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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler


Words of Inspiration:

Take Action on Your Goals No Matter the Odds

Remember Our Story of Grace Thorpe? Here’s the Story I Thought I’d Tell You Today to Provide an Exciting New Conclusion

  • In 1913, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped Jim Thorpe of his 1912 two gold medals, gave them to the silver medalists, and removed his name from the record book. The IOC learned he had been paid a stipend (basically room and board) for playing minor league baseball in 1910 and 1911. This was prior to his first place wins in both the pentathlon and decathlon. Other winning Olympic athletes that year had also been paid money, but they covered it up. Thorpe did not.

  • Amazing woman Grace Thorpe worked to restore her father’s 2 gold Olympic medals believing a different standard was applied to her father because he was a Native American. It turns out that the removal of the medals took place after the official time for any contesting of awards. A second reason the IOC decision was not appropriate.

  • In 1973, after decades of work by Grace and others whose help she enlisted*, the Amateur Athletic Union restored Jim Thorpe’s amateur status for the relevant period.

  • In 1975, the US Olympic Committee (USOC) reinstated Thorpe in their record book.

  • Seven years later, in 1982, the USOC named him as co-winner of the gold in the decathlon along with Hugo Wieslander of Sweden and co-winner in the pentathlon with Ferdinand Bie of Norway. They presented replica medals to the Thorpe family. In a less than full reinstatement, the official records continued to exclude Thorpe’s results in the individual 15 events he competed in.

  • Then in 1983, the IOC reinstated Thorpe as the co-winner in both events and gave his family new medals.

  • Grace Thorpe, then 61, said the IOC’s announcement "was quite a shock,” causing her to miss — for the first time — one of her classes at Northeastern State University where she was a graduate student. (Yes, at the age of 61.) "I really can't believe this has finally happened especially after a half century's fight. I don't know what I'll do now with all my spare time," she joked about the family's serious struggle to have the honors restored.

Ever gracious, Grace Thorpe said,
"It was an on-going fight, not just for the family," Grace said of the 70-year battle to get the medals restored. "It was a grass-roots effort by people all over the world. And every member of the family did what we could.”
  • Thanks to the hard work of Grace Thorpe, her family, and others, her goal was partially achieved in her lifetime. (She died in 2008.) Although Jim Thorpe was only named a co-winner of the two gold medals rather than the sole gold medalist, her efforts had paid off.

NOW here is the end of the story...

...I intended to share with you for it provides the inspiration:

If you believe in something,

do whatever you can to achieve it,

even if it seems impossible.

  • On July 15, 2022, exactly 110 years after Jim Thorpe earned the gold in the Olympic decathlon, the actions Grace Thorpe set in motion finally paid off. The IOC restored the solo gold medals to Jim Thorpe. The two silver medalists who had been elevated to the gold, were once again the winners of the silver medals. Jim Thorpe was no longer struck from the records and no longer had to share the gold with the silver medalists.

I can only imagine how proud Grace Thorpe would be — proud for her father, proud for her family, and proud of all the others who help bring about this recognition of her father’s athletic achievement.

HOWEVER, Here’s the Story I Now Find I Have to Tell You

As I’m sure you know, Kendra and I always do a lot of digging into historical records when we write about the inspirational women we feature. What I dug up wasn’t the conclusion I thought I’d find.

  • When the final and full restoration of Jim Thorpe’s two Olympic gold medals was announced this month (July 2022), I thought there would be an acknowledgement of all the work Grace Thorpe had contributed to this successful outcome. That was to be my conclusion to the story — the source of the inspiration to:

Undertake important and noteworthy goals,

even if you cannot assure you'll reaching them.

  • Instead of reading about Grace, I found:

[The] win marks the end of a successful 2-year campaign by several groups. The Doug Williams Center (DWC), which advocates for inclusion and social justice in sports, and Bright Path Strong, a nonprofit focused on Thorpe’s reinstatement, spearheaded the initiative. Part of their strategy included an online petition yielded more than 75,000 signatures and ultimately got the IOC’s attention.

I thought this article might have been a fluke. Maybe other news sources would mention Grace Thorpe and her efforts.

I looked through multiple articles. None that I could find mentioned Grace Thorpe. Well one did. It focused on a comment Grace had made years ago describing her earliest memory of her father:

"My first memory of Dad is of him standing in the center of the football field at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas. He would drop kick a few balls through one goal post, and then turn around and drop kick a few more through the other goal post. I was 6 or 7 then, so he must have been in his early 40s.”

Thank you Grace Thorpe...

...for all the effort you put into having your father’s athletic achievement restored.

We hope that in the coming weeks and months, there will be more recognition of Grace Thorpe, her help to set the record straight about her father, as well as her own achievements as a WAC in WW2 and her work to protect the environment and find justice for Indian tribes.

By the way...

Jim Thorpe's 1912 gold medals weren’t just any two. They were in:

  • Pentathlon: Five events: fencing, shooting, swimming, riding, and cross-country running.

  • Decathlon: Two-day event with 10 events: 100-meter dash, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin, and 1,500-meter run.

NOTE: No single person has ever won both of these gold medals in the same Olympics, making his achievement even that much more spectacular.

* BUTTON IMAGE FROM ABOVE: Button from the Carlisle Jaycees’ Project Jim Thorpe, 1969. The community project, launched with the hope of reinstating Jim Thorpe’s medals, was ended in 1971. Button is from the Grace Thorpe Collection, housed at the National Museum of the American Indian Archives Center, Smithsonian


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