Playing through injuries in sports is almost like a right of passage. It isn’t exactly smart or safe, but it’s one reason why we now know more about the effects of head injuries on players as their careers go forward. Yet even the potential of developing CTE hasn’t stopped athletes from giving it their all, no matter how bad they’re hurt. Some cases are more extreme than others, though—like playing a game of hockey with a punctured lung—and whether they should be commended or discouraged is up to you. We would simply like to present you with five of the most extreme examples of athletes not only playing through severe injuries, but succeeding while doing it. Don’t try this at home.
1. Anthony Davis Plays Three Seasons With Torn Labrum
It’s one thing to play basketball with a partially torn labrum for a couple of games. Even doing so for a full 82-game season isn’t totally unreasonable. But to play with that injury in the NBA for three straight seasons, especially as a big man who spends a lot of time under the hoop jostling with big bodies and having his shoulder continually hit, well, that’s sort of insane.
New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis was shut down about 3/4 of the way through the 2015-2016 season and then revealed that he’d been playing with a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder for the past three seasons. Davis had been told the injury would continually get worse and that he would eventually need surgery. Three years later, he finally decided it was time to get it done.
Not that the injury slowed him down much. During the 2014-2015 season, he shot a career high 53 percent from the field en route to averaging 24.4 points per game, while also averaging a career-high 2.9 blocks per game. Then, last season, he averaged a career-high 10.3 rebounds per game, a yeomen effort considering that rebounding involves a steady use of the arms and shoulders.
With Davis’s labrum freshly repaired as we head into the 2016-2017 NBA season, opposing teams should be very afraid of the Pelicans’ newly healthy big man.
2. Tiger Woods Wins 2008 U.S. Open With Stress Fractures in Knee and Tibia and a Torn ACL
Much of the power golfers generate in their swing comes from their hips and legs, so it makes us cringe to think how painful it would be to try and drive a ball 300 yards with multiple stress fractures in your leg and a torn ACL. It made Tiger Woods cringe too during the 2008 U.S. Open, but that didn’t stop him from winning the whole thing.
Before the tournament started, Woods could barely hit more than a few balls at a time in practice without stopping to wait for the pain to subside. When the first round began, he was bending over in pain after multiple tee shots. But he couldn’t be stopped, putting together an incredible round on Saturday before forcing an 18-hole playoff on Sunday, which he went on to win.
Woods had surgery on his left knee eight days later, knocking him out for the year. Still, winning a major championship on a crumbling leg has forever immortalized Woods’s 2008 U.S. Open performance.
3. Patrice Bergeron Plays Through a Punctured Lung
Before he realized that a hole had been poked in one of his lungs, Boston Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron was already playing Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals with an injury list that included a cracked rib, torn rib cartilage and a separated shoulder. Only when he left the ice that day to be taken to the hospital to treat his plethora of injuries was it discovered that he’d also punctured his lung.
No one was exactly sure how it happened. The consensus was that it resulted from a “nerve block procedure” to alleviate pain from his already cracked rib so he could participate in Game 6, but the cause really doesn’t matter. The fact that Bergeron played a game of hockey, one of the most physical sports on the planet, with his insides in rubble is pure insanity. Oh, and we did we mention he still managed to score four goals in six games, including two in Game 4? Unreal.
4. Daniel Straus Wins Bellator 145 With Severely Broken Hand
When you’re an MMA fighter, you typically need two functioning hands to have any chance within the octagon. Without the ability to punch, you’re usually rendered roadkill.
Unless, of course, you’re Daniel Straus. During their Bellator 145 featherweight title fight in 2015, Straus knocked out Patricio Freire in the third round—with the same left hand that he’d broken in the first round. Straus said the doctors who examined him after the fight told him the break was one of the worst they’d ever seen, and he posted an Instagram photo of the X-ray to prove it.
We can’t imagine what it must feel like to punch someone in the face with a completely shattered hand. It’s got to be some of the worst pain one could ever experience. An MMA title belt was worth it to Straus, though, and he’ll forever have an incredible story to share with people at cocktail parties.
5. Rajon Rondo Returns After Dislocating His Elbow
Rajon Rondo’s hands are so big, there’s a running joke that he’s not actually human and was sent from another planet to play basketball. Returning from a dislocated elbow in the 2011 NBA Playoffs only furthered those alien conspiracy theories.
It was Game 3 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals, and Rondo’s Boston Celtics were down 2-0 against the LeBron James-led Miami Heat. With seven minutes left in the third quarter, Rondo dove for a loose ball and landed awkwardly on his elbow. Visibly in pain, he stayed on the floor for a few minutes while being attended to by the medical staff. He then got up and headed to the locker room, where his elbow was popped back into place.
You know the rest: Rondo somehow returned to the court, ended up playing 35 minutes and contributed 11 assists. He even managed to score a couple baskets with his left arm rendered completely useless, and the Celtics won the game. The Celtics lost the next two games to drop the series in five, but Rondo started in both of them.