5 Mediocre Sports Stars Who Achieved Greatness Late in Their Careers

Ahh, tis better to have bloomed late than never to have bloomed at all, especially if you’re in the professional sports world. Mediocre stars who become great inspire others and create a special kind of legend. They show the world that perseverance and grit mean something.

So let’s talk about five of them that did just that, bloom later in life.

Jamie Vardy

This English footballer’s late rise to greatness is legendary. Vardy was released by the Owls, joined Stocksbridge Park Steels at 16, and then signed for Halifax Town at 23. At 25, he still played non-league football with Fleetwood Town.

Finally, in the summer of 2012, he moved to Leicester, an EFL Championship side at the time. Two seasons were spent in England’s second tier before he found himself 27 years old and finally in the Premier League.

Vardy exploded in 2015-2016, with 24 goals leading Leicester to the Premier League title.

Randy Johnson

Baseball teams were skeptical of a 6’10” pitcher as ball control issues can result from being very tall. Those control issues kept him out of the majors until the age of 25.

Another five years still were what it took to polish and hone his talents, but well worth the wait. At nearly 30, Johnson was throwing fastballs, sometimes over 100 mph. He became one of the greatest left-hand baseball pitchers, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.

Kurt Warner

Anyone who watched Warner’s breakout season with the St. Louis Rams, taking them all the way to a Super Bowl victory and the MVP title, will never forget it. It is one of the most improbable sports world success stories.

Warner was bypassed by the big Division I colleges and worked as a supermarket self-stocker at night to train for football during the day. His path took him to Arena Football, then NFL Europe, to NFL third-string QB, and finally to the starting QB spot after the team’s starting quarterback had a season-ending injury. 

The rest is history. Making just the league minimum at the time ($250,000), Warner took the Rams to a Super Bowl win with a 13-3 record. He went to two more Superbowls throughout his career and retired at age 39.

Ken Norton

In 1973, Ken Norton was given the opportunity to fight Muhammed Ali on the long-running sports series, Wide World of Sports. At 29 years old, Norton had a 29-1 record at the time but was otherwise unremarkable. Considered to be just another boxer trying to make a name for himself, Norton beat Ali, who didn’t take him seriously until a jaw-breaking punch early in the fight. While Ali managed to last through the entire 12 rounds, Norton went on to win the decision.

Beating “The Greatest” made Norton a household name, and he became one of the best heavyweight fighters of his time. He did lose his next two fights with Ali, but they were by a tight decision, and he was fighting the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time

Fauja Singh

While not technically someone who bloomed from being mediocre, Singh deserves a prominent mention because of his inspiring story. His career as a distance runner began in 2000, at 89, with the London marathon, and he went on to run eight more marathons.

His records include: 

  • The fastest male to run a marathon over 90
  • The fastest over 100 to run the 5,000 meters
  • The fastest over 100 to run the 3,000 meters
  • The oldest person to run a marathon (at 100)

Singh finally retired at 101 after finishing the 10k race at the Hong Kong Marathon.

Ummm yeah… That’s impressive and certainly qualifies as a late bloomer.

Don’t you love these stories? These are the people that never gave up and triumphed, becoming legends that inspire us.

I think I’m going to start training for marathons now.