NEW YORK – The year 2002 was dominated by news of kidnappings, sniper attacks, business collapses, sexual abuse by clergymen and the ever-present specter of war and terrorism.
But it wasn't all bad. Despite the cultural clashes, religious wars, political scandals and general mayhem, there were moments that made us smile and brought tears of joy that will last for years to come.
Sarah Hughes Wins Gold
The 16-year-old from Great Neck, N.Y., struck a chord in the hearts of all who watched her in the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, where she figure skated her way to a gold medal.
In her Olympics debut, Hughes beat out Russian Irina Slutskaya and American favorite Michelle Kwan.
As the judges showed the world their scores for the teen's performance, Hughes screamed in shock and was brought to giddy tears when she found out she won. She later slumped to the dressing-room floor when she realized she had achieved what thus far had eluded Kwan, her childhood hero.
"I was just in shock," she said. "I've never skated that way in my life, and I just thought if there was a place to do it, this was it ... it's wonderful, something I always dreamed of."
Pennsylvania Coal Miners Symbolize Courage
Bravery and heroism were most exemplified by a group of nine coal miners who, just like on countless other nights, went into Pennsylvania's Quecreek Mine the night of July 24 but didn't come out for 77 hours.
The miners became trapped 24 stories below the ground after breaching the wall of a flooded and abandoned mine next to them, releasing more than 50 million gallons of water into the shaft where they were working. Rescue crews pumped air into the chamber and pumped water out of the mine, then drilled a hole down to the nine trapped men. The process took days. Finally, on the night of the July 27, the world got word that rescuers had reached them and they were still alive.
As their story came out, the world discovered that the miners survived by huddling together in the water to keep warm with body heat, often in total darkness, subsisting on little more than a sandwich split nine ways and a bottle of Mountain Dew.
The story gripped the nation as dozens of rescuers and mine experts sent an air tube down to the men. Midway through the rescue, a drill bit used to cut through the 224 feet of ground broke and took nearly half a day to fix.
In spite of their ordeal, the miners kept their sense of humor. Said the miners to their rescuers, "What took you guys so long?"
A sign near Quecreek Mine reads "God Gave Us a Miracle."
President Bush met with the miners in August.
"The spirit of America was best represented by the courage of the nine," Bush said. "The best of America was represented by those who spent hours worrying about their fellow citizens."
The miners sold their story to Disney for $150,000 each.
Charleston, W.Va., was the site of another remarkable survival story. Robert Ward, 32, was trapped for nearly a week in his car after it plummeted into a ravine. He survived the freezing cold by burning paper, melting snow for water and eating packets of fast-food sauce.
Ward suffered a broken hip in the crash and couldn't move. He was found six days later by fire department captain Terry Likens.
"I don't think he would have made it through the night ... he had just about given up," Likens said.
Teenage Girls Fight Kidnapper to Survive
Two teenage girls exemplified bravery in August when they fought back against a man who kidnapped and sexually abused them.
During a rash of child kidnappings that put parents around the country on a heightened alert, 17-year-old Jacqueline Marris and Tamara Brooks, 16, proved not everyone had to be a victim.
The two girls were abducted at gunpoint from a remote teen hangout in a Mojave Desert town by Roy Dean Ratfliff. California issued an Amber Alert, and descriptions of the kidnapper's vehicle and the two girls were plastered on highway signs around the state.
While their abductor was sleeping, the two girls stabbed him with his knife and hit him on the head with a whiskey bottle. They planned their escape by communicating using their fingers like pens and forming letters to spell out words. They were still in the vehicle when police found them and shot Ratliff to death when he pointed a gun at one of the deputies.
Authorities were convinced that Ratliff would have killed the girls if they hadn't tried to overtake him.
The use of the Amber Alert rapid response system spread after this incident.
Lance Armstrong Proves He's Much More Than a Cancer Survivor
Lance Armstrong, 30, won his fourth straight Tour de France on July 28, handily beating the world's best cyclist in a grueling three-week event.
Armstrong, a Texas native, crossed the finish line on the tree-lined Champs-Elysees after taking charge of the 2,032-mile course. Thousands of fans, many waving American flags, watched as Armstrong moved within one of Miguel Indurain's record of five straight titles.
Armstrong won his first Tour de France championship in 1999.
"Regardless of one victory, two victories, four victories, there's never been a victory by a cancer survivor," Armstrong said. "That's a fact that hopefully I'll be remembered for."
Angels on Cloud 9 After World Series Win
The Anaheim Angels rallied from behind against Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series, capturing baseball's world championship for the first time in the franchise's 42-year history.
"I can't believe it, man," said Garret Anderson, an Angels outfielder. "It's been a long year -- a testament to the guys who never gave up."
The Angels became the eighth straight home team to win Game 7 of the World Series. History was on their side from the start and so was an omen -- a skywriting plane put a gigantic halo over Edison Field before the first pitch.
Before this year, the Angels were known mostly for heartbreak. Owner Gene Autry never saw his team get this far before passing away, and it didn't look like these guys would do it, either, especially after finishing 41 games out of first place last season.
But somehow the Angels pulled it together. They led the majors in hitting, overwhelmed the New York Yankees and Minnesota in the AL playoffs and then knocked out Barry Bonds and Co.
In other sports news, the U.S. men's soccer team gave Americans reason to stay up until all hours of the night and early morning this year. The Yanks had their best showing at the World Cup since reaching the semifinals in 1930. They advanced to the quarterfinals by blanking Mexico 2-0. But the surprising run ended when the U.S. was shut out by Germany, 1-0.
Sniper Victim Can't Wait to Play Hoops
The youngest victim of the Washington, D.C.-area sniper told the world that after being shot, all he wants to do is get back on the basketball court and hang out with his friends.
Iran Brown, 13, was shot the morning of Oct. 7 on his way into Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Md. He had just left his aunt's car when he was shot in the abdomen by the sniper, who was camped out on a nearby hill. He was hospitalized for several weeks with severe injuries to many of his major organs, including his spleen, stomach and pancreas.
"I just never gave up," Iran told reporters at Children's Hospital in Washington on Dec. 13. He said he credits God for his remarkable recovery.
Iran sat on one side of First Lady Laura Bush when she visited the hospital.
"You look like you're doing great!" Mrs. Bush told Iran, who was discharged from the hospital in November. "Bless you, darling."
Sept. 11 Burn Victim Goes Home
Still battling emotional scars caused by experiencing the horrific events of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a woman who was severely burned at the World Trade Center was released from the hospital in January after four months of treatment, saying "I want to get back to the way I was."
Her face bandaged, Elaine Duch, 49, told reporters at Weill Cornell Hospital's Burn Center that she was on the 88th floor of one of the twin towers on Sept. 11. Rescuers helped guide her down. Her burns were so bad that she was given last rites before she was rushed to the hospital. Her glasses even shattered from the heat.
"I don't know if I was on fire," she said.
She had burns on over 77 percent of her body and suffered severe smoke inhalation injuries.
"I thank God that I'm here today," said Duch, who was wearing an FDNY baseball cap, "because when I got hurt on 88, I said, 'God save me,' and he did."
"She's a big inspiration," said Paul Adams, an emergency medical technician who helped rescue Duch and visited her every week. "Elaine is definitely special -- I think one in a million."
Carter Gets Nobel Peace Prize
Former President Jimmy Carter, 78, experienced the crowning moment of his career on Dec. 10 when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomacy in the Middle East in the 1970s. He was honored for his pursuit of peace, health and human rights that began with the 1978 Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt.
"This year's laureate does the opposite of what his countryman, Mark Twain, once wrote about forgetting where you bury the peace pipe but not where the battle-ax is buried," Nobel official Gunner Berge said when awarding Carter. "Carter never mislays the peace pipe."
Texas Baby Back in Mom's Arms
One-month-old Nancy Crystal Chavez broke the nation's heart when news of her abduction spread across the airwaves.
The little girl was snatched from her family's minivan in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Abilene, Texas, while her mother turned around to stow a shopping cart. Police issued a statewide Amber Alert.
But this story ends well.
By nightfall, little Nancy had been recovered in good health, and a former prison guard had been charged with kidnapping. She was found about 130 miles away in Quanah, a town of about 3,000, after residents reported Paula Lynn Roach, 24, was showing off a baby she said was hers.
"My family and I are very happy to have our baby back with us," father Salvador Chavez told reporters as his wife, Margarita, held little Nancy and wept. "Thank you for your prayers and thoughts. God was with us taking care of our baby and our family."
"There's no words to explain how I feel," Margarita said. "My hopes never ended. I trusted the Lord. I was sure I was going to get my baby back."
Ten-year-old Nichole Taylor Timmons was also returned safely to her family in Southern California after she was abducted from her bedroom by a family friend over the summer.
Nichole was found about five hours after an Amber Alert was issued, resulting in hundreds of calls from motorists who believed they saw Nichole with her abductor.
Separated Conjoined Twins Healthy and Happy
Twin sisters born joined at the head and separated in a marathon surgery were cleared by doctors to return to Guatemala in December.
Maria de Jesus and Maria Teresa Quiej Alvarez had had their return date pushed back several times since the 23-hour operation in August at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital.
Before their operation, the girls shared bone and blood vessels but had separate brains.
The girls were born in rural Guatemala but will initially live in Guatemala City, where they will face follow-up surgeries to gradually stretch their scalps to eliminate the skin grafts and allow them to grow full heads of hair.
Big Game Lottery Players Win Millions
A Portuguese restaurant manager and his wife claimed a $58.9 million share of the Big Game lottery jackpot in April, a year after filing for bankruptcy with nearly $600,000 in debts.
Jorge and Joanne Lopes came forward after a dizzying two weeks during which a group of New Jersey nursing home employees mistakenly thought they held the winning ticket.
"There's not too many words to say, but I'm still dumbfounded by it," said Jorge, who moved to the United States from Portugal in 1977.
He beat 76-million-to-1 odds to win a third of the $331 million jackpot, the second-biggest lottery prize in U.S. history. He took his $110.3 million in winnings in a lump sum of nearly $58.9 million, or about $43 million after taxes.
Two other winning tickets were sold to Erika Greene, a 20-year-old warehouse worker in Georgia, and a person in Illinois.
Those four were the biggest lottery winners of the year until just days before 2002 ended -- Christmas night, to be exact. That's when West Virginia contractor Andrew Jackson "Jack" Whittaker Jr. won the largest single-ticket lottery prize in history and opted for the lump-sum cash option of $170 million -- or $113.4 million after taxes. The total Powerball jackpot of $315 million was the third-largest lottery prize ever awarded.
Whittaker, a 55-year-old millionaire, has said he will give 10 percent of the check -- or $17 million -- to the Church of God. He credited his winning ticket to faith.