- Their Greatest Victory: 24 Athletes Who Overcame Disease, Disability and Injury by Porter, David L
Often the results of the athlete are all that matters. Gail Devers is remembered for stumbling on the hurdle of “her event” and surprising others on the flat with Olympic gold, twice. Less is remembered about her battle with Graves’ disease. David Porter, the author of this book combined chapters to raise awareness of disease, disability, and injury through fourteen American athletes. As the title depicts, Their Greatest Victory is a book that draws on the biographies of successful athletes who had to face more than sports in life and overcame it into victory.
This book is separated into two parts, one that is of medical conditioning: disease and disability; and the other, through external factors: accidents and injury. From a disability perspective, these two broad areas can be fitted together under one title when looking at the revised definition of “disability,” as stated by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “persons with disabilities include those . . . with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” (United Nations, 2008).
As the Routledge Companion to Sports History fails to shed light on disability sports, which could be attributed to the vast and complex nature of disability and sport, accounts based on renowned athletes is a good place to start. Episodes in Porter’s book consistently illustrate how doctors’ examinations put the athlete into a category where they would no longer be able to participate. Individuals often ask, what greater authority is there than the word of the medical doctor concerning disabilities or illness? However, each chapter demonstrated what the athletes’ did to work around their disability or illness and continue to participate in elite level sport. Perhaps, what might be different from other books in disability sports is the chosen athletes competed against other world class athletes without disabilities.
The style of the book is based on brief synopses, of around ten pages, on each through secondary source materials. Each chapter centers on the athlete’s condition, details on the disability or injury, and turning points in the athlete’s career, while providing plentiful facts, statistics, and figures about the sporting achievements, as well as some biographical information, quotations, and reports of dealing with the disability or injury in the world of sports. There are over a hundred years of sports described, with the oldest, Dummy Hoy, a deaf-mute baseball player born in 1862; and the youngest, Gary Hall, Jr., 50-meter freestyle Athens gold medalist with diabetes born in 1974. As well as written descriptions, there are at least two photos of each athlete.
Seven different athletes from baseball were included, four from track and field, three golfers, two tennis players and the rest from other sports. Frequently, this book illustrates the medical opinion of disability and illness, and how sport as an entity overcomes the adversity before it. Roles models, such as Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Doris Hart, showed [End Page 527] how discernment from disability must move beyond a medical model. All the featured sports had large audiences watching the events, and Porter also writes about the particulars of societal mind shift through the encouragement of spectators of their supported athlete.
Disability, today, is trying to use a common language that depicts the personal and environmental factors in the daily participation of the individuals. Porter has tried to achieve this by highlighting how the athletes demonstrate that their adversity was less about the condition that they had, but it was more about the need to ignore the social norms of their time (throughout a medical model of disability). A final chapter is presented that links all the athletes together in their ability to “never give up, and represent a resounding triumph of the human spirit over adversity” (p. 245) through fifteen personal characteristics that were often found in the stories.