Do you love watching the summer Olympics every 4 years? If so, you've probably heard of famous track & field athletes such as Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Caitlyn Jenner.

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But have you heard of Jesse Owens? The son of sharecroppers, grandson of slaves, and 9th child in his family, he competed in the 1936 Olympics and became a symbol of liberty and persistence, not only for his own country, but for the entire world!

Jesse Owens brief film clip. He is smiling and wearing a USA sweatshirt.

A Legendary Olympian

Jesse Owens grew up to be one of the most famous athletes of all time.

He was one of 18 Black Americans who participated in the 1936 Olympics, held in Germany during the time of Adolf Hitler's rule. Their participation was a bold move and served to inspire people to treat Black individuals as equals in an era when segregation and prejudice were common.

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Jesse Owens was an amazing sprinter who:

  • Set 3 world records on a single day while in college

  • Won 4 Olympic gold medals (100 meter, 200 meter, relay, and long jump)

Watch him make these successes look effortless in this original film clip:

1. Focus on your goals

Set goals and go after them with vigor and determination!

We often hear inspiring stories or read about a famous person whom we admire.

Sometimes it seems like they were an overnight success. But that's rarely the case.

We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.

—Jesse Owens

Trainer saying

Jesse worked hard to become a world champion. His college didn't have any track-related scholarships, so he paid for his education and supported his wife by working night and part-time jobs, all while training for and competing in track competitions!

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2. Persist in the Face of Adversity

There will be highs and lows as you work towards your dreams, but do your best to persist!

Jesse Owens grew up in a segregated America and even when he returned as a gold medal-winning Olympian, he had to deal with serious prejudice.

  • He wasn't invited to the White House to celebrate his victories.

  • He had to use the back door when attending his own celebration party in New York City.

  • He had trouble finding a job due to the color of his skin.

Moira from Schitt's Creek saying

His later years brought more success and recognition. His awards and appointments include:

  • Sports Ambassador of the United States in the 1950s

  • Having a street in the Ivory Coast named after him in 1971

  • Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Gerald Ford in 1976

  • Living Legend Award by President Jimmy Carter in 1979

  • Congressional Gold Medal after his death, in 1990 by President George H.W Bush

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3. Remember What's Important

Be true to your friends and values!

While it's important to pursue your dreams, Jesse realized that some things are more important — the people you surround yourself with and the good deeds you do!

Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust.

—Jesse Owens

Two guys doing a complicated friendship handshake.

It's great to be successful! But there's more to life than being rich, popular, or the best.

Jesse Owens:

  • Was married for almost 48 years to his wife Ruth

  • Mentored youth and considered this his most satisfying accomplishment

  • Served as a global ambassador and an inspirational speaker

  • Had 3 daughters with his wife Ruth, who continue his charitable work through the Jesse Owens Foundation

How Can Jesse Owens' Life Inspire Us?

Cell phone with thinking smiley face icon on the screen. Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Jesse Owens overcame adversity and became a famous Olympian who broke world records and inspired the world. He later became a role model and mentor.

Most of us will never be Olympians or the absolute best in our chosen field of work. Despite this, how could we emulate Jesse Owens' example?


What could we do? Select all that apply:

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