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Friday, November 02, 2007

John Woodruff, Requiescat in pace.

Jesse Owens was not the only American hero of Berlin's 1936 Olympics.

From the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

When the excitement of the 1936 Olympic Games ended, gold medalist John Woodruff came home to Fayette County with a small present for his hometown.

A tiny oak sapling from Germany's Black Forest -- a token for all athletes from Adolf Hitler -- would be his gift to the people of Connellsville, who supported his run from the city's south side to a stadium in Berlin.

Some of his teammates tossed their saplings overboard into the ocean to show their disgust at the Nazi regime, he would later tell people. But Woodruff, then a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, ignored politics and carefully carried the souvenir of his Olympic glory.

The achievements of black Americans Woodruff and fellow gold medalist Jesse Owens put the lie to Hitler's professions that he led a "master race."

Seventy years later, the sturdy oak that is dressed this month in bright gold leaves shadows Connellsville's high school stadium and track as a reminder of the runner whose famed 9-foot stride carried him around the world.

"Now, we have a wonderful memento to remember him. He gave us pride and helped our community so much," said Connellsville Mayor Judy Reed.

Woodruff, who suffered from multiple health problems that resulted in partial amputations of his legs several years ago, died Tuesday in Fountain Hills, Ariz., where he made his home with his wife, Rose. He was 92.

Word of Woodruff's death saddened, but did not shock, Pitt track coach Alonzo Webb, who met the athlete last year during the university's 70th anniversary tribute to Woodruff's gold medal victory in the 800-meter run.

"I was so glad to meet him. It made my life, I think, because I'm a track-and-field person," Webb said. "Even before I met him, I'd see pictures of those long legs and his strides. I watched clips of him and the way he ran that race."

During the Pitt event, Webb had dinner with Woodruff and his wife, and son, John Jr. He said Woodruff was a "great motivator" who offered encouragement and talked to him about the university's teams.

He described Woodruff, despite his advancing age, as a "sharp, bright man who was amazing to talk to" and knowledgeable about current events.

"He was in a wheelchair because of his legs, and he was using oxygen, but it sure didn't do anything to his spirit," Webb said. "He never even brought it up about his legs."

"Even in his wheelchair, you could tell the spirit of an athlete was still in him," said Robert Hill, Pitt's vice chancellor for public affairs. "His comment about it was, he would rather have lost his legs and kept his mind than lost his mental facilities and kept his legs."

Amen to that, Brother.

Woodruff's powerful legs -- and that celebrated stride -- earned him the nickname "Long John" and carried him across the finish line to capture one of the few gold medals that track and field teammate Owens did not own in Berlin.

It was a race for the history books.

Woodruff, who was favored going into the 800-meter contest, stunned spectators when he stopped running to avoid being boxed in by his opponents. When they passed him, he picked up the pace and stormed past his rivals to the finish line.

His storied run came just a year after his graduation from Connellsville High School, where he had set records in track competitions at the school, county, district and state levels. Connellsville business owners helped him obtain an athletic scholarship at Pitt, where he earned a degree in sociology in 1939.

He later donated his Olympic gold medal to Pitt, where it is displayed with his other track medals and his Olympic sweater.

Woodruff earned a master's degree in sociology from New York University and went on to serve in the Army in World War II and the Korean War. In 1957, he achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Thank you for your service, sir.

He lived in New Jersey for a number of years and spent much of his career in New York, where he taught in the city's public schools and worked as an investigator for the New York Department of Welfare and as a state parole officer.

But he never forgot Connellsville, the city that greeted him with a parade attended by 10,000 people upon his return from the Olympics.

He often visited the city in July for the annual John Woodruff 5K Run and Walk, a race that celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. He attended the event up until a few years ago, when poor circulation and complications from a broken hip resulted in the loss of his legs from above the knees.

"He was quite a professional when he came here, and he has given us wonderful things to be proud of," Reed recalled.

"He was such a gracious gentleman."

Woodruff is survived by his wife, Rose; son, John Jr. of Brooklyn, N.Y.; daughter, Randilyn Gilliam of Chicago; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Fountain View Village Independent Chapel. Later, a memorial service will be held near the oak tree in Connellsville.

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First of all, the word is SEX, not GENDER. If you are ever tempted to use the word GENDER, don't. The word is SEX! SEX! SEX! SEX! For example: "My sex is male." is correct. "My gender is male." means nothing. Look it up. What kind of sick neo-Puritan nonsense is this? Idiot left-fascists, get your blood-soaked paws off the English language. Hence I am choosing "male" under protest.


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