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New book details Jim Thorpe’s ‘struggle against the odds’

“Path Lit by Lightning” was published this year by Simon & Schuster. (Courtesy Simon & Schuster)

A new biography of arguably America’s greatest all-around athlete – Jim Thorpe – was released in August.

“Path Lit by Lightning” was written by David Maraniss, who has also penned biographies on former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Major League Baseball player Roberto Clemente and hall of fame professional football coach Vince Lombardi.

The book was released just weeks after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reinstated Thorpe (Sac and Fox Tribe) as the sole champion in his events at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, 110 years ago.

Thorpe won gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon at Stockholm – the first Native American to do so – only to have them stripped away because of a controversial rule violation due to his previous participation in minor league baseball. The IOC would later name him a co-champion in the events, but supporters always pushed for the record to show he was the sole winner.

The recent IOC decision was vindication for Thorpe’s family and scores of supporters who have advocated for the medals to be reinstated for decades.

Thorpe, who died in 1953 at 64, rose to world fame as a profound talent who excelled at any sport he competed in. He was an All-American football player at the then-Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania and was the star of the first class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also played Major League Baseball for the then-New York Giants.

“Even in a golden age of sports celebrities, he was one of a kind,” publisher Simon & Schuster said in a recent statement about the book. “But despite his colossal skills, Thorpe’s life was a struggle against the odds.”

At the Carlisle Indian School he came face-to-face with the racist assimilationist philosophy of “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” and his later life was troubled by alcohol, broken marriages and financial distress.

The book recounts how Thorpe traveled from state to state to accept bit parts in Hollywood productions, but that even the film of his own life, 1951s “Jim Thorpe: All American,” failed to improve his fortunes.

“Maraniss provides new insights into Jim Thorpe, a man who was not only ‘the world’s greatest athlete,’ but a cultural icon complicated by the dynamics of race and celebrity,” Patty Loew, (Bad River Ojibwe), Northwestern University professor and director of the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research, said in a book review.

“Path Lit by Lightning” is available now where books are sold.

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at