Drawing Inspiration from Family Stories
Nestled in the Pocono Mountains is the funky, picturesque little town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Definitely worth a visit! It’s an old coal mining town, originally called Mauch Chunk—a derivation on Mawsch Unk, a phrase from the Munsee-Lenape Delaware people, which has been variously translated as Bear Place, Bear Mountain, or Sleeping Bear. The area’s scenic beauty is awe-inspiring. In fact, rumor has it that nineteen of the country’s twenty-six millionaires had a residence in Mauch Chunk in the late 1800s.
In 1953, the widow of Jim Thorpe, an exceptional athlete and Olympic medal winner, struck a deal with local officials to move her husband’s body to Mauch Chunk. In return, the town changed its name to Jim Thorpe and erected a monument to honor him. Sometimes referred to as “The Greatest Athlete of the Century”, the world-famous Native American had attended school in Pennsylvania as a teenager at the Carlisle Industrial Indian School a hundred miles to the southwest.
A couple weeks ago, I paid a visit to the historic town, primarily because my friend, John Thorpe, is the grandson of Jim Thorpe. A stop at the Jim Thorpe Memorial minutes from downtown, revealed facts about Jim’s amazing Olympic career—he’s the only Olympian to win gold medals for both the Pentathlon and Decathlon in the same Olympics—along with highlights of his years in professional football and baseball. Despite a challenging childhood and the prevailing prejudices of his time, he persevered. I am fascinated by the history of this talented man who was determined to be the best despite the obstacles he faced. Jim Thorpe’s inspiring life stories have provided a priceless legacy to his grandson John and have motivated him to learn more about his heritage.
Immersing myself in Jim Thorpe’s story reminded me of the importance of creating a record of our lives. Fortunately for my friend John, he not only has treasured written accounts, but also a portion of his grandfather’s athletic medals. Whether or not we have physical treasures to leave behind, we can strengthen our posterity with the precious gift of our personal and family stories. As we read of the heartache and trials our ancestors have survived, we are emboldened to forge ahead through life’s storms. We can draw closer to our family members, both living and deceased, and find inspiration to become our best selves. As a mid-year challenge, I invite you to take a few minutes to write down your story. You won’t regret it!