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Beating the Odds: Athletes that Won Against Cancer


Eric Shanteau, World Record swimmer and cancer survivor. 


Michael Milton, Australia’s fastest Skiier, Paralympic Athlete and Gold Medallist and two-time cancer survivor. 


Scott Hamilton is in the Hall of Fame, and one of the most iconic figure skaters in history. He is also a cancer survivor, and runs his own charity. 

The Olympic Games are an example of how far human beings can push boundaries and show strength, ambition and resistance. Many of them have had to contend with more than just competition from other athletes. Some of these sportspeople have shown the world that they are not just extraordinary on the sports field; they have also beaten cancer and gone back into the Games stronger than ever.

In light of the upcoming Olympic Games, we wanted to highlight some of the major cancer ‘warriors’ in sports today: Olympic athletes who have reached the top of their game and overcome one of the biggest obstacles anyone can be faced with, and come out of the experience with a gold medal.

Eric Shanteau, a Team USA swimmer and extraordinary athlete, started competing nationally at the age of 16 and broke the American Records in both the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke. After a stellar launch into the international spotlight, Shanteau looked set to win a top position in Team USA.  Suddenly, just one week before competing for a spot on the team going to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. With his dream of competing in the Olympics in peril, he decided to delay his treatment until after the games. Despite the pressure of battling the disease and some criticism surrounding his decision, Shanteau swam a personal best time at the Beijing Olympics. Upon returning home, Eric underwent treatment and was officially declared cancer free on September 15, 2008 and jumped straight back into the pool. At the world championships in 2009, Shanteau broke the American Records in both the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke.  He also broke the World Record and became a World Champion as part of the 4 x 100 Medley Relay. He is now a vocal supporter of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and will participate in the London 2012 Olympics.

Michael Milton, Australian Paralympic Skier and four time gold medalist in the Salt Lake Winter Paralympics, has an impressive collection of awards: six gold Paralympic medals and eleven World Championship Medals, six of them gold. In April 2006, he achieved 213.65km an hour and became the fastest Australian skier ever. When he was only 9 years old, he lost his leg to bone cancer after 14 months of intense chemotherapy. For Milton, part of a family of skiers, not losing the ability to rush down snow covered slopes in his skis was his priority. He didn’t. At the age of 14 he competed in the 1988 Paralympic Winter Games in Australia. His dream of being a part of the Australian Olympic team and competing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics were sidetracked when he was diagnosed with Esophagus Cancer in July 2007. He then made an amazing comeback from this serious illness to record times at the 2008 Australian Track Cycling Championships with results comparable to those in the same events 12 months before.

Scott Hamilton is one of the most recognized male figure skating stars in the world. An Olympic Figure Skater for Team USA, Hamilton won 70 titles throughout his career, gained a place in the United States Olympic Hall of Fame and is a privileged member of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame. He captured the attention of the world in 1984 with his Olympic Gold medal performances in Sarajevo. He was diagnosed at the height of his career in 1997 with testicular cancer and went back on the ice straight after his 12 week treatment. But he didn’t stop there.  Hamilton then took the chance to use the event that changed his life to change those of many others: he is now a lifetime spokesperson for the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute and the founder of the Scott Hamilton CARES Initiative, the Cancer Alliance for Research, Education and Survivorship and participates in many other charities.

These inspirational people are now an important symbol of how to overcome and defeat disease; they seized their dreams and made them a reality despite the odds. It’s no wonder that they have since become spokespeople for cancer charities and tried to make a difference in other cancer patients’ lives.

Although there are only three people in this article, there are many more all around the world striving to make a difference and overcoming incredible obstacles. We welcome readers to share other stories of inspirational peoples too, whether they are athletes or extraordinary people who suffered through cancer and have come back fighting. You can use the comments section of this article, or send us your stories on Facebook or Twitter @GEHealthcare