Athletes can come from a wide variety of different backgrounds and walks of life. Some of them are born rich with everything they could have ever wanted, some are born middle class, and others are born into poverty and need to work hard, survive and fight for everything they have. The latter group is the one that this list will focus on.
Some of these athletes lost their parents at a young age, some were in and out of homeless shelters as children, and others were born into wars. Read on and learn something new about these 10 athletes who were born and lived in extreme poverty.
10. Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson is regarded as one of the best boxers of all time and was one of the hardest hitters in combat sports history, but he also had one of the hardest childhoods in sports history as well. Tyson was born in a poverty-stricken area of Brooklyn, New York, to a very poor family. And when he was just two years old his father abandoned the family and left Tyson’s mother to care for him and his siblings. As a result of this and other struggles, they had to move to an even more dangerous neighborhood. Tyson was arrested more than 30 times by the time he was 13, including being involved in various armed robberies. Those legal problems continued to follow him throughout his boxing career, but he has seemed to turn around his life in recent years and is now finding success as an actor and entertainer.
9. Caron Butler
Butler was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin, and suffered through a rough and impoverished childhood. As he got older, his behavior and situation continually worsened; he became a drug dealer by age 11 and was arrested 15 times before the age of 15. It was during a stay in a detention center that he discovered his love for basketball. He eventually became a strong enough player that he was able to secure a college scholarship, and the rest is history. Butler has enjoyed a very long and illustrious career, showing that no matter your upbringing it is possible to find success in life.
8. Knowshon Moreno
Knowshon Moreno is an NFL running back who endured one of the roughest upbringings in the league’s history. Moreno was born in the Bronx, New York, to a young unmarried couple. There was not much stability in the household and eventually Moreno ended up living primarily with his father. With money very short, the two often went from homeless shelter to homeless shelter just to survive and see the next day. He lived like this for the first decade of his life until his grandmother took him in, which was very instrumental in turning his life around and helped him to become the brilliant athlete he is today.
7. Jose Aldo
Jose Aldo is the current UFC Featherweight Champion and the best pound for pound fighter in the UFC today. Aldo was born deep in the impoverished favelas (slums) 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 and could’ve cost him his life. As he got older, he was continually the target of bullying and violence, which eventually led him to take up martial arts. For a time, he actually lived in the gym and slept on the same mats that him and his teammates trained on. He never forgets his roots and visits Brazil and his home favelas often.
6. Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic is the current number one tennis player in the world, a spot he has held onto for a while, and is a former Olympic medalist. Djokovic was born in Yugoslavia in 1987 during a time of war and poverty in the country. He was raised in Belgrade during some of the worst years in the city’s troubled history. His family had to be very careful, as those were extremely unpredictable and dangerous times and safety was never ensured. Eventually he was discovered by a Yugoslavian tennis legend and the rest is history, as he went on to be one of the best tennis players of all time.
5. Bibiano Fernandes
Bibiano Fernandes is an MMA fighter and current Bantamweight Champion in the 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 favelas. 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, eventually finding themselves living in the Amazon jungle, where they hunted and scavenged just to survive. It wasn’t until later in his life, when he was washing car windows in a city, that he discovered jiu-jitsu.
Among most soccer fans, Pele is widely regarded as one of the top soccer players of all time and is considered to be a legend in the sport. He was born in Tres Coracoes, Brazil, and as a child his family struggled to earn a solid living, causing them to live in severe poverty. But even during this impoverished upbringing Pele managed to develop a real talent for soccer, eventually finding his way out of poverty because of it. An interesting fact you may not know about Pele is that he first learned the sport by playing soccer with a rolled-up sock stuffed with old rags. He is yet another prime example of someone achieve great success, despite the struggles and hardships they’ve endured.
3. Michael Oher
Michael Oher is a current NFL offensive lineman with the Carolina Panthers, whose upbringing is one of the most famous and highly-publicized stories on this list. His life story is what influenced the Academy Award-winning film The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, into an impoverished household in which his mother was an alcoholic and crack cocaine addict, and his father was frequently in and out of prison. As a result, he was put through the foster care system and was even homeless for a period of time until he was adopted into a loving family that supported his dreams to play football, which he eventually made a reality.
2. Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka is a current member of the Oklahoma City Thunder who was born in Brazzaville, Congo, and is one of 18 children born to his parents. During his childhood, there was much civil unrest in the area. For Ibaka, basketball became a way to escape from the tragedy of these circumstances, as well as from the grief of his mother’s untimely death when he was eight 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, where he began to get more serious about basketball and eventually became the star he is today.
1. Kassim Ouma
This was a fairly easy choice for the number one spot, as Kassim Ouma experienced a tragic childhood unlike anyone else on this list. Ouma is a professional boxer who was born into extreme poverty in the Gulu District of Uganda. When Ouma was only six 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, where he was forced to kill others in the war taking place at the time. A story unlike almost any heard in sports, we recommend that you read up more on his life and what it took for him to become one of the most renowned boxers in the sport today.