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Sullivan County Historical Society History Maker Award 2003

HodgeAlice and Russell (Rusty) Hodge

Olympians 

Let us think back to our youthful days when our bodies had reached their peaks of strength and endurance. If we had tried our hand at Track and Field events, how closely would we have measured up to the following?

40 Yard Dash: 4.2 seconds

100-meter Dash: 10.2 seconds (world decathlon record)

100 Yard Dash: 9.3 seconds

Long Jump: 25' 4 ½"

Shot Put: 61' (American Decathlon Record)

High Jump: 6' 5"

400-meter Run: 47.8 seconds

110-meter High Hurdles: 14.5 seconds

Discus: 175'

Pole Vault: 15'

Javelin: 212'

1500-meter Run: 4 minutes 12 seconds

 

Most of us would not have come close to any one of these speeds or distances, so if we reflect for a moment on our own limitations, we can better appreciate the fact that these extraordinary figures represent the best achievements of a single person named Russell Hodge who also happens to be our neighbor up in Roscoe. This year, the Society honors him for taking part in the 1964 Olympics and in 1966 at the Los Angeles Coliseum establishing a world record of 8230 points for the Decathlon-a record which stood for a number of years. Yet this is only half the story, for this Olympian was preceded by his mother who was a member of the Olympics team in 1936. She also lives in Roscoe and the two of them constitute the only mother-son combination in American Olympics history. Now that's something for Sullivan County to cheer about.

 

Let's begin with Mother. Born in 1914 Alice Arden showed remarkable athletic ability at an

early age. She won ten athletic letters in high school and in 1933 broke Babe Didrikson's high jump record with a high jump of 5' 3 ½" at the Chicago World's Fair – a mark which would stand for over two decades. At that time she was also one of the top female broad jumpers in the country and attracting a lot of attention. Sullivan County Historian John Conway notes, "It didn't hurt that she was a tall slender, good-looking redhead," and she was singled out by Bernard McFadden as that "lovely high jumper, Alice Arden of New York City." In 1936 she was chosen to represent America in the Olympics held that year in Berlin. The experience was a tremendously exciting one, even though she came in fifth in the high jump. Among her less happy memories was seeing Adolph Hitler snub her friend Jesse Owens.

In retrospect, Alice says she always enjoyed group sports more than individual competition and after the Olympics she became the center for the Long Island Ducklings, a women's traveling basketball team. One of their trips took them to the Laurels Country Club by Sackett Lake to play a top Sullivan County semipro team, the Emeralds of Monticello. As center, she had to play against a tall, husky local fellow named Russell Hodge. Well, that's one way of meeting your future husband. The two were married the following year-a union which lasted 64 years and at last count was responsible for three children, ten grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and one great, great- grandchild.

Rusty had a very successful radio and appliance business in Liberty and the couple first lived in Smallwood and later moved to Liberty. In 1945 they opened Hodge's Fashions in Furniture in Liberty and because Rusty was such an avid fly fisherman moved to Roscoe where they purchased a dairy farm in a lovely location on the Beaverkill. In time the furniture business also moved to the Roscoe farm to displace the cows in the old dairy barn. Later when the furniture business closed down, they operated the Cat Hollow Sand and Gravel Company. During this time, they had three children: Laura Lee, Russell (Rusty) and James.

Rusty, who was born in 1939, early in his life showed a strong interest in all kinds of sports, but was hampered by his small size. When he graduated from the New York Military Academy he was only 5' 9" and 165 pounds, though by this time he had become the top prep-school pole vaulter in the east with a vault of 13' 3" and earned an athletic scholarship to Villanova University. Looking back at his first college experience, Rusty admits he was not ready for the academic life and left after one semester. Next was a four year tour of duty with the Air force. There were opportunities to develop his physical skills while in the Service and by the time he was discharged he was 6' 3" and 225 pounds and ready for that most demanding of competitions: the Decathlon, a grueling competition in which athletes must compete in ten major track and field events over a two day period. He was selected for the U.S. squad for the 1963 Pan American games and then the 1964 Olympics Games in which he finished ninth.

Life was busy in the 1960's as he was combining college and Olympics training. "At one point I was going to school full-time, training five or six hours a day and working as a bartender at night to support myself. People used to ask me how I managed it, but it wasn't that tough. I grew up on a dairy farm. Everything was easy after that."

Alas, despite the estimated 60,000 hours of training this former Roscoe farm boy undertook to achieve his Olympics goal, the Olympics Gold Medal eluded him. He had done well in 1964 and in 1966 in a non-Olympics competition in Los Angeles he established a world record for the decathlon competition of 8230 points and was, therefore, the favorite to win the next Olympics competition. However, both in 1968 and 1972 injuries prevented him from taking part in the Games. Shortly after the second disappointment in 1972, he withdrew from active competition.

Rusty confesses that initially he was very depressed about his failure to win at the Olympics when the gold medal seemed within reach. However, what is even more impressive about Russ' life than his decathlon scores was his decision not to give into mental depression, but to turn his disappointment into something positive and to use his mistakes to help other athletes. He had received a B.S. degree from U.C.L.A. in International Relations and continued his studies to become an Ordained Minister in the University Bible Church. He has continued his ministry by serving as chaplain in various capacities to some of the 7,000 Americans who have taken part in the Olympics Games.

As Russ looked back over his own career, he realized that he had relied too much on his natural size, strength and speed and had not given proper attention to training, nutrition, proper mental attitudes and even to spiritual preparation. Out of this realization came a sense of the work that has occupied him in the years after competition. During the past three decades he has worked with hundreds of athletes, many of them Olympians, to help them develop both their bodies and minds. By 1970 he was beginning to understand the importance of nutrition and began a business to provide healthy dietary supplements both for athletes and those of us not cut out for decathlon competitions. Also, he uses his experience to help his own children. In his forties he married Pamela (Pam) Bleasdale, and they have five children. The oldest, Seth, seems challenged by the Decathlon, so perhaps a third generation Olympian is in the making. However far Seth may go, his father will be there sharing the lessons he learned along the way.

There are many ways in which outstanding individuals can "make" history. Going back to the ancient Greeks and probably earlier, athletic prowess has always fascinated and we live in an age more keenly aware of good health. On both counts Alice and Russell have much to teach us. Their athletic achievements inspire and they have been generous with their time in helping a new generation of athletes. However, even more impressive than their field and track records is the determination which after athletic stardom they moved ahead to build new and useful lives.

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