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Inspiring stories of sporting triumph for powering through the hardest workout

By Kobo • August 21, 2023Recommended Reading

Grab a pair of sweat-proof headphones and get your workout on with one of these incredible, inspiring stories of athletic achievement.

We love a good a good pre-game pump-up jock jam as much as the next gym rat, but sometimes what you need for pushing through to the next level is some slow-burn inspiration that spools out over hours of narration. Whether you’re burnt out on your gym-jam playlist or trying to burn through a to-be-read pile, check out these stories of world-class athletes persevering in the face of professional and personal challenges.

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Smokin’ Joe: The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion of the World, Smokin’ Joe Frazier by Joe Frazier with Phil Berger

Heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier was an unstoppable force: he earned an Olympic gold medal in 1964, and from 1970 – 1973 he reigned as Heavyweight Champion of the World. This is his story of growing up poor, then growing up fast in the shady world of boxing, while ultimately finding a way to make his fortune with his incredible fists.

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Fringes: Life on the Edge of Professional Rugby by Ben Mercer

Former professional rugby player Ben Mercer takes readers into the lives of current professionals who occupy the fringes of the sport (like the pro players at the fringes of every sport), signing contracts just in time to make rent and a car payment, never landing the big endorsements or buying the big mansion in the country—all the while pushing themselves to hit harder and run faster and praying to avoid an injury that could send them to the sidelines forever.

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When Life Grabs You by the Baseballs: Finding Happiness in Life's Changeups by Jon Peters with Ginger Kolbaba

Jon Peters was the first high school baseball player to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated—an honour he earned with 53 straight wins. So why have you never heard of him? A shoulder injury obliterated his major league dreams and sent him on a path of anger and mental illness. This is his story of how he crawled back from the edge to find meaning in a life after baseball.

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My Fight / Your Fight by Ronda Rousey

UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey tells the story of her rise inside and outside of the Octagon, from the passing of her father when she was just 8 years old, to the personal battles she fought outside of the spotlight as her fame grew.

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Rise: A Soldier, a Dream, and a Promise Kept by Daniel Rodriguez with Joe Layden

As a soldier, Daniel Rodriguez survived the Battle of Kamdesh, one of the bloodiest in the US’ war in Afghanistan, and all the while he held a dream in his heart: he knew when he made it home (never wondering if) he would play Division I college football. At just 175 pounds and standing five feet eight inches, carrying all the mental traumas of war including the loss of his best friend, he returned home to embark on a grueling training regimen that made him a viral internet sensation—and ultimately earned him a spot on the Clemson University football team.

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Tom Longboat: Running Against the Wind by Will Cardinal

Hailing from the Six Nations reserve near Brantford Ontario, Tom Longboat was one of the greatest marathoners of the 20th century, running the 1907 Boston Marathon in 2:24:24, coming up just a second short of beating the course record by a full 5 minutes. He served in the Canadian Armed Forces in the Great War in France, finding his way back to Canada after being left for dead on the battlefield.

And if you want to listen to this audiobook on a rest day, rest easy knowing that it was Longboat who pioneered the practice of rest and varying workout intensity as part of training—which today is commonplace, but in Longboat’s day drew racist accusations of laziness.

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Striking Distance: Bruce Lee & the Dawn of Martial Arts in America by Charles Russo

This is the story of how martial arts innovator and film star Bruce Lee returned to the city of his birth, San Francisco, to discover a vibrant martial arts scene—and fought his way to the top of it. It’s a story with dozens of perspectives, presented here through interviews with the people who were there: Lee’s allies, admirers, and adversaries.

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My Olympic Life: A Memoir, the Anita DeFrantz Story by Anita L. DeFrantz with Josh Young

Anita DeFrantz earned Olympic bronze for 8-oared shell rowing in the 1976 games in Montreal. This is her story of growing up encouraged by her parents to make her voice heard as a Black American woman, and to not let obstacles like attending a high school without any girls' sports programs impede her march to the Olympic podium.

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Richard Petty: The Life and Legacy of The King of NASCAR by Charles River Editors

NASCAR “King” Richard Petty won an astonishing 200 races in his stock car racing career and set dozens of records that stand to this day. He retired in 1992, and when the NASCAR hall of fame was opened 18 years later, Petty was inducted as part of the inaugural class.

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Tracking the Wild Coomba: The Life of Legendary Skier Doug Coombs by Robert Cocuzzo

Doug Coombs was a fearless alpine skier, pioneering hundreds of first descents down mountains believed to be impossible to ski. When the first ever World Extreme Ski Competition was held in Alaska in 1991, Coombs grabbed top spot handily. What few knew was that Coombs was always one bad fall away from paralysis, having broken his neck in a skiing accident when he was sixteen. In 2006, while attempting to rescue a fellow skier, Coombs fell 1500 feet to his death.

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