YOUNG AND FEARLESS
An accomplished track and field athlete during the 1940s and 1950s, young and fearless are the words I would use to describe Mrs. Mae Faggs-Starr.
(Mae Faggs-Starr in the starting blocks)
In my previous blog post “A Little Girl Who Believed: The Wilma Rudolph Story,” I was pleased to recognize three-time Olympic gold medalist Wilma Rudolph for Black History Month. Now, I want to recognize Mrs. Starr, the woman who mentored Wilma and made it possible for me to meet the legendary runner. I was fortunate to know Mrs. Starr, who was my health teacher and track coach at Princeton High School in Cincinnati.
Mrs. Starr was born Aeriwentha Mae Faggs on April 10, 1932, in Mays Landing, New Jersey, to William and Hepsi Faggs. She was the only girl in a family of five children. She began running track in elementary school and later became a member of the Police Athletic League. She ran for the league from 1947 till 1952.
In 1948, she competed in her very first Olympics when she was only 16 years old, making her the youngest member of the team. She ran in the 200 meter dash and 400 meter relay. Unfortunately, she didn’t qualify for the finals. She later graduated from Bayside High School in Queens, New York. After high school, Mrs. Starr continued competing. Then in 1952, she and her teammates won a gold medal in the 400 meter relay at the Olympics, setting a world record.
(1952 U.S. 400 Meter Relay Team)
A TENNESSEE STATE TIGERBELLE
In the fall of 1952, Mrs. Starr attended Tennessee State University on a track scholarship and proudly became a Tennessee State Tigerbelle. Since athletic scholarships were rarely offered to female athletes at the time, this was a true blessing! While Mrs. Starr was at Tennessee State, she met Wilma Rudolph, who was still in high school. Each summer, several high school girls, including Wilma, would attend the university’s track camp, which was run by Coach Ed Temple. According to Coach Temple, although Mrs. Starr was very small, she was a world-class sprinter. All the girls, including Wilma, looked up to her. She became their leader and mentor. They affectionately described her as the “mother of the team”.
Four years later, Mrs. Starr returned to the 1956 Olympics with three of her teammates from Tennessee State, including Wilma, who was sixteen years old by this point. Their relay team won a bronze medal for the 400 meter relay event. This particular Olympics was especially meaningful for Mrs. Starr because it marked her as the first American woman to compete in three Olympics.
(M. Faggs-Starr, Coach Temple, W. Rudolph and other members of the 1956 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team)
Mrs. Starr achieved so much during her lifetime. Some of her other accomplishments include being the U.S. 100 meter dash champion in 1955 and 1956. She won the 200 meter title in 1954, 1955 and 1956. She won a silver medal in the 100 meter dash at the 1955 Pan American Games. She also won 11 National Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) titles.
In 1958, Mrs. Starr married Eddie Starr, and they had two children: daughter Evelyn and son Eddie II.
In 1976, she was elected into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
After graduating from Tennessee State and retiring from track and field, Mrs. Starr and her family eventually relocated to Cincinnati. She received a master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and taught physical education and health. After 32 years in education, she retired in 1989. Her final year as a teacher and coach turned out to be a very memorable year, not just because it was the year she retired, but because it was the year she led Princeton High School Girls’ Track Team to a State Championship!
As I mentioned before, I was fortunate to have Mrs. Starr as a health teacher and track coach. I didn’t run in that state championship meet, but I was there to witness my teammates win that title! It was such an exciting time! It was the first and only time the Princeton High School Girls’ Track Team won a state championship title. I believe it was all because of Mrs. Starr’s expertise as a world-class athlete. She didn’t just want the girls to have individual wins, but she wanted the team, as a whole, to win. She, therefore, knew what needed to be done in order to make that happen.
(Sitting in the first row on the far right, I was happy to be a part of the team.)
While researching information about Mrs. Starr, I couldn’t help but notice how her coaches and teammates always acknowledged her as a true leader. She cared about helping others be successful. Although she was competitive, she wasn’t selfish. She took many young athletes, including Wilma Rudolph, under her wing. That kind of leadership and love carried over into her role as a teacher and coach.
(Wilma Rudolph and Mae Faggs-Starr racing to the finish line)
On January 27, 2000, Mrs. Mae Starr died from cancer at the age of 67 in Cincinnati.
(Coach Mae Faggs-Starr)
I share the story of Mrs. Starr because she was such an inspiration. When I think about all that she accomplished, she did it FEARLESSLY. If she was ever afraid, she didn’t let it show. For those who knew Mrs. Starr, she was very short. So, as an athlete, she was often smaller than her competitors. Nevertheless, she didn’t let that intimidate her. As I mentioned previously, in her very first Olympics in 1948, she was the youngest athlete on the team. However, she didn’t even let age intimidate her. She had a goal, and she went after it! Even though she didn’t win a medal at that particular Olympics, she was determined to compete at the next Olympics, and that is exactly what she did. Not only did she compete, but she took home the gold!
(Olympic Gold Medalist Mae Faggs-Starr)
When Mrs. Starr decided to go to college, she chose a school in the south. Here was a young black woman, born and raised in the north, who didn’t know much or anything about living in the South where segregation was still very much alive. And she didn’t let any fear of the unknown stop her from achieving her goals of earning a college degree.
Just like Mrs. Starr, God is calling for us, His children, to be fearless. One of my favorite scriptures is II Timothy 1:7:
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
If you have a particular goal or dream you want to achieve, what’s stopping you? Who’s stopping you? Romans 8:37 let’s us know that “we are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us.” So, no one can really stop you….but you!
It doesn’t matter what others may think or say. What do YOU say? What does GOD say? Philippians 4:13 says that you can do all things through Christ because He gives you the strength. He enables you to. So, again, what or who is stopping you? Mrs. Starr didn’t let anything or anyone stop her! And neither should you!
I encourage you to step out on faith! Take some chances! Take some risks! Even if you are nervous or afraid, as long as you know that God has shown you the vision, then do it anyway! Move through the fear! As our pastor Apostle Ron Banks always says, “You’ll never conquer anything you refuse to confront.”
(“The Kimberly Joy Show: Honoring Mae Starr for Black History Month”)
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