90: JFK 50 – America’s Oldest Ultramarathon


Manage episode 305109603 series 2396657
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By Davy Crockett You can read, listen, or watch In 1963, President John F. Kennedy unintentionally played a role that provided the spark to ignite interest for ultrarunning both in America and elsewhere. The door was flung open for all who wanted to challenge themselves. An unexpected 50-mile frenzy swept across America like a raging fire that dominated the newspapers for weeks. Tens of thousands of people attempted to hike 50 miles, both the old and the very young. Virtually unnoticed was a small club 50-mile event hiked by high school boys in Maryland, that eventually became America's oldest ultra: The JFK 50, founded by Buzz Sawyer. Help is needed to continue the Ultrarunning History Podcast and website. Please consider becoming a patron of ultrarunning history. Help to preserve this history by signing up to contribute a few dollars each month through Patreon. Visit https://ultrarunninghistory.com/member Kennedy's Push for Physical Fitness While running for president, Kennedy had campaigned with a goal to improve the nation’s physical health, and once in office he made that a priority. He feared that the future generations would be spectators of sport rather than participants on the field of play because of their lack of physical fitness. In 1961 a “Fit as a Fiddle” newsreel was produced by Kennedy’s Physical Fitness Program targeting youth to understand the importance of physical fitness. Also, that year, 200,000 copies of a song called “Chicken Fat” was distributed to all schools with the lyrics, “Nuts to the flabby guys! Go, you chicken fat, go away!” Fitness Test for Marines General David M. Shoup Back in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt issued an executive order that every Marine captain and lieutenant should be able to hike 50 miles in 20 hours. In 1962 Kennedy discovered this order and asked his Marine Commandant, David M. Shoup (1904-1983), to find out how well his present-day officers could do with the 50-mile test. Shoup made it an order to his Marines. Twenty Marine officers were selected to take the test in mid-February 1963, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. News Article Starts the Frenzy An Associated Press article published nationwide on February 5, 1963, shared the story of the 50-mile test. It received intense national attention. President Kennedy never directly challenged the American public to take the 50-mile challenge, but the article inspired many across the country, who were eager to test themselves too. The Public Starts Hiking 50 Miles Naïve, untrained, civilians, immediately decided to hit the road without much planning to undertake the challenge in the middle of the cold winter. On the very evening after the article was published, Lt. Colonel James W. Tuma, age 48 (1914-1990) from Michigan, stationed at Fort Huachuca, near Tucson, Arizona, immediately decided to start a 50-mile hike through the Sonoran desert. You would think, Tuma, who held a Ph.D. in physical education, would have more sense, but away he went. He hiked through the night, not sleeping. He said, "Everybody was nice along the way, wanting to give me a ride." The next morning, he finished his 50 miles with a sprint for a time of 13.5 hours and was credited as the very first one to finish 50-miles at the start of the nation-wide craze. Robert F. Kennedy's 50-mile Hike On February 9th, four days after the story went public, Attorney General Robert F Kennedy decided to take the challenge himself and hike 50 miles. Without any specific training, Kennedy hiked away on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal towpath (the future home of the JFK 50) with his dog Brumis and some aids. After his 50-mile hike, Ethel Kennedy helps RFK recover. After 25 miles, the group was ready to give up. But the press had caught wind of what Kennedy was doing, and a helicopter arrived soon after with photographers and journalists. So, Kennedy set off again.

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