Underdogs – Why they inspire us, and how we can beat the odds


ONCE, my family and I stayed in a world-class resort hotel owned by a former janitor.

My friend, the owner, was dirt poor as a child. He sold food, sweets and cigarettes in the streets. He worked as a janitor to pay his way through university. His own hotel is one of the most beautiful things he had built as an architect.

I have another friend with a story to tell.

Rudy Gaspillo was one of ten children by a sugarcane plantation worker. After high school graduation, Rudy sat down by the big bamboo plant and wept. He knew he couldn’t go to college because all his older siblings did not. He cried hard but also prayed hard. Next day, Rudy’s father said,” You are good at fixing motorcycles, you should study to become a mechanical engineer.”

“But how, Papa?” Rudy asked.

His father went to his employer and on bended knees he pleaded. “Please send my son to college. To repay you, I will serve you all my life.” So, Rudy went to college. But he didn’t have any summer vacation. While his friends played and courted women, Rudy laboured in the farm. A few years later, the result of board exams for mechanical engineers was released. Rudy was a topnotcher at No.8, nationwide! Rudy now serves in the work for the poor advocacy of the Couples for Christ.

How can a poor boy succeed in the rich man’s game of golf?

Juan Antonio “Chi-Chi” Rodriguez was a 7-year-old water carrier in a sugar plantation. He decided to become a caddie because it paid more. Imitating the golfers, he swung twigs to hit tin cans as “golf balls”. Two years later, he was already playing real golf on a real course. At only 12 years old, he scored a 67! Rodriguez has been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He gives back through a foundation that instills self-esteem in young victims of abuse and hardship.

Never giving up

Anytime today, you will see Huffington Post on the Internet. Its founder, Arianna Huffington, was a peasant teenager in Greece when she saw a picture of Cambridge University. She decided that she will study there. Her family thought it was an outrageous idea. No one took her seriously because she was just a girl, they were too poor for Cambridge, and they didn’t have connections in one of the world’s most prestigious schools.

The young Arianna Stasinopolous and her mother didn’t give up. They bought cheap tickets and flew to London. To the family’s great disbelief, Arianna was accepted on a scholarship. Later on, she even became the first woman president of Cambridge University’s legendary debating team. In 2006, Time Magazine put Arianna Huffington on the list of the one hundred most influential persons in the world. But before Huffington Post became a giant media brand on the Internet, Arianna wrote a book that was rejected by 35 publishers.

The overdriven Ms. Huffington collapsed on her hard office floor and woke up in a pool of blood. After that, she wrote a book that redefines success. In the book Thrive, she said that beyond success and power is the third metric: it’s our well-being coming from our inner wisdom, sense of wonder and capacity for giving and compassion.

There is an underdog in each of us

My tears fall for stories of uphill triumphs. Experts have proven that more people root for the underdog, be that in sports, politics, literature and movies.

Among the many studies is this one headed by a team headed by Josepth Vandello from the University of South Florida. The research concluded that people back apparent “losers” because we like to see a team beat the odds. Their victory is always sweeter! The study also discovered that the unfairly disadvantaged awaken in us a sense of fairness and justice, which are intrinsic human values.

I think we also relate to the unlikely winner because there is an underdog in each of us. We can feel inferior to some people. We may think of ourselves as inadequate. Maybe we feel unappreciated. Perhaps we’re broken. Threatened by a giant problem or a serious illness. Overcome by depression and anxiety or consumed by guilt. Many of us are going through something. Something bigger than our human capacity.

But underdogs can beat their Goliaths by believing they can. And by deciding they will.

Winners don’t quit

Al Foxx is a paralyzed, brain-damaged survivor of a motorcycle accident. Initially leaning into depression, he found a new calling as a stand-up comedian. Today, he is a famous “motivational humorist” and keynote speaker. He is the founder of the Winners Don’t Quit Association. His A-B-C advice is for us to Accept the book that we have been given, meaning accept what has happened to our life. Believe that we can write a happy ending. Care for others because “the real keys to happiness are the intimate connections we have with the people in our lives.”

Biblical inspirations

Most Bible heroes were underdogs. Among the first disciples were poor fishermen and sinners. King David was the least qualified in the eyes of his own father Jessie. Jesus himself was not born into royalty. When being asked to lead the chosen people, Moses protested, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you’ve spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and tongue.”

It is obvious that God has a deliberate plan to use “the unqualified” to be a showcase of how faith, hope and love can work miracles.
When the young church in Corinth was experiencing the trials of rivalry and jealousy, St. Paul wrote to them, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”

If you’re facing the odds today, believe there’s a plan.

Sources : Wikipedia; The Element by Ken Robinson; Ariana Huffington: What Will Be Your Spiritual Wake-up Call in Oprah’s Soul Conversations website; The Appeal of the Underdog by Nathan A. Heflick in the Psychology Today website; the website Science Daily; Al Foxx in Winners Don’t Quit Associationwebsite; Exodus 4:10)

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