Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Winners Journey: Tuskegee University's pioneering Olympian, Theresa A. Manuel dies at 90

Manuel made history as the first black woman from Florida to compete in the Olympics, running the hurdles, a relay and throwing the javelin in London in 1948.

TAMPA, Florida — Theresa A. Manuel, who soared over hurdles both on the track and off as the first black woman from Florida to compete in the Olympics, died Monday (Nov. 21, 2016) in Tampa. She was 90.

A longtime teacher and coach at Middleton and Hillsborough high schools, Ms. Manuel had been in the hospital last week and was discharged Saturday but stopped eating on Sunday and declined quickly.

"She just slipped away," said Cynthia Flowers, her cousin and caregiver.

"The Tampa community has lost a history-maker," U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said Wednesday.

As a track star in the 1948 Olympics in London, Ms. Manuel "shattered barriers," Castor said. Later, she motivated students "to win on the field and in life."

Olympian Theresa A. Manuel is a graduate of Tuskegee University Class of 1949.  She never lost a basketball game or track meet in 4 years of college.  Her 50-meter indoor hurdles record still stands today.  Manuel coached girl basketball teams won 3 state championships in Florida.

Born in Port Tampa, Ms. Manuel grew up there and in West Tampa. At Middleton High School, her sport was basketball.

"The basketball court was outside," she said in a recent interview with Florida Trend. "We didn't have lights. At night, the neighbors would set up lamps with long extension cords and flood the court with light so we could practice."

She went on to play basketball at Tuskegee Institute (now university) in Alabama, earning the nickname "Trick Shot." Seeing her run, college teammates urged her to go out for track, a sport Middleton didn't have.

She excelled, setting a record for the 50-meter hurdles on a dirt track. While she was at Tuskegee, the women's teams were undefeated in both basketball and track. That led to her joining the Olympic team, where she competed in the 80-meter hurdles, threw the javelin and ran the third leg in the 440-yard relay.


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