Jim was born of mixed-race parents and in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Since both parents had one parent who was Native American, Jim considered himself to be a Native American.
Jim was a natural athlete. At Carlisle College, he competed in football, baseball, and lacrosse. He was an All American in football for two years. It’s ironic that his best sport was track and field, but he chose not to compete in these events in college.
In the 1912 Olympics, Jim won Gold Medals in Pentathlon (5 events) and Decathlon (10 events). Since these events required excellence in speed and strength, they were considered the most challenging of the Olympic events.
A year after the Olympics were over, a protest was made which denied Jim the two gold medals. He had played in semi-pro baseball games for which he received $2/game. While protests had to be filed within 30 days, the medals were still taken away from him. Jim received no help from the U.S. Olympic committee since Jim, in their eyes, was not a U.S. citizen. At that time, Native Americans were not considered U.S. citizens. The medals were eventually restored in 1982 (70 years later).
Jim went on to compete in football, baseball, and basketball as a professional. He was selected for the first class in the professional football Hall of Fame. In a poll of sports fans, Jim Thorpe was named the Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century. Interesting that he has never been awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom, although 39 other athletes have been given this honor.
By anyone’s definition of competitiveness, Jim Thorpe was a competitor. You don’t have to be an athlete to be a competitor. In fact, you don’t need to compete against others. The highest form of competitiveness is when you compete to achieve goals you set for yourself.
Being competitive requires 5 steps:
- Having realistic but challenging goals you set for yourself
- Having a plan to achieve these goals
- Having the discipline to stick to your plan
- Having a way of measuring your achievement
- Repeating the first four steps with new goals after a quiet celebration
Jim Thorpe was no doubt driven in his competitive pursuits by the disdain that others had for his heritage. Being competitive is a singular pursuit, but it can often be aided by the naysayers who don’t believe in you. Competitors often have an edgy attitude driven by an “I’ll show you” spirit.
Being competitive is not what we often think it is. When you are competitive, that doesn’t mean that others lose. In fact, when you are competitive, you inspire others to higher levels of achievement. Truly competitive people thrive on seeing others do well because that simply encourages them to seek out higher levels of achievement for themselves.
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A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms. – Zen Shin (Buddhist saying)