'Fulton Flash' Helen Stephens had brush with Hitler at '36 Olympics

6:45 PM, Aug 10, 2012   |    comments
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By Heidi Glaus

St. Louis (KSDK) - It was the year Jesse Owens won four gold medals, FDR was president, and a farm girl from Fulton, Missouri named Helen Stephens was leaving everyone in the dust.

"There was no sports program for girls, but there were athletic girls who played on church basketball teams and Helen was one of those," explained Sharon Kinney Hanson, author of "The Life of Helen Stephens: The Fulton Flash."

A coach at Fulton High School took notice and invited her to run the 50 yard dash.

"And she beat the world record right then with no training whatsoever. She was using borrowed tennis shoes," Hanson added.

That was in 1933 and in 1936 she left Missouri for the first time to head to the games of the 11th Olympiad in Berlin where she won two gold medals and was summoned to Hitler's private box. He even invited her to spend the weekend with him, but she declined.

Of course, that brush with Hitler and those Olympic games where just a small part of this pioneer's legacy and several years ago Hanson decided to write a book about her.

"There's so much about her; farm life, poor, depression era," Hanson pointed out.

She also played professional basketball and founded her own team.

"Called the Helen Stephens Olympic Coeds who was booked by Abe Saperstein, who was the owner of the Harlem Globetrotters," Hanson said.

They played men's teams and won fifty percent of the time.

"She did so much for women. She wrote letters in support of women's athletics and spoke when title nine was trying to be passed," Hanson added.

Through it all she stayed active participating in the Senior Olympics and the Show Me State Games until a stroke. She died in 1994, but the woman known as the Fulton Flash and the Missouri Express left behind a well-paved path for those who would follow and words to remember.

"It's not how you start, but your finish that counts," Hanson read.

The Calloway County Historical Society is campaigning to get her on a commemorative postage stamp.

To help or learn more, visit the Calloway Historical Society website.


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