“We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.” – Jesse Owens
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a champion of social justice and equality. He stood for freedom for all and was most famous for his “I have a dream” speech. He didn’t live to see his dream fulfilled and we still have a long way to go for true equality. So in honor of King and his legacy I’m dedicating this post to Jesse Owens and the many other athletes who have overcome great hardship on their way to greatness.
Born in 1913 to a sharecropper family, Owens is best known for winning 4 Gold Medals at the 1936 Olympic games. Winning the 100, 200, Long Jump, and being in the 4×100 relay at the Berlin Games it is custom for the leader of the host country to greet the athletes, however, Adolf Hitler refused to shake hands with the “black” athletes. Oddly, Owens felt that FDR acted in a more racist way by not honoring or even congratulating Owens. It wasn’t until 1955, that Owens received any presidential recognition by Dwight Eisenhower.
The Owens family moved to Cleveland where they struggled to make a living. Jesse did odd jobs and found a passion for running. Jesse first hit the spotlight in high school when he met the world record time of 9.4 seconds in the 100m dash and long jumped 24 feet 9 1/2 inches. Jesse attended The Ohio State University, where he became known as the “Buckeye Bullet”. Even as an acclaimed athlete at OSU he had to live off campus with other African-American athletes. When he traveled with the team, Owens could either order carry out or eat at “black-only” restaurants. Likewise, he slept in “black-only” hotels. Owens was never awarded a scholarship, so he continued to work part-time jobs to pay for school. In one meet in 1935 Owens broke 3 world records and tied a 4th, which was named as the most impressive sports achievement since 1850.
From his website:
In 1976, Jesse was awarded the highest honor a civilian of the United States can receive. President Gerald R. Ford awarded him with the Medal of Freedom. Jesse overcame segregation, racism and bigotry to prove to the world that African-Americans belonged in the world of athletics.
An amazing “Rags to Riches” story, Owens took his fame and later fortune and turned it back into something good. After struggling financially, despite his successes, he began speaking around the country and created his own public relations firm. During his speaking engagements he stressed the importance of religion, hard work and loyalty. He also sponsored and participated in many youth sports programs in underprivileged neighborhoods. The Jesse Owens Foundation was started in 1980 to honor Jesse’s hard work by his friends and family. JOF is designed to promote youth development with its stated mission “to promote the development of youth to their fullest potential.”
Owens died in 1980 at the age of 66 from lung cancer. It is hard to say exactly how much impact Owens had on race relations in the US and around the world, but it seems pretty clear he was a first-glass guy who cared about his family, running, and using his gifts to serve his community.
It was a bitter cold weekend here in Minneapolis with the high temperatues not breaking the 0 mark. I ran 4.97 Friday at a local park on trails. They had been groomed and packed down so it was a really nice run experience. It was 1 above with a -21 wind chill so I was well-layered and stayed pretty warm. The sun was out nice and shiny so that made for a great run. It was a little slow due to the hills and cold I finished in 45:20. I didn’t run Saturday, the running group was canceled due to double digit below zero temperatures and I felt it probably wasn’t a good idea, it never broke into positive temperatures. Sunday we ran at the gym on a treadmill. I did 6.14 in 48:26. I hate treadmills and running indoors! I did through in some surges and they felt very nice!
[tags] Jesse Owens, Olympics, MLK Day [/tags]