She blazed a trail of gold
Betty Robinson grew up outside of Chicago. Born in 1911, she was a typical teenager who used the train to get to school every day. On one particular day in 1928, she was running late. Her Biology teacher, already boarding the train from the upper platform, noticed her from afar and knew that she would be late to class because there was no way she was going to make the train. Moments later, she sat down next to him and astonished, he complimented her speed and suggested she allow him to time her in the hallway at school the next day.
The remarkable stopwatch time led to a request to train with the men's track team at Thornton Township High School. Shortly thereafter the Illinois Women's Athletic Club extended her invitation.In no time, she was off to the Olympic Trials in New Jersey. Before her 17th birthday even arrived, she was on a boat to the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam emboldened to represent her country.
It was the eighth time Betty had ever run the 100 meter dash event on that July day. Wholeheartedly, with such speed and joy, she was awarded the first gold medal for the United States in Track and Field. She returned to the United States bearing a gold and a silver medal from the Olympic Games. She set her intentions to train and return to the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.
It was during this time that her story takes a turn, and the bold streaks of resilience, grit, and uprise begin.
Training for the 1932 Olympics with the track team at Northwestern University did not leave her much free time. She was a conscientious student yet always looking for new avenues to explore. As she was pursuing her pilots license, she took to the sky on a particularly hot day in June. Shortly after take off, the plane crashed into a marshy field. A passing truck driver rushed to the crash site and pulled her from the wreckage feeling certain that she was dead.
She was not dead.
Her coma lasted some time. Eleven weeks later she left the hospital with metal pins in her joints and one leg just a bit shorter than the other. Doctors told her she would never again walk without a limp and that running would not be possible.
But Betty Robinson was born to run.
She refused to accept this prognosis and instead she vowed to run again. Bones healed, her muscles became stronger, and her mind was resolute. When the Olympic trials for the 1936 games came around she would not be able to start in a runner's crouch but she had regained her speed.
As a member of the 4 X100 women's relay team, she again captured the Gold medal in those famous Berlin Olympics. She had transformed fear into fuel and once again defied the expectations of those around her.
Betty retired after the 1936 Olympic Games. She toured the country giving lectures and supporting the United States Track and Field organization. Showing up as an advocate for women's' rights to play and pursue their dreams was her passion.
Betty married Richard Schwartz in December 1939 and they lived outside of Chicago where they raised a son and daughter. She was inducted into the Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974 but has yet to be inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame.
In 1996, at the age of 84, she walked through Denver, CO holding high the Olympic torch as it made its way to Atlanta, GA for the Olympic Games. She refused help from those around her, and the same spark which lit her soul to return from tragedy was transferred to that torch so as to light the souls of others who carried it forth.
Betty died on May 17, 1999 in Colorado. She never wanted much recognition for her efforts yet her story inspires all. This is why we continue, in her honor, to tell her story to anyone who embraces an otherwise seemingly impossible dream.