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From Rafa Nadal to Roberto Baggio, the champions who have become friends with pain

Champions who live with pain know the flames of everyday hell, a screaming knee, a hernia that demands attention, a vertebra that seeks balance, and they know that it is exactly there that they will find the strength to reach the finish line and win. Once a Marco Pantani they asked why he was going so fast uphill and he replied that only in this way could he “relieve the agony.” They seem indestructible, but they are not.

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Is called Muller-Weiss syndrome and it is a degenerative foot disease that affects the scaphoid, the daily personal pain that has stopped for some time Rafa Nadal and forces him, as is happening these days, to crutches and infiltrations to take the field to win his 14th Roland Garros.

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Crutches have long been traveling companions as well Roby Baggio, the most fragile and the most extraordinary of the champions that Italy has had from the post-war period to today. His knees were a map of pain. At eighteen he operated on the cruciate, meniscus and fibula: 220 stitches that ran down his entire leg. They told him that he would no longer play soccer. On the hospital bed, destroyed, he told his mother that nothing made sense anymore. He became the Best. But for years Roby has never trained together with his teammates. He trained alone, with workloads and rhythms modeled on his pain. When he came home and couldn’t get out of the car because of his pain: he had to lean on his wife Andreina.


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Another champion of that era, the former AC Milan champion Marco Van Basten, he rested his immense class on crystal ankles that forced him to leave the business at just 28 years old. He said, the Swan of Utrecht, who crawled from room to room in the house, leaning against the walls to advance. Kevin Durant, NBA star, in December 2020 he returned to the field after a year and a half stop due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, after a rehabilitation program that changed his approach to sport and which led him to say that “knowing one’s frailty is the first step to become stronger ».

Niki Lauda he crossed the fire and like a horseman of the Apocalypse he returned from Hell, showing up on the track just 42 days after the Nürburgring accident and living for years with the burns that had marked his face and body. Simone Bilesthe strongest gymnast of all time, suffered from twisties, a mental block that causes her to lose orientation in space during the execution of the aerial exercises. She didn’t get over it, but she learned to live with it. She is there, lurking. But she is ready.

The biker Vincenzo Nibali, the best of his generation, he said that after certain stages one cannot stand up, the muscles of the legs are petrified. The immense Piero Mennea, icon of the 70s and 80s, he suffered from cramps, after the races from lactic acid he could not sleep and forced his masseur, Nazareno Rocchetti, to sleep next to him, in a cot, to massage him during the night. Also in the 70s, the Argentine boxer Carlos Monzon, a desperate and crazy life, said that the night after the fight the cuts on his face looked like craters.

And then there are certain problems that seem nonsense, but are not: blisters on the feet for Jannik Sinner they are a curse that has penalized him several times. Carolina Kostner, the greatest Italian star in figure skating, for years had to deal with a bad hip: every time he sat down he felt a painful twinge. Like this Sofia Goggia, after many injuries, he had to completely change his training strategy to silence the pain in his knees.

They are champions, they are human beings. They seem indestructible, but they are not. Living with pain is their condemnation, but also their only way of salvation.

Other stories of Vanity Fair that may interest you:

– What is PRP, the orthopedic therapy also chosen by the skier Sofia Goggia

– Vanessa Ferrari, the fourth Olympics of the infinite gymnast

Source: Vanity Fair

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