The world dealt with a lot in 2021, with the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc earlier in the year. However, through these tough times, there were many people around the world who inspired and motivated us to do our best and keep going. These are our inspirational personalities of 2021.
These icons from various walks of life, like sports, entertainment, politics, technology and business, gave us reasons to celebrate, rejoice or simply made us cheer for them with their bold moves. Their successes were certainly taken note of, but so were the developments around them and the dialogues they triggered.
Read on about some of the most inspirational personalities of 2021
Athlete Neeraj Chopra created history when he won gold in javelin at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on 7 August 2021. His achievement is one of the biggest feats in India’s sporting scene since its independence.
Chopra became the first Indian track and field Olympic champion, the second Indian after Abhinav Bindra to win a gold medal in an individual event, and the first Asian man to win gold in the event. His win also added to India’s best performance at the Olympics with seven medals.
The athlete from Haryana, who is also a junior commissioned officer (JCO) in the Indian Army, was felicitated for his feat. Among the many honours he received in 2021 was India’s highest sporting honour — Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna.
The 52-year-old was named the global CEO of the French luxury group, Chanel, in late 2021.
Nair, who is an Indian-origin British national, previously served as the first female and youngest-ever Chief Human Resources Officer of Unilever.
She received her education in India and joined Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) in 1992, working across the length and breadth of the country. Nair has also been a member of the Unilever Leadership Executive (ULE).
Agrawal made headlines in India after Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey announced that the 37-year-old is the new chief executive officer (CEO) of the social networking company.
Born in Mumbai, Agrawal graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, before leaving for the US to pursue his doctorate at Stanford University.
He joined Twitter in 2011 after working with Microsoft, Yahoo! and AT&T Labs. In 2017, he was named the chief technology officer (CTO) of the San Francisco-based company.
Harnaaz Kaur Sandhu won laurels for India when she was crowned Miss Universe 2021 in Eilat, Israel. The crown has returned to India, with the 21-year-old from Punjab, after over two decades.
In the final round of the question-answer session, Sandhu was asked about her advice to young women to deal with pressures they face today.
“The biggest pressure the youth of today is facing is to believe in themselves, to know that you are unique and that’s what makes you beautiful. Stop comparing yourselves with others and let’s talk about more important things happening worldwide. This is what you need to understand. Come out, speak for yourselves because you are the leader of your life, you are the voice of your own. I believed in myself and that’s why I am standing here today,” she replied.
Sandhu studied BA (IT) from Post Graduate Government College for Girls in Chandigarh. She is a student of MA Public Administration at the same college.
Srikanth made history at the Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Championship at Huelva, Spain, when he won the silver medal for India. He thus became the first Indian male shuttler to enter the final of the prestigious tournament.
Overall, Srikanth is only the fourth Indian male badminton player to win a medal at the World Championships.
The 12th-ranked shuttler had earlier defeated compatriot Lakshya Sen 17-2, 21-14, 21-18 to set up his final-round clash with Singapore’s Loh Kean Yew. The 28-year-old former world number 1 eventually went down fighting Loh 15-21, 10-22.
Recognised as one of the most accomplished gymnasts of all time, Biles withdrew from five finals, including the women’s team gymnastics finals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, citing “mental health.”
“Whenever you get in a high-stress situation, you kind of freak out. I have to focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being,” she said. Her decision led to an outpouring of support for her, as well as other athletes, amid increased attention on their mental health.
Biles later admitted to be suffering from a condition known as “the twisties”, in which the sense of space and dimension in the air is affected.
She has won 32 Olympic and World Championship medals, including silver and bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Biles was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement award at BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2021 and named Athlete of the Year 2021 by Time magazine.
On 12 November 2021, Britney Spears was free from a conservatorship she had been subjected to since 2008 by her father Jamie.
Spears’ personal and professional life, including finance and career decisions, was controlled by her father and others during this period.
Her condition became a major issue drawing attention in her home country and from around the world. This led to the birth of the Free Britney (#FreeBritney) movement in 2009. Several prominent celebrities, including Mariah Carey, Miley Cyrus and Cher, supported the calls to end her conservatorship.
Finally, in September 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed what was named the #FreeBritney bill into law to reform the legal guardianship laws of the state. Eventually, a court released Spears from the conservatorship.
“I’ve been in the conservatorship for 13 years. It’s a really long time to be in a situation you don’t want to be in. So I’m just grateful for each day and being able to have the keys to my car, to be able to be independent and feel like a woman. Owning an ATM card, seeing cash for the first time … It’s the little things,” she said in a social media post via a video.
Thanking fans who created the movement to free her, the pop icon said, “You guys rock. My voice was muted and threatened for so long and I wasn’t able to speak up and say anything … you guys saved my life, 100%.”
The Nepalese-British mountaineer, better known as Nims, became the first in the world to scale Mount K2 in winter. His feat made him one of the most influential people of 2021.
In 2019, he set multiple Guinness World records during his quest to scale the ‘8000ers’, or the 14 mountains above 8,000 metres, including Mount Everest. His achievement was released as a documentary by Netflix in 2021. Titled 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible, the documentary shows the challenges Nims thwarted and successes he achieved while scaling all 14 mountains. His feat also made Purja one of the top trending people of 2021.
What made his 14-peak ascent remarkable was the speed — Nims completed the conquest in just seven months. The previous record was Kim Chang-Ho of South Korea, who did that in 7 years 310 days.
Other than setting new records, Nims is also known as the photographer behind the ‘Traffic Jam on Mount Everest’. The picture, which was taken by Nims during his 14-peak mission, shows a long line of mountaineers at the summit and was published by The New York Times.
Before becoming a mountaineer, Nims served in the British Army with the Brigade of Gurkhas followed by the Royal Navy as a member of the Special Boat Service (SBS).
The Chinese-born Canadian became the first Asian actor to headline a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film by essaying the role of Shang-Chi in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Released in 2021, the film received critical and commercial success and was historic in many ways, including having a predominantly Asian cast.
Other than Liu, the film featured Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Fala Chen and Ben Kingsley. The film also marked the Hollywood debut of Hong Kong’s acting legend Tony Leung Chiu-wai as the antagonist Xu Wenwu.
In 2021, Liu was also cast in prominent roles in the anime film Bright: Samurai Soul and the drama Women Is Losers.
The Japanese tennis icon became one of the most inspirational personalities of 2021 for both professional successes and raising awareness about mental health.
She started 2021 by winning the Australian Open — her fourth Grand Slam. This also made her the third player, after Monica Seles and Roger Federer in the Open Era, to win her first four Grand Slam finals.
In May 2021, she refused to participate in post-match press conferences at the French Open, citing mental health and later withdrew from the tournament. She also opted out of Wimbledon, prioritising her need to be with her family ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
At the Olympics, Osaka was the torchbearer who lit the Olympic brazier, becoming the first tennis player to do so.
Aged 35, the left-wing leader became Chile’s youngest president, following his victory in one of the most polarised elections in the South American country.
Boric, a former student leader, defeated right-wing José Antonio Kast, polling 56 percent of the votes against Kast’s 44 percent.
Chile has been in the middle of a political storm in recent years. There have been mass protests against corruption and equality. Some agitations turned violent, with protesters clashing with authorities on many occasions.
Boric’s win triggered celebrations in Santiago and elsewhere, as the young leader said that he will “firmly fight against the privileges of a few.”
One of the biggest news events of 2021 was the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris of the US. While Democratic leader Biden made history as the oldest to assume presidency, it was Harris whose success was truly inspirational for billions around the world.
Harris is the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected vice president of the US. She rose to the position after holding key offices, including that of California’s Attorney General.
Her monumental career and inspirational life as the daughter of two immigrants — an Indian mother and a Jamaican father — has turned the 57-year-old Democratic party leader into perhaps the biggest icon for immigrants and people of colour across the world.
In November 2021, she became the first woman to gain presidential powers for a while when Joe Biden underwent a regular health check.
Be it for his tweets or achievements by his company SpaceX, Musk has been one of the most prominent newsmakers of 2021 with a regularity few can match.
While the 50-year-old is the richest man in the world, SpaceX has won NASA’s contract to send American astronauts into space.
In April 2021, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a US government body, gave SpaceX the permission to launch over 2,800 Starlink satellites in low-orbit. Musk later said in a tweet that Starlink, his grand Internet programme, had shipped 100,000 terminals around the world, bringing closer to reality the idea of having a high-speed internet connection in the remotest corners of earth.
The year also marked the first successful recovery of SpaceX’s Starship prototype, giving a major boost to the company’s plans to send humans and cargo to Mars and the moon.
Also in 2021, SpaceX launched Inspiration4, which was the world’s first spaceflight with an all-civilian crew.
Outside of his businesses, Musk has also hosted Saturday Night Live.
The CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII) has been one of the most inspirational personalities of 2021. He was also included in the prestigious Time 100 list of 2021.
The largest vaccine producer in the world by capacity, SII has been at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccine production since 2021.
SII makes the Covishield vaccine, which is one of the two vaccines manufactured in India. In December 2021, Poonawalla told the Indian media that SII has a stock of 500 million doses.
In January 2021, NASA appointed Indian-American Bhavya Lal as its acting chief of staff. Lal was a member of US President Joe Biden’s Presidential Transition Agency Review Team for NASA and Department of Defense (DoD). She also oversaw NASA’s transition under the Biden administration.
NASA said that Lal, who is an alumna of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), served as a member of the research staff at the Institute for Defence Analyses Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) from 2005 to 2020.
A renowned scientist, Lal is currently the Associate Administrator for the Office of Technology, Policy and Strategy at NASA. The office is designed to provide NASA advice pertaining to strategy, policy, and data- and evidence-driven technology.
The Filipino boxing legend, who is widely counted among the greatest of all time, announced his candidacy for the 2022 Philippine presidential election in 2021.
Pacquiao is one of the most inspirational figures in his home country and has been serving as a Senator since 2016. The 43-year-old was previously elected to the House of Representatives.
For the sake of his future political career and the goal he has set for himself, Pacquiao retired from boxing soon after announcing his bid for the top post.
Hero image: Neeraj Chopra/@Neeraj_chopra1/Twitter; Featured image: Harnaaz Kaur Sandhu/@HarnaazKaur/Twitter