Richmond, Virginia’s Arthur Ashe knew the highest highs and the lowest lows in his too-brief lifetime. He won three of Grand Slam events of tennis – the U.S. Open (1968), the Australian Open (1970), and Wimbledon (1975). And yet he had serious heart problems that required multiple surgeries, during one of which he contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. He died at age 49.
Ashe showed talent early at a sport that was all but closed to African-Americans. He had to move to St. Louis to find a place where he could play tennis without bias, and went all the way across the continent to UCLA for college. In 1968 he became the only person to win both the U.S. Amateur Championship and the U.S. Open in the same year. But in 1979, Ashe suffered a heart attack and underwent a quadruple bypass. More heart problems required more surgery in 1983. A few years later he fell ill, and learned that he had HIV.
Ashe took an active role in the civil rights field, visiting South Africa and being arrested in the U.S. outside the South African embassy at an anti-apartheid rally. His leadership in all areas of his life didn’t go unappreciated. The main stadium at the home of the U.S. Open is now Arthur Ashe Stadium, ESPN gives a special ESPY award named the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, and President Clinton honored his memory with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.