Saturday, September 17, 2011

More Herculean than Olympian

As London gears up for the Olympics - still almost a year to go yet it is more hyped than a syringe full of Mexican jumping beans - I heard this morning on the radio about a marathon competitor in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics.

AndarĂ­n (Felix) Carvajal was a postman from Cuba who lived his entire life in poverty despite being a celebrated amateur runner.

In order to get to the Olympics he begged on the streets of Havana for the price of his passage to New Orleans arriving there six months before the start of the games. Despite never having left his native country before, and speaking no English, he spent the next six months walking, running and hitchhiking the 600 miles (1000 kilometres) to St. Louis, sleeping rough along the way, labouring for money and living off fruit from the trees and whatever else he could find.

Arriving at the starting line and despite the 35 degree heat because of the 2:30pm start time, he was dressed in woollen trousers, a linen shirt, street shoes and a felt beret. There was brief delay where he was convinced to cut off most of the legs and sleeves to his clothing and the race began. It was run in brutally hot weather, over dusty roads, with horses and automobiles clearing the way and creating dust clouds. “He won the sympathy of the crowd in the stadium and raised his hat each time he passed the stand,” the St. Louis Republic reported.

As the race began, he took the lead but finally, overcome with hunger having not eaten for forty hours, he stopped to eat some apples from a tree which gave him a strong stomach ache. He still managed to recover and finally finished the race in fourth place. Hailed by the international press for his determination and amiable manner, he returned to Cuba a hero and resumed his mail route. He never appeared in international competition again.

Now that is the Olympian spirit.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE this story!

King of Scurf said...

So do I nursemyra. There's just something about it that brings a smile to the face and also a tear to the eye.

Terra Shield said...

Aw, this is such a lovely story. Totally agree with nursemyra's comment.

Nota Bene said...

Woah! What a man...