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The heroic — and tragic — story of America’s finest athlete

In a life of triumphs and losses, his biographer says, “Jim Thorpe did not succumb.”

PORTLAND, Maine — It’s been 110 years since Jim Thorpe reached the zenith of a spectacular career, yet a strong case can still be made that, even after all this time, he remains the greatest athlete the United States has ever produced.

Although Thorpe excelled in professional baseball and football (he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame), his brightest days came at the 1912 summer Olympics in Sweden, where he won both the pentathlon and decathlon. If you’re a sports fan, you may be familiar with those accomplishments.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know: Thorpe was so dominant that he won the high jump in the decathlon while wearing a pair of mismatched shoes he scraped together at the last minute after being unable to find his own. 

“They were ill-fitting, different sizes, different laces,” wrote David Maraniss in his new biography of Thorpe, “Path Lit by Lightning.” 

Maraniss continued, “The left shoe looked nothing like the right shoe, and he wore two socks on his left foot, a white sock over a black one, and a shorter, thicker sock on his right foot.”

As a Native American, Thorpe faced incessant prejudice throughout his life, and when his athletic career came to an end, he struggled to find his place in the world. 

“His days were marked by loss,” Maraniss wrote.

In the end, though, Maraniss sees Thorpe’s story as one of perseverance. ]

“For all his troubles,” he observed. “Whether caused by outside forces or of his own doing, Jim Thorpe did not succumb.”

On Thursday, David Maraniss will be the guest speaker at an event sponsored by the Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library of Kennebunkport

The event will be held at the Kennebunk River Club from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale until 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

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