If you are all caught up on this week’s Buddy Read of Bicycling with Butterflies: My 10,201-Mile Journey Following the Monarch Migration by Sara Dykman and you’ve mulled over the discussion questions, and your thoughts are drifting to the upcoming Olympic games, then you might be interested in the book Fast Girls by Elise Hooper.
Fast Girls is a fictionalized account of the US Women’s Track team in the 1936 Olympics and the events that lead to Betty Robinson, Louise Stokes, Helen Stephens, and their teammates competing in the Nazi-sponsored games. While Jesse Owens was the public star of the games that same year, these trailblazing women were quietly carving out a place for themselves in history.
The 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam marked the first time women were allowed to compete in track events. Seventeen year old Betty won the gold in the 100 m race, matching the world record time, and took the silver in the women’s 4×100 relay. Robinson missed the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games following a near death accident. She fought her way back to competition strength to earn a place on the 1936 team.
Louise Stokes and Tiyde Pickett were the first Black women to be selected to compete in the Olympic after qualifying in the 1932 Olympic trials. Both women accompanied the US team to Los Angeles, but both were left off of the relay team that year. Stokes and Pickett were both among the eighteen Black athletes at the 1936 games. Stokes was once again left off the relay roster, failing to compete for a second time. She was welcomed home to Malden, Massachusetts with a hero’s welcome and she went on to found the Colored Women’s Bowling League.
Helen, the “Fulton Flash” Stephens was a sprinter who never lost a race in her career. At 18 she competed against and beat Stanisława Walasiewicz (aka Stella Walsh-Clevelanders may recognize her name!), the reigning champion and world record holder in the 100 m race. While in Berlin, she had an unpleasant encounter with Adolph Hitler. Shortly after the Olympics she retired from running, but went on to play professional baseball and softball and eventually became the first woman to own and manage a semi-professional basketball team.
All of these amazing women overcame different hardships in order to pursue their dreams. While the world remembers the name Jesse Owens, these women also raced their way in to Olympic history in 1936. If you like captivating historical fiction, courageous women, and a good underdog story, you’ll probably enjoy Fast Girls. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself putting down the story to further research the events in the book. Their stories are heartbreaking and inspiring and deserve to be known.