Jim Thorpe wins gold at 1912 Olympics

Jim Thorpe at the 1912 Olympics

It’s the 1912 summer Olympics in Stockholm. Jim Thorpe, a Native American from Oklahoma, represents the U.S. in four track and field events, the most important of which is the decathlon. The decathlon, a set of ten events made up of sprints, jumps, throws, hurdles, vaults, and a distance run, determines the greatest athlete in the world.

Sport has always been an important part of Jim’s life. He swam and rode horses by age three. And in his teen years, Jim was the star football player of his small college for Native Americans. He led them to a National Championship twice.

“I was never content unless I was trying my skill in some game against my fellow playmates or testing my endurance and wits against some member of the animal kingdom,” he said.

His talent for sport extended well beyond the football field. He competed in more than twenty sports, including figure skating, lacrosse, handball, tennis, and boxing. He even won an intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship. This diversity made the decathlon a perfect event for him.

The decathlon started well for Jim. He developed a nice lead after the first day. Then on the morning of day two, as Jim prepped for competition, he noticed that his track shoes were missing, and to this day, they are presumed to have been stolen.

Getting a pair of track shoes wasn’t easy. There wasn’t a store one could walk into and purchase shoes. Track shoes were custom made. So he and his track coach went looking for a discarded pair. His coach found a right shoe and a left one. They were different styles, different sizes, but this was the best option given time constraints. One shoe fit fine, the other was too big. So Jim put on two pairs of socks to fit into the big shoe.

Jim came in first place wearing these track shoes. And he didn’t just win; he dominated, winning by a margin of about 700 points. His margin of victory has only been surpassed one time to date.

As the legend goes, upon receiving his gold medal from King Gustav of Sweden, the King said, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.” Jim, humble as always, reportedly replied, “Thanks, King.”

Jim returned home to a ticker-tape parade down Broadway in New York. He was a hero and officially the greatest athlete in the world.

“Jim Thorpe wins gold at 1912 Olympics” source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Thorpe

Viola Liuzzo fights for civil rights

On March 16th, 1965, Viola Liuzzo “called her husband to tell him she would be traveling to Selma after hearing the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. call for people of all faiths to come and help, saying that the struggle ‘was everybody’s fight.'”

She was 39 at the time, living in Detroit. A housewife, a mother of five kids.

She had already taken part in the fight for civil rights. But her fight had always been in Michigan. Now she was heading to the south.

On Sunday, March 21, 1965 over 3,000 people began the march from Selma to Montgomery. There were blacks and whites, doctors and nurses, wealthy and working class, priests and nuns and rabbis, students and housewives, and there was Viola.

And it was there that four days later, after the march had ended and she was helping shuttle marchers home, that Viola was stopped at a red light. With her in the car a young black protester also helping shuttle marchers.

A car of local KKK members pulled up beside her. And when they saw a white woman and a black man in the car together they followed her. She tried to outrun, but she couldn’t. They caught up to her. They shot her. Twice in the head.

She died instantly.

“Viola Liuzzo fights for civil rights” sources: http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/08/12/209595935/killed-for-taking-part-in-everybody-s-fight, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viola_Liuzzo

Chuck Taylor and the rise of Converse

Chuck Taylor sneaker ad

Chuck Taylor sneakers have been a staple of fashion for years. But how did they become popular?

You can say the historical record started in 1908 when 47 year old Marquis Mills Converse, a well groomed and lifelong respected manager started his own company, Converse Shoes. They made rubber soled shoes for winter first. Then in 1915 sneakers for tennis players, and in 1917 the company introduced the All-Star basketball shoe.

During this time, a basketball player at Columbus High in Indiana by the name of Chuck Taylor fell in love with the All-Star basketball shoe. Chuck was a lanky kid with a prominent nose and insightful eyes. By most accounts he was a good basketball player at best. But he was likable and he understood the footwear needs of basketball players. He was also a gifted salesman who knew how to pitch himself and his ideas. In 1921 Converse hired Chuck Taylor after he arrived unannouced at their Chicago office.

With his drive and passion, Converse introduced the Chuck Taylor sneaker. Soon after, it was the shoe to wear for basketball players. And in 1936 the sneakers became the official shoe for the US basketball team in the Olympics.

Then “during WWII, Taylor became a fitness consultant for the US military. GIs were soon doing calisthenics while wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers that had become the official sneaker of the US Armed Forces (Wikipedia).”

In the 1950’s, sneakers extended beyond sportswear and became the norm for daily wear. Much of this was the result of James Dean and his love for the Jack Purcell’s, a sneaker designed by a former world badminton champion (and which was later acquired by Converse). The Jack Purcell sneakers were similar to Chuck Taylor’s, but appealed to a different segment of society. These sneakers were prominent in the rebellious rock culture of the time, broadening the overall appeal of sneakers.

Stories such as the rise of sneakers as a cultural norm remind me of the Harriet Tubman quote, “All dreams begin with a dreamer.” Chuck Taylor wasn’t the only reason sneakers became popular, but he was certainly the catalyst to usher in the change. And as a result, more than 600 million pairs of Chuck Taylor’s have been sold.

Chuck Taylor and the rise of Converse sources: Chuck Taylor advertisement published in American Legion Weekly magazine, vol. 2, no. 1 (Jan. 2, 1920), pg. 29 / Wikimedia Commons