Look at that bike. Then go try and do a mile on an old Huffy Roadmaster in 1 minute and 32 seconds. Hint: It is gonna hurt if you can do it.
This man was born in my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana. He should be a household word and universally recognized as one of the United States of America's greatest sports hero's right up there with Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. The fact that he is not is a travesty. It is also a testament to our ignorance as a Nation.
The story of the man in this picture demonstrates one of the greatest strength of that same Nation. This man was able to fight his way to the pinnacle of sport through sheer ability and a place that would give him a shot, however distorted.
What a mess we have made creating, and remembering Major Taylor.
This man grew up in a very harsh environment for a man of his race, and yet there he is racing in France sometime in 1909. He will retire from the sport within a year of this picture at the age of 32. He is at the absolute pinnacle of the sports world in the early 1900's. Motor racing was emerging, but The World Cycling Sprint Champion was still a big deal, and Major Walter Taylor was nothing short of a real live John Henry holding off motorcar racing on a bicycle.
I have no doubt that the aggressive racism he would have encountered as a young rider was much worse than what we know. What we know was bad enough. This man would have fought words, elbows, and head blocks all the way to the winners podium his whole racing life. Take a moment and imagine all the ways hateful people would have used to spoil his pursuit of excellence, and how he prevailed. Where does someone find that much strength? He was first a World Champion in 1899. This picture is 10 years later. Imagine what he endured.
There are more than 30 important World Records posted by Major Taylor between 1896 and 1908.
One year prior to this picture (1908), Major Taylor set a World Record in the 1/4 mile from a standing start. His mark was 25 and 2/5 seconds. That is from a cold, standing start. He was 31.
in 1902, he started 57 races in Europe that season. He won 42 of them.
He would not race on Sunday, under any circumstances, until the very end of his racing career. This was a lucrative decision for him. This would have been a sacrifice to his livelihood. He was a man of strong faith and personal conviction.
He left a very impressive Family behind.
He died in as charity ward in Chicago in 1932. At the time he lived in a YMCA. He was 53 years old. The day was June 21st and he was buried near Chicago in an unmarked grave. He was later buried in a burial site more befitting his status by fellow cyclists assisted by Mr. Frank Schwinn. He wasn't helped by the people of his Country, but by his friends from racing and the Schwinn cycling family.
America, I give you one of your greatest sports Heroes.