Gold medalists. Icons of the American summer. Athletes who overcame setbacks, long odds and prejudices with courage, heart and incredible self belief. On the world stage they shined.
In Stockholm in 1912 it was Thorpe, the greatest athlete of the 20th century. Gold medals in the pentathlon and the decathlon, the latter which he won wearing a pair of mismatched shoes he found at the last minute after having his own stolen. Derailed? Not “Wa-Tho-Huk,” his Native American name that meant “Bright Path.” Thorpe took home gold.
As did Jesse Owens in 1936 in Berlin, a black man showing up at a time when Nazi Germany was attempting to demonstrate the superiority of the Aryan athlete. The backfire was heard around the world. The sound of Owens’ running shoes was that of whooshing fire. “One chance is all you need,” Owens said afterward. One chance, and he ran with it.
Standing atop the world.
“The feeling of accomplishment welled up inside of me, three gold medals,” Wilma Rudolph said in 1960. “That was something nobody could ever take away from me.” That name is iconic. Rudolph overcame polio at a young age, and had to relearn to walk at 12. Impossible to become an athlete when your childhood is spent in leg braces?
Not for the “Black Gazelle.” She made history by shining in Rome. History kept her.
As it did with Cassius Clay, who introduced himself to the world in that same city. He shined in the ring, and told you all about it. “To make America the greatest is my goal, so I beat the Russian and I beat the Pole. And for the USA won the medal of gold.”
In Tokyo, it was the legend Joe Frazier. As a replacement for Buster Mathis in 1964, nobody could stop him. Not even a broken thumb he suffered in the semifinals would keep him from realizing his dream. “Pain or not, Joe Frazier of Beaufort, South Carolina, was going for gold,” he said.
They all did. This collection of American athletes shined on the world’s biggest stage. They were game changers. Groundbreakers. They were everything. And they remain the gold standard.
He wasn’t a generational athlete. What Jim Thorpe was could better be described as a once in a lifetime athlete. From the Sac & Fox Tribe of Oklahoma, Thorpe was an all-time great in the strictest sense. A near mythical figure who left the first half of the 20th century in awe, and who lives on today as the greatest athlete America has ever known.
Thorpe’s legacy is as improbable as the life he lived. Born as Wa-Tho-Huk (“Bright Path”) in the Oklahoma Territory just 12 years after the Battle of Little Bighorn, Thorpe learned to run on the plains. He ran with horses. He ran with the wind. When he was recruited to the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania, he ran through school records. He excelled at track and field and became an All-American halfback on the football team, playing for Coach “Pop” Warner.
Then he ran through history.
In Stockholm, in 1912, Thorpe became the first Native American to win gold medals. He did it in the pentathlon and the decathlon. Even while wearing a pair of found mismatched shoes after his own were stolen, he still blazed a bright path. His mythical powers of native athleticism were rooted to the earth, but the world now knew him. Some celebrated. Many resisted him. He endured racial discrimination his whole life. Yet he ran past that, too.
And right into legendary status.
Sixty years before Bo Jackson, Thorpe played pro baseball with the New York Giants and Cincinnati Reds. He played pro football, and made the NFL’s All-Decade team in the 1920s. The roaring ‘20s weren’t just about the great Babe Ruth. In the day, the greatest living athlete was Jim Thorpe. The track and field icon. The gold medalist. The football star. The baseball player. Quite possibly the most gifted American athlete of all time. The proud Native American who never forgot his roots or his ancestors.
“I am no more proud of my career as an athlete than I am of the fact that I am a direct descendant of that noble warrior [Chief Black Hawk],” he once said.
For this collection celebrating the great Jim Thorpe, we are proud to partner with Native American actor Martin Sensmeier — of the Tlingit/Koyukon-Athabascan tribes — who reached out to us and asked us to pay respect to Jim Thorpe and has taken the lead as the creative director for this Jim Thorpe collection. Martin has directed that a portion of the proceeds will go to The Native Wellness institute which is a non-profit organization and the Native Community’s leading social services resource that works with native communities across the U.S. and promotes the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health of North America’s indigenous people. The goal of the Native Wellness Institute is to continue bringing about positive changes in the lifestyles, relationships, education and overall wellness of Native Americans.