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Amnat Ruanroeng, born in 1978 or 1979 (he isn't sure), is a second grade drop-out and former drug addict. He was also part of the fearsome Thai Olympic boxing squad at the Beijing Olympics.  This rise to glory started with a fifteen-year prison sentence for robbery. 

It was his third stint in jail and the judge wasn't feeling at all merciful. To Amnat Ruenroeng the prospect of fifteen years banged up was an eternity. His motive for  signing up for the prison boxing program was to help pass the time. Little did he imagine that it would turn into his salvation.

In 2007, just a year after he first stepped into the prison ring, he won a bronze medal in the light-flyweight division. And the day after his victory, he was released from jail on good behavior.  'I can't believe that I'm on the Olympic team,' he says grinning with joy. 'I should still be in jail.'

Read more about the nationwide prison boxing programme offering Thailand's male and female inmates a way out of crime.

‘I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life's a bitch. You've got to go out and kick ass,’ says the celebrated writer and poet, Maya Angelou



Born in Missouri in 1928, Maya Angelou was traumatized by abuse as a child. ‘I was a mute from the time I was seven and a half until I was almost 13. I didn't speak. I had voice, but I refused to use it,’ she says.

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Simon Wiesenthal, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, dedicated his life to documenting the crimes of the Holocaust and to hunting down the perpetrators still at large. 'When history looks back,' Wiesenthal explained, 'I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it.'

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Randy Pausch, featured in This Way Up a few months ago, died on 25 July 2008, aged 48. 


A computer science professor, he achieved accidental fame with his 'last lecture', delivered to colleagues and students after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. A video of this remarkable, optimistic performance - originally shot for his three young children - ended up posted on the internet. It inspired millions to appreciate the briefness and preciousness of life. 

See his lecture here

Jazz legend Sonny Rollins says he is still searching for his ultimate performance.

by Geraldine Royds






Born in the rough New York neighbourhood of Harlem in 1930, Rollins believes that, despite the racism and hardship, he was lucky to be born at a time when there was so much music around.

He started playing saxophone when he was a child and by twenty years old was playing with the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.  Rollins idolized Parker and followed him into the abyss of drug abuse. Although Parker couldn’t pull himself out of it, he managed to inspire the younger Rollins to get clean.

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The bad news is physical decline is inevitable. The good news is that creatively and spiritually we can continue to flourish until the end of our lives. From artists to ballet dancers and Wall of Death bike riders, be inspired by the amazing old people collected here. It's a small selection - there are many more out there!

Compiled by Vida Adamoli

Louise Bourgeois is one of the world’s greatest contemporary sculptors. Her themes are femininity, sexuality and isolation. Aged 88 she became the first artist to fill London’s Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. She reached the pinnacle of her career eight years later when the Tate Modern held a major retrospective of her work. To this day she continues to defy convention.

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It’s the stuff of heroic legend. A rich man goes walking in the Himalayas seeking answers to Life’s big questions.  On a remote mountain path he meets a wise man and is enlightened to his true calling.



In this instance (which more or less followed the script) the rich man is an American executive, John Wood, and the wise man the headmaster of a Nepalese school. Ten years have passed since that fateful meeting. Now Wood says, 'Even if money can’t buy happiness - lack of money can.'

Vida Adamoli investigates


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