Helen Stephens (1918 - 1994)
Helen Stephens was an Olympic champion from Missouri. She won two gold medals at the 1936 Olympics. She did this many years before schools had athletic programs for girls. Helen Stephens successfully competed in a variety of sports throughout her life.
Early Years and Training
Helen Herring Stephens was born on February 3, 1918, to Frank Elmer and Bertie Mae Herring Stephens. She grew up on a farm in Callaway County near Fulton, Missouri. She had a younger brother named Robert Lee. As a child, Helen loved to run, jump, and climb. She also had to work hard on the family farm. “From the time I was a small child I was in training, only I didn’t know it,” Helen once said. “I was walking, running, doing chores, building up my body, my lung capacity, my wind, my endurance, everything that people have to train for today.” A horse also helped her. Helen’s cousin always rode horseback to school and Helen would trot beside them. “I would grab the stirrup and run with the horse.”
In 1934, Helen was fifteen and nearly six feet tall. Coach Moore clocked Helen running the 50-yard dash. Her time was 5.8 seconds. This time she tied the world record held by Elizabeth Robinson. Coach Moore clocked Helen again to check his stopwatch. The second time was 5.9 seconds. Coach Moore taught Helen the basic forms of running on the cinder road outside Fulton High School. Helen also trained at home on her farm with her brother.
On March 22, 1935, Coach Moore took Helen to St. Louis for her first official race. Helen ran against Stella Walsh, a Polish gold medalist from the 1932 Olympics. Helen was dressed in sweats and running spikes borrowed from male friends. She beat Stella in the 50-meter dash at 6.6 seconds, setting a new indoor record on a dirt track. The press gave Helen the titles “The Missouri Express” and “The Fulton Flash.” Fulton High School celebrated Helen’s victory when she returned. Years later, Helen admitted, “That’s when I learned everybody likes a winner.”