums. Fernandes’ mother died when he was only seven, which ultimately led to his father abandoning the family. So Fernandes and his four siblings took to the streets and eventually found themselves living in the Amazon Jungle, hunting and scavenging just to survive.
1 Kassim Ouma
Kassim Ouma experienced a childhood in poverty unlike anyone else on this list. Ouma is a boxer and was born into extreme poverty in the Gulu District of Uganda. When Ouma was only five years old, he was kidnapped and forced to join the National Resistance Army, a rebel army in Uganda at the time. Ouma was transformed into a child soldier and took part in the war taking place at the time and was forced to kill. This is a story unlike almost any heard in sports and if you'd like to read his full story, you can see it over at The Guardian.