When life hit them hard, these 4 Olympians persevered and hit back even harder.
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Paramount Pictures Ben Hur

It's no secret that we all have obstacles we need to overcome in life.

There will always be ups and downs. That we know for sure. But, sometimes, unexpected lefts and rights pop up and try to throw us even more off track. When those types of moments hit, that's when our resolve is truly put to the test.

That's the type of perseverance on full display at one of the world's most celebrated sporting events — the Olympic Games. For years and years, athletes go through blood, sweat, and tears for a few precious moments of pure competition. If anything, that struggle to achieve greatness is what makes sports so dang beautiful.


But some members of Team USA had to endure a few extra hurdles on their way to glory.

Meet four amazing athletes who are incredible examples of perseverance.

And if their trials bring to mind any challenging experience you've gone through — athletic or otherwise — Paramount would love for you to share your story on social media with the hashtag #MyGreatestVictory. It's in honor of their upcoming movie, "Ben-Hur," the story of an iconic character who never gave up despite facing enormous challenges.

1. Lopez Lomong, track and field

Photo by Paul Merca/Wikimedia Commons.

As one of thousands of refugees known as "The Lost Boys of Sudan," Lopez Lomong was kidnapped by soldiers and imprisoned in a brutal camp when he was only 6 years old. They were going to force him to become a child soldier.

With the help of some friends on the outside, Lomong managed to escape. He ended up running for his life for three days and three nights toward a refugee camp in Kenya — a place where he would live for 10 years.

Eventually, Catholic Charities got involved and helped Lomong move stateside. Once he got here, he started running again. But this time, it was to represent his new homeland. He became so good and such an inspiration that, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he was honored as the flag-bearer for the United States.

Eight years later, Lomong is still running as strong as ever.

2. Kayla Harrison, judo

Screenshot via Olympic/YouTube.

At the 2012 London games, Kayla Harrison became the first American to win gold in judo. Her journey there, however, started off with a heartbreaking circumstance.

In an interview with ESPN, Harrison opened up about how she was sexually abused for years by her coach, Daniel Doyle, when she was just starting out in the sport. The abuse left deep emotional scars and led to thoughts of suicide.

With support from her mom and a psychologist, Harrison moved to Boston to train in a new environment and, in the process, channeled her experience to become an absolute force to be reckoned with — both on and off the mat. In addition to being a badass athlete, she started a foundation helping other survivors of sexual abuse.

Harrison told ESPN, "There's nothing in this life that's going to be harder than what I've been through already. I may lose. But no one will break me."

Come this August, the entire country will be rooting for her to repeat her Olympic success.

3. Jillion Potter, rugby

Screenshot via World Rugby/YouTube.

Jillion Potter is the definition of perseverance.

In 2010, while playing for Team USA, she got into a fluke accident and broke her neck in a game against Canada. Doctors said she would never play again. But you know what? She came back as strong as ever.

But then another tragedy hit in 2014. She was diagnosed with soft tissue cancer and needed both chemotherapy and radiation to treat it. Again, it didn't stop her from competing in the sport she loves so much. With the support of her loved ones, she beat cancer and was just recently announced as a member of the 2016 team.

In an interview with CNN, Potter sums everything up by relating her experience to her sport: "You get tackled, you always have to get up off the ground, just like in life."

Well said, Jillion!

4. Daryl Homer, fencing

Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.

Daryl Homer is trying to make history by becoming the first American male to win gold in fencing. But he also acknowledges that history isn't quite on his side.

He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "I’m from the Bronx and most people from the Bronx aren’t fencing. On top of that, most people don’t see African-Americans fencing. On top of that, there’s still the perception Americans aren’t the leaders in the fencing world."

But none of that has slowed down Homer one bit. Throughout his life, he's persevered to become the absolute best — in life and in fencing. He's a fighter and one that won't back down from a challenge.

In a piece for The Player's Tribune, he said, "To most people, I probably don’t look like a fencer. But on the strip, none of that matters. It’s two people facing off for survival."

These athletes are shining examples of the power of the human spirit.

They dedicated themselves to their ultimate goal and never let any roadblock steer them away. And even if they don't medal at the upcoming games, there's no question that they've already achieved victory.

Have a perseverance story of your own? What are some of the victories you've experienced in your own life?

In honor of Paramount's newest film, "Ben-Hur" — a timeless character who knows a thing or two about determination — Paramount is asking for people to share their stories about rising up and overcoming adversity. They'll share their favorites on their social media channels.

Share the moments, big or small, where you were able to overcome adversity and persevere, with the hashtag #MyGreatestVictory.

People often think of government bureaucrats as being boring stuffed shirts, but whoever runs social media at the National Park Service is proving that at least some of them have a sense of humor.

In a Facebook post, the NPS shared some seasonal advice for park-goers about what to do if they happen to encounter a bear, and it's both helpful and hilarious. Not that a confrontation with a bear in real life is a laughing matter—bears can be dangerous—but humor is a good way to get people to pay attention to important advice.

They wrote:

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People often think of government bureaucrats as being boring stuffed shirts, but whoever runs social media at the National Park Service is proving that at least some of them have a sense of humor.

In a Facebook post, the NPS shared some seasonal advice for park-goers about what to do if they happen to encounter a bear, and it's both helpful and hilarious. Not that a confrontation with a bear in real life is a laughing matter—bears can be dangerous—but humor is a good way to get people to pay attention to important advice.

They wrote:

Keep Reading Show less
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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."