Jim Thorpe

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32℉ and raining at 5:00 am

Thursday, October 27, 2016

It was raining hard with a mix of ice. We read for a while, but by 11:00 I was stir-crazy, so we drove to the Boulder Field in the park. I’ve never seen anything like it. It looks like a lake when you drive up, but it’s a huge lake of boulders. It looks like the end of where the glaciers pushed rocks, but they say the glacier ended a mile to the north. The theory is it was a huge rock that through freezing and thawing for thousands of years, it broke up into these boulders. There was plenty of water when the glaciers melted and that smoothed them. OK. 

Then we drove to the town of Jim Thorpe. A small park greeted us with two statues of the great Jim Thorpe. He was an indian of the Sac and Fox nation in Oklahoma. His given name being Wa-Tho-Huk, which means bright path and it sure was a bright path. He was christened Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe. His father was a great athlete, beating all challengers in running, jumping and throwing in the Indian Nation. Jim was sent to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. 

Quoting from Jim Thorpe on biography.com

“Growing up, he never liked being inside. He learned to hunt and trap at an early age, developing his legendary endurance via extensive excursions through Indian territory. His aversion to the classroom was exacerbated by the early deaths of his twin brother and both parents, and his stints in the Haskell Institute in Kansas, the local Garden Grove school and the Carlisle Indian Indistrial School were marked by long bouts of truancy. 

As a student at Carlisle in the spring of 1907, Thorpe joined a track-and-field practice session on campus. Clad in his work clothes, he launched himself over a 5’9” high bar to break the school record, catching the attention of coach Pop Warner. Thorpe soon became the star of the track program, and with his athletic skills he also enjoyed success in baseball, hockey, lacrosse and even ballroom dancing.

However, it was football that propelled Thorpe to national renown. Starting at halfback, place kicker, punter and defender, Thorpe led his team to a surprise victory over top-ranked Harvard in November 1911, and fueled a blowout of West Point a year later. Carlisle went a combined 23-2-1 over the 1911-12 seasons, with Thorpe garnering All-American honors both times. 

Named to the U.S. Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, Thorpe burst out of the gate by winning four of five events to claim the gold medal in the pentathlon. A week later he overwhelmed the field in the decathlon, winning the high jump, the 110-meter hurdles and the 1,500 meters despite competing in a pair of mismatched shoes. Finishing the three-day event with a total of 8,412 points (of a possible 10,000), a mark that bested the runner-up by nearly 700 points, Thrope was proclaimed by Sweden’s King Gustaf V to be the greatest athlete in the world. (from Jim Thorpe Park: he was awed and humbled by the ceremony and replied, “Thanks King”)

Thorpe was honored with a ticker-tape parade in New York City as part of his hero’s welcome home. However, a newspaper report the following January revealed the Olympic champion had been paid to play minor league baseball in 1909 and 1910. Despite his handwritten plea to the Amateur Athletic Union, Thorpe was stripped of his amateur eligibility and forced to return his gold medals, his historic performance stricken from the Olympic record books.”

I can’t remember what the sign in the park said, but I think he made $2 a game. In his plea, he said he didn’t care about the money and had no idea of the ramifications. He just wanted to play sports. I won’t write it all here, but biography.com has an excellent write-up, and you can read a bit of his incredible athletic and personal traits from the pictures. It’s a wonderful story.

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