Caitlyn Jenner

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Caitlyn Jenner, a 1976 Summer Olympics track star, won the gold medal in the decathlon track and field event, in addition to the title “World’s Greatest Athlete” as Bruce (“Caitlyn Jenner”). Jenner was born in Mount Kisco, New York, a comfortable small town, just forty miles north of New York City. Born Bruce Jenner in 1949, the talented Olympic icon says that he has struggled with gender identity his entire life. As a child, Bruce struggled with dyslexia, a learning disorder that makes reading difficult, yet does not impact a person’s general intellectual abilities (Shaywitz). Jenner found early success in the sports arena, with particular abilities in football, basketball and water skiing (“Caitlyn Jenner”). He was awarded a football scholarship to Graceland College in Iowa, but an early injury caused him to transfer to competition in track. Fortunate for Jenner, legendary track and field mentor L.D. Weldon was coaching at the college (McConnaughey). Weldon encouraged Jenner to set his sights on the Olympics. Former Graceland assistant basketball coach Bill "Duke" Dudek said that he knew then that they were all witnesses to history in the making. Once Weldon took you in, Dudek said, he would never let you go. When Jenner ran his first 1,500m at the 1970 decathlon, his time turned out to be faster than that of the 1968 decathlon Olympian winner Bill Toomey (Posnanski). 

The decathlon is composed of performance in ten events over a two day period, including, the 100 meter dash, the long jump event, the shot put, the high jump, and the 400-meter dash, performed on the first day; and the 110 meter hurdles event, the discus, the pole vault, the javelin, and the 1,500-meter run, performed on the second day (“Decathlon”). Jenner’s best events were the pole vault, javelin and the 1,500 meter run. (Posnanski). Conversing with reporters, Jenner said that if his results where within 150 points at the end of the contest on the first day, he would win. At the end of day one, he trailed by only 35 points. When he came across the finish line of the 1,500 meter run, although he did not come in first in that event, he had crushed the world record, and a star was born. During an era of that contemplated the Cold War, it was probably not lost on anyone that Jenner won over a Russian decathlon opponent. Cameras clicked as he raised his arms, in what has become his iconic stance of Olympic victory. An unknown man from in the stands ran out and gave Jenner a small American flag. In the face of several U. S. troubling moments, Vietnam and Watergate, this victory was a special gift for every American. Jenner ran around the track holding up the flag as he trotted. At the end of his celebratory run, he ran to his then wife Chrystie in the Montreal stands and gave her a bear hug. Jenner announced his retirement from the decathlon that day. He had new fish to fry and fresh accomplishments to achieve (Posnanski). 

Bruce: Post Olympics

Jenner won the James E. Sullivan Award in 1976, and was voted the top amateur athlete in the nation ("History – Winners”). Also in 1976, Jenner was named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year for track and field ("Associated Press”). Jenner, now the quintessential legend, took his next steps into the world of fame. He became the face of Wheaties – Breakfast of Champions and a spokesperson for the brand from 1977 to 1979 (Moyer). Then, in 1980, Jenner continued his prodigious rise, and was drafted into the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame ("National Track & Field”). In 1986, he was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame (Holst and Popp). In 1994, Jenner was drafted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame and the Connecticut Sports Hall of Fame (“Bruce Jenner”). In 2010, he was the first Olympic decathlon to be drafted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame. San Jose City College held a yearly Bruce Jenner Invitational competition in his honor, burnishing the colleges’ athletic credibility both nationally and in the community ("San Jose City College"). Not limited to being an inductee, Jenner appeared on magazine covers, as well. Between the years1976 to 1982, he appeared on an issue of Sports Illustrated, Gentleman's Quarterly, and on the cover of Playgirl magazine (“Caitlyn Jenner 2").

Jenner: Businesses

Then came the memorabilia, there were Bruce Jenner t-shirts, Jenner dolls, and Jenner board games (The Washington Post). Not one to shirk possible gigs, Jenner on-boarded a number of opportunities, including preparing an autobiography of his life, fronting a clothing line, and giving motivational speeches at colleges and corporate events, for a minimum of $25,000 per appearance. Jenner supported numerous charitable organizations and served on many advisory boards.

Jenner: Television and Film

Jenner was relentless in taking advantage of as many opportunities as he could (Sielski). At various points he became a spokes person for Buster Brown shoes, Tropicana Orange Juice and Minolta cameras (Markazi). He became a sports commentator on numerous channels, including ABC, Fox Sports and NBC ("Bruce Jenner"). He also hosted a health show. Jenner tried his chops at acting, which certainly did not work out as well as the decathlon. His filmography list is rather extensive, including such early entries as: Dorothy Hamill Presents Winners, The Golden Moment: An Olympic Love Story, Can't Stop the Music which was sadly known as a flop, Grambling's White Tiger, CHiPs, World of Magic, The Star Games, A Man Called Sarge and others.

Jenner: Motorsports

After his decathlon days, Jenner transitioned into motorsports and a professional racing car career (Goldstein). He raced with Scott Pruett and was not a major player, but held his own for over ten years. He participated in numerous endurance races where he had to switch out with his racing partner Pruett over a three to twenty four hour period depending on the venue. Jenner and Pruett won big in 1986 at an event called the 12 Hours at Sebring. Pruett credits Jenner with getting him his “first big break in racing” (Goldstein).

Jenner: Marriages and Children

Bruce married his first wife, Chrystie Crownover in 1972, a few years before his Olympic win in Montreal. They had two children, Burt and Casey, but separated during the pregnancy of their second child and were divorced in 1981. Jenner met Linda Thompson, his second wife in 1979, and they got married in Hawaii in 1981. They were parents to Brandon and Brody Jenner. The couple divorced in 1986. Bruce later met and married Kris Kardashian in 1991. They have two children together, Kendall and Kylie Jenner. The pair separated in 2013 and divorced in 2015.

Jenner: Gender Transition

In April 2015, Bruce announced that he was transitioning into womanhood (Steinmetz). At that moment Bruce became Caitlyn and also became the most famous transgender woman in the world. After sixty five years of living life as one of the most famous men in the world, she was beginning a new path, and possibly now, more famous than she was before. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, at her Malibu hilltop home, Caitlyn, still looking like Bruce, conveyed her story to over 17 million viewers. In June, she graced the cover of Vanity Fair for the first time as Caitlyn Jenner in a white silk corset. The company reported that her image as a female, on their cover shattered all online traffic stats for the magazine. Jenner opened a Twitter account on the same day and acquired one million followers within a four hour period. She received mostly supportive comments, but also acquired some rude and hate filled comments, as well. Jenner had an ongoing confusion about her gender identity:

I have struggled with identity all my life. It’s not like something that just happened last week. When I was 8 years old, I was running into my mom’s closet. Nobody would know. I was also very good at hiding it (Steinmetz). His former wives, Crownover and Thompson say that Jenner openly shared his struggle with them, and they each protected his secret. Thompson recently disclosed that they both went to therapy regarding the issue, where the therapist was quick to inform Linda that if Jenner transitioned, she would have to decide if she wanted to continue her life with a woman (Thompson). Not too long after those sessions, Thompson decided that being with another woman was not the life that she had intended, and they separated amicably and divorced. Kris Kardashian says that while she was aware of her husband’s use of hormones in the 80s, he had never specifically identified the fact that there was a gender identity issue (Dafoe). She had no idea that Bruce wanted to live his life as a woman, a fact which Caitlyn vehemently denies.

Jenner’s public transition has had a tremendous impact on the transgender community (Steinmetz). Even the Secretary of Defense said that it was time that the policy on transgender persons in the military be reviewed. Even Congress responded, creating a measure to establish protections for LGBT people to the Civil Rights Act. The measure had an astounding almost 200 co-sponsors. Shows on television which address the transgender issue in a respectful way have also had an impact on the perceptions of many. The transgender movement has made more progress within a year than it had in the last decade (Steinmetz).

Yet despite the banner year, all is not totally well in the transgender community (Steinmetz). Twenty one transgender women have been killed this year alone, the deadliest year in transgender history. Unlike Jenner, many transgender persons are rejected by their family, impoverished, harassed, suffer unemployment, and experience homelessness at a disproportionate rate when compared to the general public. Not all transgendered persons are happy about all the hubbub. Jenner hopes to do good for the transgender community and hopes that her very public profile will be a source of benefit, but because she is not representative of them all, and who could be – she is only one person, some believe that she is not helping their plight at all. Jenner is famous, she is wealthy, she has connections and privileges that others in the community do not have, so many complain that she is not like them, and does not share their suffering and indignities. Certainly, this is a dichotomy that Jenner will have to deal with in her quest to advance the lives of her transgender comrades (Steinmetz).

Her E! docuseries, I Am Cait attempts to reflect many of the different aspects of what happens to people in the community. Along with her cohort of friends, they attempt to show that they are human and just like everyone else. America was looking for a hero when Bruce Jenner won the decathlon over Russian born Mykola Avilov in 1976. The transgender community is looking for a hero as well. Just like Bruce did before, Caitlyn is doing her best to be the hero for our times.

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