Jim Thorpe left a looming legacy as the U.S.’s first All-American multi-sport athlete. Thorpe was born in May 1887 to mixed-race parents — Irish, French, Sac and Fox, and Potawatomi -with his twin brother Charlie. His early life was fraught with hardship as he lost his twin and mother within a few years. After running away from home, Thorpe became a ranch hand for a time. He began shining as an athlete in the Carlisle School after returning home to his father. The burgeoning athlete suffered another tragedy — losing his father to a medical crisis, which led him to leave school for a few years.
His time away from school didn’t lessen Thorpe’s athletic prowess. He started as a walk-on for the school’s track and field team, impressing coach Pop Warner. He tried out for football and was a natural at the sport. He was even named All-American three times and played several positions. His athletic prowess led him to compete in the 1912 Olympics in four competitions — the decathlon, pentathlon, long jump, and high jump. He won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon. He held the record of 8,413 points in the former for nearly two decades. Because of playing amateur baseball before the Olympics, his accomplishments were for several decades. The organization reinstated his medials and record in 2022, over a century later.
Following his Olympic triumphs, Thorpe found himself a viable free agent across multiple sports. He joined the MLB team New York Giants (now the San Francisco Giants), helping them clench the 1913 National League champs. The multi-sport athlete played on and off in the league for the Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and Boston Braves. He even spent time playing in the minor leagues. At the same time, he continued her football career by playing for pre-NFL teams, including the Pine Village Pros and the Canton Bulldogs. He served as the league’s president and coached a few teams. The Olympian played basketball between 1925 and 1928. He even thought about playing hockey in Canada for a time.
Thorpe’s post-sports career was filled with ebbs and flows. He had a brief stint in Hollywood as an actor in films. His life story hit the big screen in the Burt Lancaster-led biopic Jim Thorpe — All American. In addition to his acting work, he worked several odd jobs to support his family. At the same time, he dealt with alcohol abuse. This condition, in combination with his charitable nature, left him broke and destitute in his later years. His health issue eventually caught up to him as the star athlete died from heart failure at age 65 on March 28, 1953. His legacy continued as a town in Pennsylvania, and an annual marathon was named in his honor after his third wife sold the rights to his name.
Jim Thorpe showcased determination and fortitude when it came to being the U.S.’s first true all-around athlete. His athleticism not only placed him among the greats of sports but also allowed him to show Native Americans in a positive light. His feats and records still stand the test of time as his legacy continues. I will say, “Mr. Thorpe, we respect you, and we cherish your contributions.”
I never was content unless I was trying my skill…or testing my endurance.