Sports have always been integral in society. They serve as an outlet for many to escape their daily troubles and exist as a way to unify groups of people. Athletes in modern times are lauded for their skill and their lavish lifestyles. However, the truth of the matter is that many of these competitors did not grow up with the privileges they have earned today. These are five athletes that rose from poverty.

5 Athletes Who Rose From Poverty

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo: Hailed as one of the greatest soccer players of all time, Ronaldo did not have an easy upbringing. Ronaldo was born in a poor neighborhood in Fungal, Portugal in 1985. His father was an equipment manager at a local soccer club while his mother was a cook and a housekeeper. Ronaldo did not grow up with much but grew fond of soccer because of his father’s profession. After being recruited by a local boys’ soccer club, Ronaldo left his family to go to Lisbon at the age of 12. Despite being frequently ostracized due to his thick accent, Ronaldo kept surging forward. At age 16, Manchester United signed Ronaldo to a more than $14 million contract. This was the largest ever given to a player his age. Ronaldo went on to win a plethora of awards and accolades for his feats in soccer. Outside of soccer, Ronaldo has been extremely charitable. In 2015, Ronaldo donated more than $6 million to help those impacted by the earthquake in Nepal. Ronaldo also worked to improve medical facilities in Portugal. His net worth currently sits at $460 million, making Ronaldo the wealthiest of these five athletes who rose from poverty.
  2. Jose Aldo: A renowned UFC fighter, Aldo is another athlete that vanquished the detrimental effects of poverty. Aldo was born into a poor household in the city of Manaus in Brazil. Aldo’s father was a bricklayer while his mother was a housewife. Love tied the family of six together, but that took a turn when his mother and father split when Aldo was young. Aldo stayed with his father. Frequent street fights prompted Aldo to learn capoeira. Despite being talented, capoeira classes were draining his finances, so he moved on to pursue jiu-jitsu with his mentor, Marcio Pontes. At age 17, Aldo went to Rio de Janeiro without a dime to his name. There were days when he had little to no food, but this did not disrupt his resolve. Aldo currently holds the most wins in UFC and WEC featherweight history. He is a two-time UFC Featherweight Champion and one-time WEC Featherweight Champion. Outside of the ring, Aldo also routinely performs charity work and donates funds to help those in need. In 2015, Aldo played in a charity soccer match in his home country to raise food for people in need; it was immensely successful.
  3. Kassim Ouma: A former professional boxer, Kassim Ouma has, perhaps, the most appalling story out of these five athletes who rose from poverty. Born into extreme poverty in Uganda in 1978, Ouma’s life was already very difficult. At the age of five, he was kidnapped from his family and forced to join the National Resistance Army. Ouma was trained to do horrific things that no child should have to bear. Ouma did not see his family for three years. In 1998, Ouma was considered to have deserted the Ugandan army because of his venture to the U.S. to compete in a boxing tournament. Ouma pursued boxing to make money and ensure that his family never has to share his experiences. Ouma went on to win the IBF world junior middleweight title in 2004. He serves as an activist for global issues surrounding poverty despite being unable to physically return to Uganda. Furthermore, in 2006, Ouma started a charity called Natabonic Incorporated to help the needy in Uganda.
  4. Yasiel Puig: Surrounded by poverty and suboptimal living conditions, Yasiel Puig had longed to go to the United States and play baseball from an early age. Puig was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba. Puig played baseball for Cuba, but he only earned $17 per month due to the impoverished conditions as a product of the Castro dictatorship. As a result, Puig became desperate to go to the U.S. and play baseball there. In June 2012, when he was successfully smuggled to Mexico by an illicit group with ties to the drug cartel, Los Zetas. Through negotiations with the president of two Miami companies, Raul Pacheco, Puig was released and went on to play for the Dodgers. In the field, Puig founded the Wild Horse Children Foundation to inspire children in less affluent communities and ensure that they do not struggle with the same things that he did.
  5. Bibiano Fernandes: The last of these five athletes who rose from poverty is Bibiano Fernandes. His resilience can be attributed to his early life struggles. Like Jose Aldo, Fernandes was born in Manaus, Brazil. His mother died when Fernandes was seven years old and his father left his five kids because he could not provide for them. After scavenging and begging on the streets, Fernandes went hunting for food in the Amazon forest. He and his siblings stayed there for several years. Fernandes returned to the city after contracting an illness that nearly killed him. He discovered jiu-jitsu while washing car windows at a streetlight near a dojo. After some assistance from a friend, Fernandes was able to partake in lessons at the dojo and soon became a top student. He evolved into one of the best jiu-jitsu fighters in the world, winning three championships. He has since taken up MMA fighting with a Canadian mentor.

Sports are an avenue for athletes to get their stories heard. These five athletes who rose from poverty are a small sample of athletes who have endured a significant amount to attain success. As acclaimed Olympian, Emil Zatopek once said, “An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head”.

Jai Shah
Photo: Flickr