"BRIGHT PATH STRONG -The Resiliency Of Jim Thorpe" The Third In A Series Of Pieces On Jim Thorpe, whose life and legacy will soon be presented in an upcoming Hollywood film! The Rise And Challenges of Dan O'Brien!


dan and J B.jpegJeff Benjamin with Dan O'Brien, photo in the Jeff Benjamin collection

Jeff Benjamin is a history teacher by day and athletics journalist by night. This is his 3rd piece in his Jim Thorpe saga, and I have been driving him absolutely crazy by not posting it. So, here it goes! Thanks Jeff for your enthusiasm and Dan O'Brien, thanks Dan on always giving us a few minutes. You have always been a class act.

Special, special thanks to Jeff Benjamin, who reminds me each day how magical our sport can be.

"BRIGHT PATH STRONG -The Resiliency Of Jim Thorpe"

The Third In A Series Of Pieces On Jim Thorpe, whose life and legacy will soon be presented in an upcoming Hollywood film!

The Rise And Challenges of Dan O'Brien!

By Jeff Benjamin

If one studies the life of Jim Thorpe, it would be difficult to compare the "World's Greatest Athlete" and his challenges with racism, prejudice, unfairness and failure coupled alongside his inspiring and lasting qualities of greatness with a large amount of athletes throughout Sport.

DO3.jpgDan and Dave, photo courtesy DanOBrien.com

Yet, Dan O'Brien can sure come close, as his road to Sport greatness was replete with many pitfalls as well.

Born to an African American father and his birth Finnish mother, O'Brien was put up for adoption in a time when mixed-race children were not in great demand. O'Brien would spend some years in group homes.

Both were college students. They decided that they were not in a good situation to make a home for a child, so they gave him up for adoption. The sixties marked the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in the US, and in those days, it was very difficult to find homes for mixed race babies. Dan was not adopted right away, and spent the first years of his life in a succession of foster homes.

DvsDave.jpgDan and Dave, ad campaign, ad courtesy DanOBrien.com

Eventually adopted at the age of two by the O'Brien family in Oregon, his brothers and sisters included an American Indian, an African American, a Mexican American, two Korean Americans, along with the biological children of the O'Brien's.

DO4.jpgDan O'Brien, photo courtesy DanOBrien.com

Having difficulty fitting in, O'Brien's athleticism was his salvation. In high school, he excelled in football, baseball, basketball and track. His natural ability during this time though, coupled with his non-chalance towards training and studying (A product of ADHD) would lead to All-State recognition in football and basketball. O'Brien entered the USA Junior Decathlon Championships and placed fourth even though he hardly knew shot put, discus, javelin, and pole vault!

The sky seemed the limit but O'Brien crashed down in College, as he lost his University of Idaho scholarship, admittedly partying and earning poor grades academically.

O'Brien was then literally out on the street, depressed, and too ashamed to go home. Rescued by his former coach who helped him enroll in a local junior college, and working full time and dedicating himself to train, O'Brien learned his lessons, conquered his ADHD and began his rise.

"Originally I didn't want to do the Decathlon," said O'Brien. "I just loved the Long Jump and the Hurdles,

After 1988, O'Brien started showing his potential, culminating in a 1991 National Championship and then being put into the spotlight alongside Decathlon teammate and rival Dave Johnson in Reebok's 1992 Olympic Multi-million dollar marketing hype known as "Dan & Dave". Olympic Gold looked automatic.

Then in one of the great shocks in Sports, O'Brien would fall out of contention for the '92 Olympic Team, no-heighting in the Pole Vault at the Olympic Trials in New Orleans.

DOB1.jpgDan O'Brien World record, 1992, photo You Tube

But, resiliency no doubt grew back in O'Brien, as he rose from this devastating setback and set the Decathlon World Record, win the 1993 and 1995 World Championships, the 1994 Goodwill Games, three US Championships and then Olympic Gold in Atlanta in 1996.

"I was always battling That it was a 10-event contest.," said O'Brien. "It was always a constant fight to engage in an event and then disengage - rest then compete then rest - turning it on and turning it off...that was a big mental battle."

"I loved the first day events...by day 2 it was harder as it went on...so I tried to face the events one at a time and not think about what was coming up."

Today, O'Brien (who is based out of North Scottsdale Arizona and also serves as an assistant volunteer coach at Arizona State University) is still all over the Sport as an emcee for every major USA Track & Field event. O'Brien has also done TV work as a color commentator and guest analyst for ESPN, CBS and NBC.

DO2.jpgDan O'Brien on Newsweek

A host and celebrity athlete for USATF's Win with Integrity program, O'Brien works with community outreach and mentoring programs designed to help kids make good life decisions, set positive goals and adhere to a drug-free lifestyle. He also works with the USOPC and their athletes as well as training athletes of all ages in Tennis, Football and other Sports.

O'Brien is very much aware, however, that it all began with Jim Thorpe.

"Jim Thorpe is THE figurehead who started the U.S. dominance in the Decathlon," said O'Brien. "The U.S. has won the Olympic Decathlon throughout the years more than any other event."

"Jim Thorpe is the world's greatest athlete," concluded O'Brien. "He excelled in all the disciplines and in literally every Sport!"

"I take a lot of pride in Jim Thorpe and feel for what he went through," said O'Brien, who also hurdled through life's tough challenges as well.

"But he also showed that you can do a lot of the other things and he was the best at all of them!"

Spoken like a true fellow champion!

Bell Lap -

-For more information on the film please go to


- A petition for the reinstatement of Jim Thorpe into the official IOC record books can be found here at


- Robert Wheeler's paramount Jim Thorpe biography is getting a reissue soon BUT if you wish to purchase a copy now check out


Leave a comment

Wake up to RunBlogRun's news in your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter and we'll keep you informed about the Sport you love.

Subscribe to RunBlogRun's Global News Feed

* indicates required