Sportspersons are some of the most celebrated people on the planet and rightfully so. They spend their whole lives, sometimes even risk their lives to entertain us. So yeah, they should be making millions. That said, it wasn’t always like that. A lot of legends, irrespective of the sport they are from, actually do come from impoverished backgrounds. 

1. Irfan and Yusuf Pathan

Irfan and Yusuf both burst into the Indian Cricket Team with stellar performances. The brothers were also a key part of India’s T20 World Cup-winning campaign in 2007. Irfan was even declared the Man of the Match. 

But the brothers did not have it easy growing up. Both grew up in a mosque in an impoverished family. And although their parents initially wanted them to be Islamic scholars, the duo had other ideas and the rest, as they say, is history. 


2. MC Mary Kom

Kom was born in Kangathei, Manipur to Mangte Tonpa Kom and Mangte Akham Kom, who worked in jhum fields. Her story of battling poverty, sexism and India’s general bureaucracy is well documented. However, all this did not stop Mary Kom from becoming a 5-time World Boxing Champion. 

Indian Express

3. Conor McGregor

The former 2-division UFC champion is single-handedly responsible for making MMA mainstream. The ‘Notorious’ has now achieved a level of global stardom that was only associated with footballers and boxers at the peak of their game. 

But life was never easy for the Irish. His partner Dee Devlin had to support their family after he quit his job as a plumber. As a matter of fact, before catching the flight to Stockholm, Sweden for his UFC debut against Marcus Brimage on April 6, 2013, he had to stop in line to collect welfare cheques worth $200 something. Mcgregor has now become one of the highest-paid athletes in the world, earning $180 million in the last year alone!


4. Diego Maradona

If God himself applied custom settings to create a footballer, they would still fall short of just how good Diego Maradona was. The late footballer was one of six children in a poor family and his father had to work at a factory from 4 am each morning to make sure the kids all got fed properly.

Coming from there to becoming the greatest of all time is not something you can script. 

The Guardian

5. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi is the perfect footballer. There is nothing this man cannot do. At the age of 11, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency and his parents did not have enough to cover the cost of the treatment, which was about $900 a month. But that all changed, when Barcelona came knocking. 

Everything that happened after that will go down in the annals of history as the greatest story ever told. 

Barca Universal

6. LeBron James

The winner of four MVP awards and two NBA championship rings once lived with four generations of his family in a small town. During the fourth grade, James spent 2/3rds of his time being homeless, and often moving from apartment to apartment with his mother. 

But the King persevered and today, there isn’t a child anywhere who doesn’t know his name, irrespective of their interest in Basketball. 

USA Today

7. Vijender Singh

The Olympic bronze medalist who has now gone pro was not always destined for greatness. His father was bus driver in Haryana Roadways, who had to do extra shifts to be able to pay for his sons’ tuitions. But Vijender had different plans for life. With the help of his brother Manoj, he trained in boxing and after years of professional success, he was awarded the Padma Shri in 2010. 


8. Deepika Kumari

Deepika‘s father was an auto-rickshaw driver and her mother was a nurse and the family lived 15 kms away from Ranchi. Deepika’s parents couldn’t afford to help her train as an archer, so she just carved a bow and arrows out of bamboo and practised. 

And it paid off. She won a gold medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in the women’s individual recurve event and was conferred with an Arjuna Award in 2012. 

Indian Express

9. Hima Das

Das was born into a poor family in a village in Assam. The father was a farmer and the family faced real hardships as Hima was growing up. They had no training tracks in her village, so she had to practice on a muddy football field. But the talented and hardworking that she was, meant that she couldn’t be contained by social or economic structures. 

Business Insider

10. Bhawna Jat

The  24-year-old  from Kabra in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district became India’s first woman race walker to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But like most Indian athletes who aren’t cricketers, her life wasn’t as easy. 

Speaking about her struggles with Sportskeeda, she said: 

My father had only two bighas of land in our village. There was a time when we used to eat just one meal a day because the amount we produced on the farm was less. We all lived in a mud hut and I used to train in a small makeshift field near my house at night so that the village elders wouldn’t come to know. I used to train barefoot then. 

Most of the above-mentioned athletes have actually gone back to their homes and poured resources into their communities to help more people escape the tough life as they did. Hopefully, they keep on doing that!