20 Athletes Who Have Saved Somebody's Life

Eric NewmanCorrespondent IIIJanuary 23, 2013

20 Athletes Who Have Saved Somebody's Life

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    Voltaire (and later Peter Parker's Uncle Ben) once said, "With great power comes great responsibility."

    Well there's no arguing: Athletes have great power. It comes not only in the form of physical skill, but also mental acuity, and influence over an admiring public.

    The amazing athletes and sports figures on this list all used their power—in one form or another—to save the life of another human being. Some indirectly. Some very, very directly.

    Not all the tales are happy; some on this list sacrificed their future well-being, or even their own life in order to save another. 

    But all the tales are deeply inspiring. And all will make you proud of the courage and selflessness of the world's athletic community.

    Meet 20 athletes. Meet 20 heroes.

Honorable Mention: Jim Joyce

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    Joyce, while not an athlete, is an important member of the athletic community as a major-league umpire with nearly two and a half decades of experience.

    Before a game in August 2012, Joyce came upon a food-service employee having a seizure in the tunnel of Chase Field. After making sure the woman was protected, Joyce administered CPR until—and even after—paramedics arrived.

    The woman was rushed to the hospital and stabilized.

    In Joyce's own words: “And I knew if something wasn't done, this lady could actually die in front of me. It was more instinct than anything else.”

    After the incident, Joyce went on to work home plate at the game.

    For those of you still holding a grudge for Joyce's 2010 perfect-game-ruining bad call, time to let go and give this hero some props.

Tom Brady

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    A football star like Tom Brady has a lot of influence over people. Millions admire him, are intrigued by him, respect him. The CEO of Twitter put Brady as No. 1 on his wish list of people who he'd like to start Tweeting. We can only imagine how many people would follow 'Tom Terrific.'

    When Brady's beloved college mentor Tom Martinez needed a kidney transplant, Brady put his influence to good use. Brady asked the public to go to MatchingDonors.com to see if they would be a match for Martinez.

    Hundreds of people responded and a potential match found, however tragically, Martinez died from a heart attack before the operation could be set up.

    One of the potential donors had been a Massachusetts man named Peter Hughes. Brady's plea had really inspired him. Hughes said, "I would have never thought about being an organ donor if it hadn't been for Tom Brady's plea for his mentor."

    After Martinez died, Hughes went back to MatchingDonors.com, found a match—a woman originally from war-torn Bosnia, in desperate need of a kidney.

    The procedure was scheduled for May 22, 2012.

Michael Cuddyer

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    Brad Thomas and his wife Kylie were scheduled to be on United Airlines flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles...

    The one leaving on Sept. 11, 2001 out of Logan Airport.

    Yeah, that one.

    Thomas and teammate Michael Cuddyer played AA ball for the New Britain Rock Cats.

    A Cuddyer seventh-inning home run helped the Rock Cats clinch the Eastern League Northern Division playoffs. The team's season was prolonged; they were going to the Eastern League championship.

    And that meant Thomas had to change his plans—he thus avoided boarding the doomed flight.

    Cuddyer would go on to play in the majors for the Twins and now for the Rockies.

    Thomas, played for the Twins, the Tigers, and currently for the Brother Elephants of the Chinese Professional Baseball League.

Chris Seitz

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    In August 2012, Seitz, a goalkeeper for FC Dallas and a member of the national bone-marrow registry, learned that his bone marrow could save a dying person's life.

    The donation process was intensely invasive. Doctors would have to bore holes in his back and then put 32 needles inside him to harvest the marrow from his bones.

    It was the kind of procedure that could put a goalie out of commission for weeks, perhaps months. Perhaps longer. Seitz's whole career would be in fact at risk.

    But he went through with it anyway. 

    Recovery has been tough, and Seitz's comeback is still uncertain.

    For his selfless and heroic deed, he was awarded the Major League Soccer Humanitarian Award in 2012.

    In Seitz's own words: "This has been a huge struggle, but to be the person I want to be, I had to do this. I wouldn't change it for the world. And I hope that others would do the exact same thing."

Todd Frazier

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    In May 2012, Cincinnati Reds rookie slugger Todd Frazier witnessed a man choking at a Pittsburgh restaurant. Frazier rushed over and performed the Heimlich Maneuver, dislodging a piece of steak and saving the man's life. 

    In Frazier's own words:

    "I tried [the Heimlich Maneuver] twice. It popped out. It was a monster piece. The guy was very thankful. The lady he was with was crying. It was surreal. I never done it before in my life."

    Frazier never learned the man's name and apparently, the man didn't know Frazier was a baseball player. 

Guy Mezger

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    In December 2011, retired MMA fighter Mezger was out shopping for a bicycle for his daughter when he came upon a deranged man assaulting his girlfriend.

    Mezger intervened, taking a knife blow to the hand. Despite the injury, Mezger laid a serious beating on the perp, reportedly breaking several of the man's arm and facial bones before the police arrived.

Mike Danton

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    In September 2011, Marcus Bengtsson of the Swedish hockey team IFK Ore took a hit, clobbered his head against the ice and started convulsing. His teammate Mike Danton, formerly of the St. Louis Blues came to the rescue. 

    Danton jammed his fist in Bengtsson's mouth to stop the injured player from choking on his tongue. Eventually emergency workers got to the rink and brought Bengtsson to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a concussion.

    So where had Danton learned his first-aid skills? Naturally, from a first-aid responder course. Not so naturally... it was a prison course.

    Danton served time for a conspiracy to commit murder charge.

    After the incident, Danton showed Bengtsson "where his ugly teeth had chomped down and broke skin" on Danton's fingers.

    Bengtsson allegedly replied, "Now we are blood brothers.'"  

Gioconda and Giuliana Mendiola, Nicole Castro, Loree Payne, Erica Schelley

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    On Dec. 31, 2002, Kayla Burt, a sophomore guard for the University of Washington Huskies, was hanging out in her apartment with some teammates when she collapsed and slid off her bed.

    Her doctor would later characterize the incident as an "episode of sudden death."

    Teammates flipped her over and saw that she had turned purple from lack of oxygen. When they checked for a pulse, they found none.

    The other Huskies sprang into action; Giulana Mendiola (pictured here) administered CPR while her sister Gioconda gave Burt mouth-to-mouth. The other players moved furniture to clear space and relayed instructions from emergency services.

    Paramedics arrived and whisked Burt off to the hospital. Doctors implanted a defibrillator and predicted that Burt would go on living a normal, healthy life.

    In Giuliana Mendiola's own words: "We didn't really know what we were doing. We were just doing what we remembered from TV shows."

    So kids, next time mom and dad tell you that you're watching too much television...

Shawn Daivari

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    One fall day in 2012, some nut job gets on an airport-bound train out of Minneapolis, starts yelling racial slurs and allegedly threatens to kill everyone on board.

    Unlucky for him, one of those aboard is former WWE star Shawn Daivari. 

    Daivari puts the guy in a choke hold and squeezes so hard that the guy wets his pants. At the next stop, the wrestler throws the perp out the door.

    See surveillance footage of the incident here.

    In Daivari's own words: "I didn’t know if this guy had a knife in his pocket or a gun in his backpack, so I just went up to him, turned him around, grabbed him in a rear naked choke/sleeper hold and held until I felt his body go limp."

Leonard Pope

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    Current Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Leonard Pope was in his house on a June day in 2011. Some friends were over for a pool party.

    One of the kids, a 6-year-old boy got caught in the deep end and went under. The child's mother witnessed the impending tragedy. Unable to swim, she shouted out for help.

    Pope bolted out from the house.

    According to Pope only the boy's hands were above water.

    Pope dove in and saved the child from drowning.

    In Pope's own words: "I wasn't waiting on anyone else ... to try to pull him out. I just felt because I have kids of my own I would want someone to do that for my kids also."

    The only casualty of the day was Pope's cell phone, which had been in his pocket when he made the heroic water rescue.

Muhammad Ali

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    On Jan. 19, 1981 a mentally distraught 21-year-old decided to take his own life. The man stood in a ninth-floor window of a Los Angeles building.

    According to the CBS report, police, a psychologist and a minister "had all but given up trying to change the despondent man's mind."

    Ali was nearby and volunteered to speak to the man. The would-be jumper recognized Ali, but the situation was still touch-and-go for a while.

    Eventually, with coaxing from Ali, the man agreed to come back inside.

Mark Asper

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    The Beef Bowl—an annual prime-rib dinner extravaganza for Rose Bowl teams ahead of the game. A meal of fleshy delights. Of camaraderie. Of pre-game excitement.

    And for one player, of shining heroism.

    At the December 2011 meal, Oregon offensive lineman Asper, noticed a man choking at the next table.

    Asper, a former Eagle Scout, called upon his training and performed the Heimlich Manuever, clearing the obstructing food from the man's throat.

    Afterward, the choking victim jokingly complained that Asper had broken a pair of sunglasses in the rescue.

    Currently, Asper is a member of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars.

Martellus Bennett

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    In November 2012, after a stellar performance in a game against the Green Bay Packers, NY Giants tight end Bennett was "moseying to the locker room," enjoying the adoration of fans. Bennett had made three catches in the game and was quite popular at the moment.

    Above him, a middle-aged man was lunging forward toward the railing atop the tunnel through which the players enter and exit the field. Bennett noticed that the young boy in front of the man had unexpectedly ducked. The man smacked into the prone boy and flipped right over the railing.

    Bennett made his fourth reception of the day, saving the man's life.

    In Bennett's own words:  "I'm usually a ninja, but my Spidey-senses told me he was going to take a fall, so I saved his life. He owes me his first-born or something. Actually, I don't want that. Maybe a sandwich or something."

C.J. Leslie

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    This, the most recent heroic rescue on the list, occurred on Jan. 15, 2013.

    As the buzzer sounded finalizing a North Carolina State upset victory over No.1-ranked Duke, fans rushed to congratulate the improbable victors. 

    Will Privette, a die-hard North Carolina fan who requires the use of a wheelchair, got swept up in the celebratory tidal wave.  He found himself sprawled out on the floor and moments away from being trampled to death.

    Luckily, star North Carolina player C.J. Leslie, with his 6'9" stature, noticed what was about to occur. He rushed into the crowd, grabbed up Privette and held him until the danger had passed.

    In Leslie's own words: "I just saw him there and people were surging in around him. I knew it could end up a bad situation."

    In Privette's own words: "I'm loving it. I'm glad this happened my senior year. It's a great way to go out."

Erron Kinney

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    On Aug. 31, 1999, firefighter and University of Florida tight end Erron Kinney responded to an emergency call; a fire had broken out at a boat plant.

    At the site, flames were shooting close to 100 feet in the air.

    When fellow firefighter Paul James collapsed, Kinney scooped him and carried him hundreds of yards to safety.

    In Kinney's own words: "I carried Paul, picked him up and cradled him like a baby and carried him out," he said. "The training went out the window and it was all adrenaline."

    Later, Kinney would go on to play pro football for the Tennessee Titans. He retired from football in 2006.

    Currently he is a captain with a fire department in South Carolina. 

Danous Estenor

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    In February 2011, tow truck driver and father of four Pedro Arzola was working under a car in a cafe parking lot . The car suddenly lurched forward and pinned Arzola's torso beneath it. According to Arzola's wife, it was "like a horror movie ... a lot of blood."

    She and two other men tried to lift the car, but couldn't.

    Estenor, a 6-foot-3, 295-pound offensive lineman for USF, pulled into the lot intending to eat at the cafe. He heard the screams and rushed over to help.

    On Estenor's first attempt, he couldn't get the car to budge. But then adrenaline really kicked in. On his second attempt, the lineman heaved up the 3,500-pound car enough for others to pull Arzola out from under it.

    What happened next? Estenor went into the cafe for his meal, of course.

Nomar Garciaparra

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    In October 2005 MLB shortstop Garciaparra was in his Charlestown Condo with his uncle when they heard a scream. Two women had fallen into the harbor. One had hit her head on the pier as she fell and was reportedly unconscious.

    Garciaparra ran out the door, and dove into the harbor to save the two women. Garciaparra's uncle then jumped from a second-floor balcony into the water to help his nephew drag the women to safety.

    In the words of eyewitness Johnny O'Hara: "It was crazy. Nomar was like jumping over walls to get to the girls and the other guy leaped off the balcony. It was unbelievable."

Pat Tillman

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    Unanswered questions still abound in the tragic friendly-fire death of army specialist and Arizona Cardinals safety Patrick Tillman. Books, films and countless articles have explored and debated exactly what happened in Afghanistan back on April 22, 2004.

    Army ranger Bryan O'Neal was with Tillman on that fateful day. And he credits the former NFL star with saving his life.

    According to O'Neal, Tillman was well covered as bullets whizzed their way. O'Neal, though, was exposed, vulnerable. Tillman came out from his cover and lobbed a smoke grenade to save his fellow soldier.

    In O'Neal's words: "The only reason I am standing here is because Pat Tillman saved my life."

Joe Delaney

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    On June 29, 1983, three children were drowning in a pond at Chennault Park in Monroe, La. Kansas City Chiefs star running back, Joe Delaney was nearby and heard the screams for help. Though he couldn't swim, he waded into the water and helped one of the children to safety.

    He went back for the others, but ended up perishing along with them.

    Delaney had set a new bar for heroism.

    President Ronald Reagan awarded Delaney the Presidential Citizen’s Medal in July 1983.

    And in 1984, the NCAA  posthumously awarded Delaney the NCAA Award of Valor.

Timothy J. McCarthy

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    On March 30, 1981 crazed gunman John Hinckley Jr. fired a .22-caliber revolver at President Ronald Reagan in front of the Washington Hilton Hotel.

    If not for the amazing agility and skill of the President's secret service detail, Reagan undoubtedly would have been killed.

    One of the Secret Service men escorting Reagan was former Fighting Illini football player Timothy J. McCarthy. When the assassin came forward firing, McCarthy jumped in front of the President and took a bullet to the abdomen. McCarthy is pictured here sprawled out in the foreground just after taking that slug.

    He made a full recovery and became a national hero. Among his many honors, McCarthy was awarded the 1982 NCAA Award of Valor. 

    Today he is the police chief of Orland Park, Ill. 

Barney Ross

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    Professional boxer Barney Ross made a name for himself in the sporting world when he majorly upset world Lightweight and Jr. Welterweight champion and fellow three-division world champions club member Tony Canzoneri in Chicago.

    He retired from boxing with an impressive record of 77-4-3.

    After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Ross enlisted in the Marines though he was already in his mid-30s.

    On a night patrol in Guadalcanal, Ross and three fellow soldiers came under fire from Japanese troops. All four men were wounded, but Ross the least so.

    In one amazing act of bravery after another, Ross led his injured comrades to a crater hole. Throughout the night he fended off the enemy, reportedly firing off over 200 rounds and hurling 22 grenades. He was credited with killing approximately 20 enemy combatants during that night.

    Two of the injured Americans died, but Ross (who weighed 140 pounds) was able to carry the third (weighing approximately 230 pounds) to safety the next day.

    Ross would later be awarded the Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and a Presidential Citation.