Members of MyMigraineTeam know there are many types of migraines that can last anywhere from hours to days. A migraine attack can include not only intense headaches, but other common symptoms like nausea, vision problems, and mood changes. About 1 in 6 American adults experience self-reported migraines or other severe headaches. It’s worth noting that migraines can affect anyone — including well-known athletes and Olympians.
Migraine headaches can be difficult to deal with. Knowing that even some of the most athletic men and women also wrestle with them can be helpful for those managing this disorder on their own. Here are some of the most noteworthy professional athletes who have made their mark in the world of sports, all while living with migraine.
Twenty-six year old Ryan Murphy is a two-time Olympian and a renowned member of Team USA’s swim team. To date, Murphy, who has been swimming since age 5, has accumulated six Olympic medals and 17 World Championship medals. He is also currently the world record-holder for the men’s 100-meter backstroke.
Murphy has been recognized for his public struggle with migraine. He even worked with U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee partners to share his story while managing his condition during tryouts for the 2020 Olympics.
“Yeah, honestly the hardest part about migraines is how unexpected it is,” Murphy told USA Today in 2021. “It comes at inopportune times mostly for me. A lot of the time migraines come as a result of stress, so when I have a lot going on and then you couple that with the migraines, it is a little bit tough to deal with.”
Terrell Davis was drafted into the NFL by the Denver Broncos in 1995 and has since become one of the most famous NFL players of all time. His record boasts 78 games, seven seasons, and three Pro Bowls. In 2017, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For Davis, migraine has always been a part of his life he’s had to overcome. In fact, his famed Super Bowl victory in 1998 was almost lost because of it. Just before his team was set to take the field, the running back realized he’d forgotten to take his preventative migraine medicine during his pregame meal two hours prior to kickoff.
“So we have 15 minutes tops before the game starts, and it dawns on me that I forgot to take it,” Davis told People magazine in a 2019 interview. “I went and I took it then, but it was just too late.” A resulting migraine forced Davis to sit out during the game’s second quarter, though he returned to the field after halftime.
“Once it happened, I wasn’t going to let it rob me of my chance to be me for that day because I could never live past that,” he recalled. “I was like, there is no tomorrow — this is it.”
Retired Australian competitive swimmer Ian Thorpe earned five Olympic gold medals and won the 400-meter freestyle in the Olympic Games from 1998 to 2004. In “This Is Me,” Thorpe’s 2012 autobiography, he first shared the extent of his struggle with migraine as a competitive athlete. Thorpe now focuses his efforts on philanthropy and sports commentary.
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Seven-time Olympic medalist and retired American swimmer Amanda Beard competed in four consecutive Olympic Games from 1996 to 2008. She broke the world record for the 200-meter breaststroke twice — once in 2003 and again in 2004.
Beard opened up about her experience living with migraine at the 2020 Migraine World Summit, explaining the decades of nausea, head pain, and light sensitivity that came with it. She has since become an advocate for migraine education and treatment.
Professional basketball coach Steve Kerr has had a distinguished career as a former professional basketball player with five NBA championships. As a coach, he has three more NBA championships, and he served as the assistant coach of the U.S. men’s basketball team for the 2021 Olympics.
In 2016, Kerr was forced to miss 43 games as a coach due to migraine headaches and back surgery complications. Kerr has described his experience with severe headaches as agonizing. “I was able to manage the pain and the discomfort over the last year-and-a-half and, suddenly, things got a lot worse,” he said of his condition in 2017. Despite the pain he was going through, he never once gave up on his team and continued to support his players through it all.
DeShone Kizer was drafted to the NFL in 2017 when he joined the Cleveland Browns as their quarterback. Not long after he became a professional football player, however, migraine began to impact his game.
Once during a game in September 2017, Kizer had to sit out due to a vicious migraine, leading to a 24-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
“That’s one of my biggest fears being a guy who does get chronic migraines,” said Kizer after the game. “It was bound to happen sometime for me.”
Kizer acknowledged that he has experienced debilitating migraines since his childhood. When it comes to migraine, he said, “There’s nothing you can really control, you just try to keep yourself out of stressful positions and continue to have regular sleep habits and a good diet.”
Despite the pain he experiences, Kizer made it clear he would not let migraine get the better of him. “I’m definitely going to try to make that [game] the biggest learning experience I possibly can,” he told the Associated Press, “and grow as much as I can from it.”
An NBA all-time leading scorer, New York Times bestselling author, and U.S. Cultural Ambassador, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a decorated professional basketball player turned American icon. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1970 and was named MVP six times throughout his career. Since then, he’s gone on to write several books and has received numerous writing awards.
Abdul-Jabbar has also had migraine headaches since he was 15. His initial diagnosis led him to visit several doctors and try a variety of diagnostic tests. Despite the impact of migraine on his life, he made conscious decisions to change his eating and exercise habits and came away with a stunning 20-season career and six NBA titles.
Dwyane Wade is not only a professional basketball star, but he also earned two medals in his Olympic career: one gold and one bronze. Those most familiar with Wade might remember the tinted goggles he wore on the court, though many of his fans know him by his fantastic record as a 12-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion.
Wade’s goggles were not a fashion choice. When he first debuted them in 2011, their purpose was to hopefully limit his migraine headaches. He’d had migraine since childhood and had tried countless other treatment methods. Despite the reasoning, the NBA eventually forbade Wade from wearing the goggles.
“There are different levels of migraines,” Wade once told the Chicago Tribune in an interview. “It’s not a good thing. It affects more than just your head. It affects your body, your energy, your eyes. It affects your attitude, of course. It’s unfortunate. But I’ve learned how to manage.”
Basketball star Scottie Pippen was drafted into the NBA in 1987 at just 22 years old. In his 17-year career, he won six NBA championships and played in seven NBA All-Star Games. In 1994, he was named the NBA All-Star Game MVP. His name was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
While his career was undoubtedly a success, Pippen did have something trying to hold him back: migraines. A migraine attack forced him to miss Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals in 1990, an experience he struggled with for some time because, in his words, “I’d never had a migraine before.”
Pippen didn’t let his migraine attacks overshadow his love of the game. “Well, there’s always a little bit of regret,” he said in an interview with ESPN. “But things happen in life, different situations, and that was just a learning situation for me. From the migraine to sitting out, I learned to be better about taking care of my body and preparing myself to be a professional every day.”
Gail Devers won three Olympic gold medals with Team USA’s track and field team. A decorated track and field star who has won numerous world championships, Devers was inducted in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2011 — and, later, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame.
The Olympic star was diagnosed with Graves’ disease in 1991 and has been open about her history with the condition. During the time before her diagnosis, she experienced debilitating migraines in 1988 while training for the Olympic Games. However, she went on to win three gold medals in 1992 and 1996, and she continued her athletic career until her retirement in 2007.
Managing migraine can be a challenge, but you don’t have to deal with it alone. At MyMigraineTeam, you can ask questions, offer support and advice, and connect with others who understand life with migraine. Join today to become part of a community of more than 75,000 people worldwide who are living with migraine.
Has migraine affected your ability to exercise or play sports? How do you stay focused on your goals while living with migraine attacks? Share your thoughts in the comments below or by posting on MyMigraineTeam.