‘Hitler ruined my Olympics’ – tributes to ex-athelete who could have won gold

Ethel Fowler

Ethel Fowler

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AN athlete whose Olympic dream was left in tatters by Adolf Hitler has died at the age of 100.

Pallion-born Ethel Fowler who was one of the first women to complete the 100-yard dash in under 11 seconds.

SUBMITTED PIC''From: Janette Garthe [mailto:jmgarthe@bigpond.net.au] 'Sent: 09 June 2012 08:19'To: Sarah Stoner'Subject: Re; Olympic Games - Sunderland Girl - Mrs Ethel Fowler''Pictured: Nellie, Ethel, Nana

SUBMITTED PIC''From: Janette Garthe [mailto:jmgarthe@bigpond.net.au] 'Sent: 09 June 2012 08:19'To: Sarah Stoner'Subject: Re; Olympic Games - Sunderland Girl - Mrs Ethel Fowler''Pictured: Nellie, Ethel, Nana

Her track prowess won her a place in the 1940 Olympics – but her sporting hopes were dashed when the games were cancelled after the outbreak of World War Two.

But the centenarian kept her determined mind, and remained independent despite her age. Sadly she broke her hip in a fall last September, which knocked her independence.

“Ethel lived alone until the accident,” said her nephew Duncan Shield.

“She had successful surgery, but was sadly not able to return home as she was too frail to care for herself.”

SUBMITTED PIC'''From: Janette Garthe [mailto:jmgarthe@bigpond.net.au] 'Sent: 09 June 2012 08:19'To: Sarah Stoner'Subject: Re; Olympic Games - Sunderland Girl - Mrs Ethel Fowler''Ethel as a baby

SUBMITTED PIC'''From: Janette Garthe [mailto:jmgarthe@bigpond.net.au] 'Sent: 09 June 2012 08:19'To: Sarah Stoner'Subject: Re; Olympic Games - Sunderland Girl - Mrs Ethel Fowler''Ethel as a baby

She died on February 1 in her sleep.

Ethel, the youngest of five children, was born in March 1912.

Her father William Duncan trained as a carpenter in the shipyards and served in the merchant navy.

“I don’t really remember much about Pallion, as I grew up in the Chester Road area,” Ethel recalled in an Echo interview last year.

“We didn’t have any money, but we were happy.”

It was while studying at Cowan Terrace School that Ethel’s aptitude for sport was discovered.

But it when she left to train as an upholsteress at Binns that her sporting prowess really came to the forefront.

“I had just turned 14 when I started at Binns,” she recalled.

“Upholstery was something I always wanted to do, and Binns offered me a chance. It also offered me more sport as well.

“There were very few girls interested in sport at that time, but I was very keen.

“I joined the store’s sports club and just sort of fell into running. It was something that I loved.

“It’s hard to explain what makes it so special. Only another runner would really understand.

“It’s the wind blowing in your hair, a feeling of being halfway between heaven and earth.”

Ethel spent the next few years working hard for her apprenticeship by day, while training just as hard at the Binns sports field at Newcastle Road during her free time.

Not only did Ethel pass her apprenticeship with flying colours, but she also became the North of England champion for the 100 and 220-yard races.

“I was one of the first women to do the 100 yards in under 11 seconds,” she said. “It’s nothing now, but it was back then,” she said.

But after securing a coveted place at the 1940 Tokyo Olympics, her sporting ambitions were smashed by the outbreak of the Second World War.

“It would have been a dream come true to take part, but the games were cancelled in the end,” said Ethel.

“It would have been a real honour to be there, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

“I may have had a fighting chance in crossing the line first. I am a very determined person, and I wouldn’t have let anyone better me.”

Instead, Ethel moved to London to marry childhood sweetheart Fred Fowler – a former Bede School pupil who had trained as an accountant. A move to Surrey followed.

Her final home was in Epsom, but she remained proud of her Wearside roots.

“Homesickness is a disease, and I still miss the town – and the sea,” she told the Echo last year.

“I soon got over the disappointment of the 1940 Olympics, as far worse things can happen. Looking back, I’ve had a charmed life, thanks to wonderful friends and family.”

Ethel will be buried on February 27 at Banstead Methodist Church, Surrey.

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