Helen Stephens was born on February 3, 1918, in Fulton, Missouri. Known as a woman who was always on the move–from teenaged Olympic track and field champion to becoming the first woman owner/manager of an all-woman semiprofessional ball team to returning to competitions at the age of 62.
Known as the “Fulton Flash,” Stephens won nine Amateur Athletic Union track-and-field titles by the age of 18.
Stephens drew the public eye as a brilliant champion in the 1936 Olympics, when she ran the 100 meters in 11.5 seconds – setting a world record that stood for 24 years. “The Fulton Flash” won a second gold as anchor leg in the 400 meter relay. As an amateur she set world, Olympic, American and Canadian records in running, broad jump and discus.
After winning three more U.S. national titles (50 meters, shot put, 200 meters), Stephens retired from competitive track. During her 30-month career, she competed in more than 100 races, winning every one of them.
She and Jesse Owens headlined a tour before Stephens moved on to briefly play professional basketball and softball.
Stephens initiated another first in 1938 when she started “The Helen Stephens Olympic Co-Eds,” becoming the first woman to create, own and manage a semiprofessional basketball team, which remained active until 1952.
During World War II, Stephens served in the U.S. Marine Corps. After that she became a member of the civil service.
During the 1980s, while in her 60s, Stephens returned to competitive track-and-field in senior events, maintaining her perfect record.
She inspired teenagers and senior citizens alike to exercise and work for good health, which helped her become honored in the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the US Track and Field Hall of Fame and the Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame.
Helen Stephens died in St. Louis, Missouri, on January 17, 1994, but her legend lives on.