Our nominees include individuals who overcame injury, tragedy and illness. For some, simply competing again at an elite level is an achievement. For others, the journey is not complete until they reclaim a place at the top of their sport.
For a pitcher like Bard, the slightest deviance in the imperceptible mechanics behind each pitch can have ruinous consequences. If the loss of control is not rectified, it can start a downward spiral of confidence that turns into something approaching an existential crisis.
Such was the depth of Bard’s torment, that this once dazzling relief pitcher slid down the minor leagues and eventually announced his retirement from baseball in 2018, taking up a post as a player mentor with the Arizona Diamondbacks. While in that position, he started to build toward a comeback and in February 2020 he threw for MLB scouts and was selected by the Colorado Rockies ahead of the new season.
After making it onto their Major League roster, in July 2020 Bard recorded his first win in MLB since 2012 and finished the year as National League Comeback Player of the Year, as voted for by the MLB Players Association.
He said: “I was just hoping for one more chance to compete and play the game. To be recognised by my peers has to be the highest honour.”
In December 2020, he was named the winner of the Tony Conigliaro Award, presented annually to ‘a Major Leaguer who has overcome adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination’.
And Bard is pleased he can use his experience to speak about mental health and mindfulness in baseball. The right-hander said: “The yips is a funny thing. I’ve experienced many levels of it and had the opportunity to try to help some guys through it from the coaching side. The more I learned about it, it takes the stigma away. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
“I hope that gives anybody out there who’s struggling with something similar, the hope that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, because often it can feel pretty hopeless.”
He admitted his spirit was “almost broken” after surgery which left him with impaired vision. “At the time, I thought of giving it all up,” he said. “After my accident, I couldn't move at all and I was striving to recover my fitness.”
However, Momota, motivated by messages of support from around Japan and beyond, returned to competition in the All-Japan National Championships in Tokyo in December 2020.
In July 2020, while recuperating, he announced he was to donate ten per cent of his 2019 prize money towards a fund fighting the pandemic. He gave five million Yen to frontline doctors and nurses and first responders in Tokyo. He also donated 200,000 masks to medical staff and students.
Momota: “This is about so much more than just sport. This is our world.”
Morgan’s return to elite competition coincided with a second move into an overseas league for the two-time World Cup winner, following a successful spell at French club Lyon in 2017.
By November, Morgan was back in the national team and edging closer to her goal of a second Olympic gold. Her appearance in a friendly against the Netherlands came 16 months after her last game for the USWNT – the 2019 World Cup final victory over the same opponents.
Off the pitch, Morgan is passionate about promoting gender equality and inclusion through sport. Along with her footballer husband Servando Carrasco, she flew to Tanzania with the US State Department’s Sports Diplomacy Office in 2016. The couple visited schools and hosted football classes.
Morgan said afterwards: “I went to try to lend a helping hand, to give advice. But I feel like what ended up happening was I learned so much about their stories and how people around the world are trying to increase the respect for girls and women in sports – like we are respected in the US.”
Morgan and her international team-mate Megan Rapinoe were the first two female players in the United States to sign up for the Common Goal campaign, created by Juan Mata of Spain and Manchester United. They are among a growing number of players who donate one per cent of their wages to support global football initiatives for disadvantaged children.
Just two months after his final round of treatment for the rare cancer, in which he suffered severe fatigue and nausea, Parrot won the X-Games big air event in Oslo.
The Canadian kept his form going in 2020 with gold at the X-Games in Aspen – in big air – and X-Games Europe in Oslo, competing in slopestyle.
It was a remarkable return to world-class action for the seven-time X Games champion and Olympic silver medallist, and Parrot discussed the change his experience had on him.
He said: “I was really on the line with cancer. I now make sure I enjoy all the little moments. I appreciate them a hundred times more than before. It’s crazy. And I never want to lose that.”
Off the slopes, Parrot teamed up with the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada to help in their mission to find a cure for blood cancers. Organisation president Alicia Talarico said: “His unwavering commitment to our mission makes us that much stronger in our pursuit to cure all blood cancers and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.”
Parrot, who pledged 1000 Canadian Dollars to the society for each of his circuit victories in 2020, added: “My partnership with The Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada is obviously deeply personal.
“I wish to raise as much money and awareness as possible for blood cancer research and programs that assist patients and their families. My goal is to inspire Canadians to support this cause until we find a cure.”
Shiffrin’s father Jeff died in February 2020, four months after the loss of her grandmother. Jeff had handled all of his daughter’s affairs and was a familiar face on the competition circuit. After he died, Shiffrin took a month away from the slopes.
After her comeback win, she said 2020 had been like “gasping for air with waves crashing over me and my whole family”.
She added: “You can’t really move forward until you stop trying to go back, and I’m having a difficult time with that. I want to change so many things that happened this last year. I’m probably going to be struggling with that for a while, but I think that tonight was a pretty big step.”
In May, Shiffrin joined Kindness Wins, an organisation working with professional athletes aimed at spreading compassion in sport and society.
She said: “One of the mottos my dad lived by was ‘Be nice, think first, and have fun’ – and I will take that with me throughout my entire life.
“My parents both instilled in me that I should treat other people how I want to be treated and, even more importantly, to hold others accountable for the way they treat those around them. For this reason and more, the Kindness Wins message has resonated with me.
“Being kind will never go out of style, and I really believe that we can have a powerful impact on society in spreading this message.”
Group founder Madison Keys, the American tennis player, believes Shiffrin can perform a vital role.
She said: “Kindness Wins focuses not just on those who talk about kindness, but those who take action and put kindness into practice, and Mikaela is the embodiment of this mission.”
At one stage, a serious infection threatened his life. At another, amputation of his severely fractured leg was recommended by some medical staff. “Our first priority is we're going to save his life. And then we're going to do our best to save his leg,” said Alex’s wife, Elizabeth at the time. “And anything beyond that is a miracle.”
After 17 surgeries, hundreds of hours of intense physiotherapy – some of it at the Centre for the Intrepid, a special facility for military veterans recovering from devastating injuries sustained in service – and 728 days since he was carried from the field, Smith made the most improbable of comebacks against the Los Angeles Rams in October 2020.
Once he regained his role as starting quarterback, he won four of five games, including over the then-undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers and the reigning NFC champions the San Francisco 49ers, spearheading Washington’s charge into the play-offs. But his continued presence on the field was also a reminder of his extraordinary resilience and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity.