August 10, 2008

My Brush with an Olympic Gold Medalist



I consider myself a pretty lucky chick to have had the pleasure of meeting one of the greats: Jesse Owens. I shook his hand after winning a gold medal for high jump in the Jesse Owens games in Philadelphia and he - James Cleveland Owens - congratulated me!

What an awesome story, his life. At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, he stood before Adolf Hitler receiving gold medal after gold medal. What a precious moment in history. The son of a sharecropper, grandson of a slave. Wish I understood the meaning of all that when I shyly took his hand and smiled at this beautiful man...I would have congratulated him! But what did I know at the tender age of 14 about Hitler and slavery and the beauty of the human spirit?

Here we are on Franklin Field that day, the Philadelphia Jesse Owens Games team. You can find me with a yellow circle around my beautiful head. I look like I'd been arrested for criminal activity, not on my way to L.A. for an awesome experience. The girl on my left with the pink dot was my schoolmate Marian who won the softball throw. The girl on my right with the red dot was named Marianne Morrissey. That's all I remember about her, I just met her that day. The guy behind me with the green dot was from Philly and he played with my hair all the way to L.A. The guy with the blue dot's name was Rico Watson. I remember that because I thought it was a cool name.

These are some pictures of me practicing that summer for the national meet. My coach was photographing me this day to find out what was going wrong with my form and we found it. Er, at least one of the things. I don't know if that was a true Fosbury Flop I was performing or just sheer will getting me over the bar.
I had begun dropping my left arm going into my jump, causing my whole body to be dragged down into the pole. WHICH by the way was a triangular metal pole that hurt the grooviest maximus when you landed on it. It also bent, which was not very efficient considering we were trying to accurately measure how high we were jumping. Now they have that newfangled plastic rubber stuff.
Sheesh, I look like I'm doing a cartwheel here. Sign that girl up for gymnastics. I adjusted my form and came in 9th out of 14 in the national meet. My goal was to not be last. How's that for "high hopes?" Those were some kneesocks, huh? And my very favorite shorts which I wear to this day.
(Not.)

Waiting for the high jump event to begin in the middle of the UCLA track, I was talking to a high jumper from Anchorage. She was a small girl who looked like an "eskimo" to me, or maybe it was just my imagination taking over, being from the opposite end of the continent and all. We were chatting away our nerves and she asked me how high I'd jumped. I told her 4' 8" or 10". She said, nodding as she considered the height, "I think I can do that." So I asked, "What's your highest?" "3 foot 6," she replied. Wow, I thought, now there's some positive thinking! They raise some strong-minded people up there in those parts!

The trip was fun. We had a barbeque at the beach, went to Disney and our awards ceremony was at the Hollywood Paladium. Up With People was the entertainment. Fun stuff.

But now, exactly 29 years later, I mostly look back and cherish the handshake with the man.

Okay yes, and that once upon a time I could fit in those shorts.

3 comments:

Mom said...

What a cool story. You were almost an Olympian.

rosemary said...

forget the sox and shorts....I wanna know how you did that with glasses on!!!!

Paul Nichols said...

Cool, Dudette.