“The world is full of suffering, but it is also full of overcoming it.”
The quote above is from Helen Keller, a woman who suddenly fell blind and deaf at the age of two, yet still went on to become a world-famous author and educator who inspired millions of people across the globe.
Keller’s life was the definition of grit and perseverance — two common themes that reverberate through in many of the comeback stories behind ultra-successful people.
It’s true that we admire people who accomplish great things, but we have an even deeper level of appreciation for a good bounce back story.
We may applaud people who start revolutionary companies and push barriers, but we give standing ovations and shed tears for people with motivational stories that remind us that anything is possible.
If you’ve been going through some struggles in life, hopefully the following inspirational comeback stories will serve as motivation to push past whatever adversity you’re experiencing.
What Is A Comeback Story?
Typically, comeback stories are divided into two types:
- The people who achieve great things and then have a major setback that almost destroys everything they’ve worked for.
- The people who start from nothing, experience major setbacks, and still find a way to make an impact on the world.
We tend to have less sympathy for the first type of story — the ones about the type of people who get to the top of the mountain and fall back down.
“They had everything going for them, how could they just throw it all away?”
Although these comeback stories are a little less relatable, they teach us an important lesson about success — it’s hard to achieve, but it’s even harder to maintain.
We tend to underestimate just how much work it takes to become successful, but we severely underestimate the work it takes to stay successful. That’s why it’s harder for us to empathize with people who sabotage their own success and are forced to bounce back.
A good underdog story on the other hand? That’s something that most of us can usually get behind.
Neither of these types of comeback stories are better than the other. Even if the underdog story is a little more relatable, both types highlight the unbelievable power of individuals who simply refuse to give in to life’s challenges.
The following comeback stories highlight examples of extraordinary people from both camps.
8 Incredibly Motivating Comeback Stories
Without further ado, let’s talk about some of the most inspirational comeback stories that hopefully will motivate you to fight back against your own personal struggles.
#1: Niki Lauda
I wouldn’t consider myself a racing fan, but this is still one of the most compelling comeback stories that I’ve come across in any area of life.
In 1976, Niki Lauda was a Formula One Driver for Ferrari. The year had been a good one for Lauda too, as he was poised to win his second straight world championship.
He arrived at the German Grand Prix in peak form, but the racing conditions on August 1, 1976 were far from ideal. Heavy rain and an outdated race track meant extremely dangerous conditions for the drivers racing that day.
Along with many other drivers, Lauda was worried about the implications of the race going ahead. He decided to voice his concerns by calling a drivers-only meeting where he proposed that the race be cancelled.
Unfortunately, he ended up losing by a single vote. Just a few hours later, Lauda spun out of a corner and lost control of his car. As he struck the wall, his fuel tank exploded and his car became engulfed in flames.
Unable to get out of the car, Lauda was trapped in an inferno. Recognizing what was happening, the other drivers exited their cars to assist Lauda, but the blaze prevented them from being able to help.
He was trapped inside the fiery blaze for 50 seconds. And by the time he had been pulled out of his car, he had suffered horrific third degree burns and inhaled a heavy dosage of toxic fumes.
At one point Lauda’s situation seemed so dire that while he was in a coma, a priest actually stood over him and read him his last rites.
Now usually, you’d think that someone who’d spent 50 seconds in a burning blaze of 800 degrees would be out of racing for several months at the very least, but Niki wasn’t like most people.
Against all medical advice, he decided to suit up 43 days later. His face was far from completely healed, his vision was still blurred, and you can only imagine the kind of pain he was feeling.
He came in fourth that day at Monza — a truly remarkable achievement for someone who had been fighting for his life just 43 days earlier.
Lauda lost the world championship by one single point that year in a heated battle that’s widely considered to be the most exhilarating Formula One championships of all time.
Lauda’s 1976 season remains one of most remarkable comeback stories in sports history.
#2: Dwayne Johnson
We all know Dwayne Johnson as the WWE superstar turned actor who is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but the story of how he got there is less widely known.
In 1995, Dwayne Johnson had dreams of playing in the NFL. He was a defensive lineman for the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders, but struggled to get enough playing time to display his talents.
Unsurprisingly, the Stampeders released Dwayne Johnson after a brief stint and in the process, crushed Johnson’s dreams of playing in the NFL.
Shortly thereafter, Johnson returned home to live with his parents in Tampa — he had $7 to his name. It wasn’t long after moving back home that Johnson developed severe depression because of the uncertainty surrounding his next chapter.
Ultimately though, he came to a decision to pursue pro wrestling as his next career. And through sheer perseverance, he molded himself into one of the most successful wrestlers in the WWE.
And the rest, as they say, is history. The days of only having $7 to his name are way behind Johnson, who has now accumulated a net worth of over $320 million. And furthermore, he continues to serve as an inspiration to many by consistently preaching the power of work ethic and discipline.
- Related Article: 67 Motivational Dwayne Johnson Quotes About Life & Success
#3: Darren Waller
Continuing on with this list of comeback stories we have Darren Waller, who’s currently known for being one of the best tight-ends in the NFL.
A few years ago however, people saw Waller in a much different light. During his first year in the NFL, Waller gained a reputation for two things: his upside as a receiving talent on the field and his off the field involvement with drugs and alcohol.
Waller describes his behavior back then by saying, “Percocet, marijuana, adderall, cocaine, if it offered a high, I tried it. And if you were trying to help me, I wasn’t trying to hear it.”
Eventually, his off the field antics caught the attention of the NFL, who suspended him for the entire 2017 season after violating their substance abuse policy.
However, the worst was yet to come. Just two months later, Waller found himself sitting in his Jeep Grand Cherokee with a handful of opioids in his hand. Immediately after ingesting them, he knew something wasn’t right.
His head began to spin, and he was on the verge of fainting. He battled the urge to throw up and eventually fell asleep in the car. Waller slept in that car for four hours, and woke up drenched in sweat.
It was only later that he would realize that he ingested opioid pills that were laced with fentanyl, which is one of the leading causes of overdoses in the United States.
The experience shook Waller, who for the first time in his life, feared his drug habit could potentially kill him. This turned out to be the final straw for Waller — 30 days later, he checked himself into an addiction treatment center in Camden, Maine.
While in rehab, he took up several positive habits like self-improvement journaling, meditating, and often spent hours writing song lyrics, most of which revolved around sobriety.
After returning from rehab, Waller got a job stocking produce at a grocery store, earning a modest $11 an hour. He continued to maintain his sobriety, and on the off chance he got another shot at the NFL, he re-committed himself to fitness.
Eleven months after getting out of rehab, the NFL gave him that shot. However, he was assigned to the practice squad immediately upon returning to the league, which was a pretty big blow to his ego.
However, he didn’t let this affect his work ethic. Determined to regain his role as a starter, he arrived early to every practice and stayed late for additional fitness sessions.
Eventually, Waller was signed off of the Baltimore Ravens practice squad and offered a chance to prove himself on the Oakland Raiders.
And prove himself he did. 2019 turned out to be the best year of Waller’s career and he further cemented his status in the NFL with an even more impressive campaign in 2020.
Waller draws a lot of attention for his on field talents, and deservedly so, but it’s his transformation that’s perhaps even more impressive than the type of player he’s become.
#4: Tiger Woods
Unless you were living under a rock in 2008, you probably heard about Tiger Woods and the shocking marriage scandal that dominated news cycles for months.
Up until 2008, Woods had a completely spotless reputation. On the course he was viewed as a killer who did whatever it took to win. Off the course, he was viewed as a shining knight who never made a false step in his personal life.
However, these sentiments vanished overnight when it surfaced that he had cheated with a total of 120 women during his five year marriage to Erin Nordegren. The world turned their backs on him, and deservedly so — he had fucked up, and not in a minor way.
After the public humiliation, Woods checked himself into a sex rehabilitation center and wrestled with the demons that led to his marriage ending in such devastating fashion.
However, more pain lay ahead for Woods. For the next decade of his life, Woods would spend his time returning to golf and then disappearing again, mostly due to recurring injuries to his back.
He would return to golf after a back surgery, start to look like his old dominant self, and then withdraw due to chronic pain. This happened in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017 — the man who could show up and dominate tournaments was a ghost.
This wasn’t just ordinary back pain either. He described the pain as so crippling that there were some days where he’d have to spend the whole day in bed.
Yet still, there was more room for Woods to fall. On May 29, 2017, police officers found him asleep in his Mercedes, which was still running.
Apparently, Woods had gotten behind the wheel on a heavy dosage of painkillers and simply fell asleep in his car. He ended up pleading guilty to reckless driving and it was a clear signal to everyone that this was rock-bottom for Woods.
In a survey conducted after the incident, 70% of PGA tour players said that Woods would never win another major tournament — even the players who had grown up idolizing him had lost faith.
Characteristically though, Woods proved them wrong. After a fifth spinal fusion surgery on his back, Woods finally was able to return to golf in 2018 after an 18 month hiatus from the game.
Two years later, Woods won the 2019 Masters Tournament, his first major tournament win since 2008. After an eleven year period characterized by public humiliation, personal demons, and crippling pain, Woods was right back where he belonged — hoisting the big trophy and inspiring millions in the process.
#5: Ramona Pierson
In 1984, Ramona Pierson was training for the marine corps. One night while she was on a run, a drunk driver ran a red light and ended up striking Pierson — the impact was so devastating that her body basically exploded.
Over the next 18 months, Pierson was in a drug induced coma. Over 100 operations were performed before she regained consciousness. And when she finally did come back to the world, she was a shell of her former self.
What makes this one of the most compelling comeback stories I’ve ever come across is the sheer number of basic life skills that Pierson had to re-learn during her long, tenuous recovery.
After coming out of the coma, she was blind and deaf. She had lost nearly half her body weight, and couldn’t articulate her thoughts. Her basic motor functions were significantly impaired, meaning she had to re-learn how to walk without assistance.
Despite the severity of her injuries, Pierson’s courage didn’t waver. After undergoing speech therapy, she regained her ability to speak competently.
She then learned to read braille, which allowed her to dive into academic textbooks. She completed her undergraduate degree in psychology in just two years, even though she couldn’t see. (yes you read that right)
Eleven years after the accident, she finally regained her sight. And five years after this milestone came another — attaining her doctorate degree in neuro-clinical psychology.
This laid the foundation for Pierson starting and selling her own company seven years later for $10 million. Then, she did it again with Delcara, a social and collaboration platform that was acquired in 2019.
In 1984, Ramona’s life stopped in its tracks. It would’ve been the easiest thing in the world to simply give up on finding success and happiness, and who would have blamed her?
But the comeback stories on this list are about extraordinary people, and Ramona is certainly one of them.
#6: Mel Robbins
At the age of 41, Mel Robbins found herself stuck. She was constantly at war with husband, admitting that they were on the brink of divorce.
This tension was exacerbated by the fact they had invested their entire savings into a business venture that left them 800,000 in the hole.
Combine that with a nasty habit of hitting the bottle hard at night and the snooze button several times each morning and you have a full-blown recipe for disaster — Robbins was in a death spiral.
One day, she was lying in bed and watching a NASA rocket launch. She observed the countdown, “5-4-3-2-1…Launch!”
Watching the launch process inspired Mel to commit to something — the next morning, she vowed to launch herself out of bed in the same fashion.
The moment her alarm sounded the next morning, she was met with the same self-loathing thoughts that would usually keep her in bed — the state of her marriage, the crippling debt, and of course that overwhelming sense of shame.
However, this time she fought past her habitual patterns — after counting backwards from 5, she jumped out of bed. And for the first time in months, she had beaten her habit of hitting the snooze button.
What started out as a simple little gimmick became a religion for Mel. She realized that every day, there were moments where her brain would talk her out of things if she didn’t take action in 5 seconds or less.
Mel began to win these decisive moments during the day by counting backwards from five and then simply acting on whatever task she was avoiding or feeling anxiety about.
By tapping into intuition and taking action in spite of her feelings, Mel gradually changed her life and overcame her demons.
She worked tirelessly with her husband to improve their finances. She began to improve her relationship with her husband as well, which was helped along by her quitting her drinking habit using the exact same rule.
Eventually, she wrote a best-selling book about the rule titled, “The 5 Second Rule: How To Transform Your Life, Work, And Confidence With Everyday Courage.”
Nowadays, Robbins is a successful entrepreneur and one of the highest paid female speakers in the world. The 5 Second Rule has been used by millions of people to overcome self-doubt and start taking control of their lives.
For more about Mel Robbins and the 5 second rule, feel free to check out this TED Talk below which has racked up close to 30 million views.
#7: Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey’s transformation from unhireable drug addict to big screen star is one of the most legendary comeback stories in Hollywood.
Downey began to make a name for himself as an actor in the late 80’s. After appearing on the cast of Saturday Night Live for one season, he began to secure big roles and earn recognition for his talent.
In 1992, he was nominated for an academy award for his performance in “Chaplin,” and it appeared he was headed for a wildly successful career.
In 1996 however, things took a turn for the worst. Downey was arrested for possession of heroin and cocaine, and spent the next seven years of his life battling addiction and cycling in and out of jail.
In 2001, he was found walking barefoot in the middle of Culver City, California. Suspecting that he was under the influence, police officers placed him under arrest and a court judge mandated that he go to rehab.
It wasn’t until 2003 that Downey quit drugs for good. Despite his commitment to sobriety, no one in the film industry wanted to touch him. Most filmmakers still believed he had talent, but they didn’t want to pay the absurd insurance payments required to have him on set.
Luckily, another actor named Mel Gibson gave Downey a shot at redemption. He agreed to personally underwrite Downey’s insurance so that they could both star in a 2003 film called The Singing Detective.
Downey excelled in this role, and more opportunities followed. The most rewarding opportunity of all would come when he was cast as Tony Stark in the Ironman trilogy.
The movie was a smashing success. Downey capitalized on this success by appearing in several other Marvel Movies as well, most notably The Avengers series.
Once viewed as an untouchable actor who had to fight for auditions, Downey is now looked upon as one of the most respected actors in Hollywood.
Downey’s bounce back story illustrates that once you’re at the top of the mountain, it’s way easier than you think to fall off. But it also illustrates that once you do fall back down to rock-bottom, there’s no excuse to stay there.
#8: Harland David Sanders
Last but not least on this list of awesome comeback stories we have Harland David Sanders.
Sanders had plenty of practice with failure throughout his life. After being forced to cut his law career short, Sanders worked as an insurance salesman, but ended up being fired for insubordination.
In 1920, he founded a ferry boat company. As the business began to expand, Sanders tried to capitalize on his winning streak by pouring money into a lamp manufacturing business — the failure of this business left him broke.
Four years later, Sanders opened a restaurant and bought a hotel, both of which burned to the ground. Sanders rebuilt the motel and ran it successfully until World War 2 forced him to shut it down.
After the war was over, Sanders tried to franchise restaurants. It was reported that his “secret recipe” was rejected 1,009 times before anyone accepted it.
His recipe became a hit and business started to boom at Sanders’ restaurant. However, yet again he was hit with misfortune when an interstate opened next to him, effectively crippling his business.
Despite yet another failure, Sanders did have one priceless asset left — his famous recipe for “Kentucky Fried Chicken”
Sanders decided to pursue his dream of opening franchises across the country, and this time, he was successful. KFC began to expand internationally and he ended up selling the company for what equates to $15 million today.
The story of Harlan David Sanders shows that it’s really, really hard to beat a person who just never gives up.
Why Do We Enjoy Comeback Stories?
Much like inspirational quotes about life and struggles, comeback stories expand our perception of what’s possible.
One of the beliefs that our brain latches onto in order to protect us is the idea that our struggles are unique. If we believe that our struggles are unique, and that no one else is experiencing the same kind of feelings, then we feel less bad for not taking action to change our situation.
“No one else is going through what I’m going through, they wouldn’t understand. It’s just harder for me.”
In most cases, our personal struggles are far from unique.
You’re not the only one who’s gone through a messy divorce. You’re not the only one who’s grown up without a father/mother at home. You’re not the only one who grew up in a neighborhood filled with negative influences.
All around the world, there are people who’ve been in your position and still found a way to turn their pain into power and reinvent themselves.
In fact, if you look in the mirror right now, you’ll find that the person staring back at you is the only one that can stop you from getting everything you’ve ever wanted.
Final Thoughts: Overcoming Your Own Demons
As you’re reading through these comeback stories, it’s easy to get inspired. But recognize that the inspiration you’re feeling right now is fleeting.
You’re gonna leave this blog post and it’s going to pass.
The one habit that each of these successful people have in common is that they take relentless action.
Relentless action allowed Ramona Pierson to recover from a horrific accident that made her a vegetable and become a highly successful entrepreneur.
Relentless action allowed Mel Robbins to go from a depressed, broke, self-described alcoholic to one of the most compelling motivational speakers in the world.
Let these comeback stories serve as proof that no matter how heavily the deck is stacked against you, relentless action can beat the odds. You can’t control what life is going to throw at you, but you can always control how you respond to it.
So go respond! Apply to ten more jobs even though you’ve been rejected twenty times. Work through your financial troubles even if it seems hopeless. Take control of your social anxiety even if it’s been ruining your life for years.
Become the type of person who takes relentless action, and someday people will be writing articles like this about you.