Legendary speedskater remembered for athletic skills

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As I was cruising around on the Internet, looking for something else (I don’t remember what!), I found an article from the Milwaukee Journal from Dec. 18, 1980, about Madeline “Maddy” Horn, a world-class speedskater from Beaver Dam.

After I moved to Beaver Dam in 1961, I have learned a lot about Maddy and her numerous accomplishments and awards, but that was not my first introduction to her.

The Journal article stated that to stay in shape when there was no ice, she played other sports. (Remember, Maddy was winning her national and world titles in the 1930s when there were not very many indoor rinks. Skaters couldn’t train year-round like they do now.) The Journal writer said that Maddy was an outstanding softball pitcher, and it is in that context that I knew about her before I came to Beaver Dam and learned of her amazing career.

In the years after her skating career was over, Maddy moved from her hometown of Beaver Dam to take a job in Oshkosh where she became a friend and roommate of Marilyn’s Aunt Elizabeth. When Marilyn was a little kid, she knew Maddy as “Aunt Maddy,” a friend and teammate of Elizabeth and Lucille Schroeder, Marilyn’s dad’s sisters, both of whom were very good softball players.

When Marilyn and I were dating and in the early years of our marriage, I’d hear lots of stories of the exploits of her aunts’ softball days and their association with Maddy Horn. Years later, when I saw the movie “A League of Their Own,” I was reminded of some of the great stories Aunt Lucille could tell about the women’s leagues in the ’40s.

One of the enduring moments in that film had Tom Hanks’s character, grumpy has-been coach Jimmy Dugan, yelling at Evelyn, one of the players.

“Evelyn, are you crying? Are you crying? ARE YOU CRYING? There’s no crying! THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!” That line resonated with me because I’d heard Aunt Lucille talk about Maddy Horn’s tough pep talks to their team in their playing days. She was a serious athlete and she liked to win.

The article in the Journal talked about her killer instinct on the ice. Apparently, Maddy was only 5 feet tall so she was often referred to in the papers as “the Mighty Mite.” But she was stocky and strong, and she skated with a ferocity that intimidated many of her opponents.

She evidently played softball the same way.

Maddy Horn was one of the greatest speed skaters of all time. She dominated the sport in the mid-1930s. At one point, she held the world record in seven of the 10 events in her sport. She competed internationally from 1933 to 1940.

Maddy was selected to be on the 1940 Winter Olympics team, but as she was boarding the ship to go to the games, she was informed that the games had been cancelled because of the impending war in Europe. She probably would have won because in her prime there wasn’t a faster woman skater in the world.

One of her many records, set in 1939, still stands all these years later; she skated the 220 in 20.2 seconds. It will never be broken, because in 1967, the distances were converted to the metric system. She won the national indoor and outdoor all-around championships four times, and she won the world 500-meter title in 1938. She won 65 of her last 69 races.

Maddy was inducted into the Speedskaters Hall of Fame in 1966. I wish I could say that I knew Maddy, but I can’t. I never met her, but Marilyn knew her well, and the stories Marilyn’s family told about her make this legendary woman seem like a very real and genuine person.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.