The Toughest Athletes: The Fearless

Normal people are afraid of things. These guys are not.

Yasiel Puig

Right Fielder, L.A. Dodgers

There’s no easy path to the Show, but Puig’s odyssey puts others to shame. Born and raised in Cuba, he could not sign that seven-year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers until he escaped his homeland. His first four attempts met with heartbreak. His fifth involved a drug cartel, human trafficking, and a staged kidnapping. Maybe that’s why he plays with such all-out joy, whether he’s in the batter’s box, running the bases, or nailing a runner at the plate with his laser arm. Can you go from 23 to seven years old? Yes, indeed!

Jolene Van Vugt

Motocross Champ

The director Christopher Nolan knew what he was doing when he tapped Vugt to be a stunt double for Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. Behind the killer smile, the girl’s got a daredevil’s heart. The first woman to land a backflip on a full-size dirt bike, she’s gunned a hog into the Grand Canyon too. At least she had the good sense to strap on a parachute.

Kawhi Leonard

Small Forward, San Antonio Spurs

The youngest NBA Finals MVP since Magic Johnson, the spirited 23-year-old (then 22) led the Spurs in scoring for three games while holding LeBron James in check for the entire series. With his selfless play and warrior work ethic, he lifted Gregg Popovich’s aging team to its fifth title in 15 years, along the way honoring his father—lost to a shooting at age 43—with a showstopping performance.

Elena Delle Donne

Guard/Forward, Chicago Sky

For six years, the 6′5″ beauty has been battling headaches and exhaustion from a crippling bout with Lyme disease. She hasn’t let that stop her. This is the same woman who left UConn in 2008 to tend to a sister with cerebral palsy. Then she willed herself into a volleyball star at the University of Delaware, before returning to the hardwood to raise the Blue Hens into the nation’s elite. She capped off her 2013 rookie season with a third-place finish in MVP voting. Enough said.

Up Next, The Self Made Men.

Photos by Doug Pensinger / Getty Images