Seventy-five years ago this month a young Tustin
woman won a gold medal in the 400-meter relay as a member of the United
States women’s relay team at the 1932 Olympics in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
As a child Evelyn Furtsch was known for
winning any race she entered. At Tustin High School there was no girls
track. So she played basketball, field hockey and baseball, but her gym
teacher, Grace Shults, told the Tustin track coach, Vincent Humeston, how
fast she was. He invited her to run with the boys’ track team and was
impressed enough to contact the Los Angeles Athletic Club about training for
the coming Olympics in 1932.
Aileen Allen, who was training a few girls,
invited her to try out with them. She won all the races and was invited to
join them. When the Los Angeles Athletic Club sent three girls to a national
meet in New Jersey in 1931, Evelyn was one of them. After an 11-day car trip
across the country with Humeston and her mother, Evelyn came in second at
the meet, beating Stella Walsh, who was considered a world champion, and won
a silver medal in the 100 meters.
Encouraged by this , Evelyn decided to train
for the 1932 Olympics with Humeston as her coach. When Olympic tryouts were
held in Chicago in 1932 in the midst of the Depression, the Los Angeles
Athletic Club couldn’t afford to send the girls they had been training.
However, the Tustin Chamber of Commerce came
to Evelyn’s rescue, going door to door to raise money to send her, her
mother and Humeston to Chicago. They collected $190 and the trio drove to
Chicago in Humeston’s car and stayed with Mrs. Furtsch’s cousin.
Evelyn won her preliminary heat and her
semifinal heat, but fell at the tape in the finals. She was disqualified and
eliminated from the Olympic team, but when Humeston called Aileen Allen to
explain what had happened, he was instructed to bring her home quickly. A
message that she was going to be on the team was waiting when they arrived
Evelyn joined six other girls in Los Angeles
and began training with Olympic coach George Vreeland. When he selected the
relay team, it included Mary Carew as first runner, Evelyn second, Annette
Rogers third, and Wilhelmina Von Bremen fourth. The relay was one of the
last events in the Olympics so the girls had a week to practice passing the
baton and polishing their teamwork.
After breaking both the Olympic and the world
record, running the relay in 46.9 seconds, the runners received gold medals,
which were packaged in boxes, not attached to ribbons as they are today, but
the ceremony with the American flag being raised and the national anthem
played was the same.
Evelyn returned home to a flurry of
recognition ceremonies and banquets. She enrolled at Santa Ana College in
the fall. By the time the next Olympics was held, she was married to Joe
Ojeda and had a baby daughter. She later had a son and eventually became a
As she says, “When we ran in 1932 we just
loved to run and loved to be a part of something as exciting as the
Olympics.It was only part of our life and when it was over, we went back to
doing our own thing.”