Local Olympian gets the literary treatment – ​​Timesherald

NORRISTOWN – As her sports biography on her second cousin – Norristown icon Josh Culbreath – took shape, author Cynthia Culbreath’s primary focus for the 18-chapter, over 300-page book became apparent.

But, to borrow an athletics term, “The Olympian Leap: The Life and Legacy of Josh Culbreath” is about passing the baton from generation to generation.

“I want this book to resonate with young athletes,” Culbreath said. “I want them to be encouraged by his story. No matter where you come from, you can become whatever you want to be.

“You can come from a small town and become a champion if you work hard, go to school and get an education so that the scholarships will come your way. You have to know the past history of those who came before you .

However, although it is part of the message, it is not a children’s book.

“Although I really want this to resonate with children, I wrote this book for everyone,” she said. “It’s a sports biography targeting people who love sports.”

Cynthia Culbreath

The life of Josh Culbreath, bronze medalist at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne and championship collegiate coach, is well known to those who knew him best. But the first-time author promises a few surprises unearthed during her eight months of writing and research that began during the pandemic.

“There are things in this book that, through my research, people who knew Josh might not even have known,” she said.

Cynthia Culbreath’s fascination with the relative she would not meet until years later started early.

She thinks, “Where can I start? As a young girl, I grew up in a household where I always heard my grandparents — and other family members — talk about Josh Culbreath. I heard all these stories, saying he was an Olympian. When I heard that, it always marked me throughout my life. I just couldn’t believe we actually had an Olympian in the family.

She always wanted to meet her famous cousin, but it didn’t happen until he was asked to be the guest speaker at a family reunion at the Mermaid Lake Swim Club.

“I never really caught up to it until later in life,” she said. “I was, like, impressed to finally meet him. It meant so much to me. I had heard so many stories. It was an honor to meet him. »

It was then suggested that he endeavor to write a late book about himself.

At first, she scoffed at the idea, largely because she’s a computer scientist with no real writing experience.

However, during the pandemic, she began researching family history on her grandfather’s side dating back to 1833.

A name came up all the time.

  • President Bill Clinton and Josh Culbreath at a ceremony recognizing...

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    President Bill Clinton and Josh Culbreath at a ceremony recognizing the Culbreath Central State Track Team.

  • Josh Culbreath won a bronze medal in the 400 meter hurdles...

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    Josh Culbreath won a bronze medal in the 400 meter hurdles at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.

  • Josh Culbreath

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    Josh Culbreath

  • Hurdler Josh Culbreath won a bronze medal in the 1956...

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    Hurdler Josh Culbreath won a bronze medal at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 and two goal medals at the Pan American Games.

  • Black History Month keynote speaker Joshua Culbreath addresses the crowd...

    Oscar Gamble―The Times Herald

    Black History Month keynote speaker Joshua Culbreath addresses the crowd at Norristown Municipal Hall on Wednesday February 4, 2015.

  • The Montgomery Coaches County Hall of Fame class in 2013...

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    The Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame Class of 2013. Left to right: Joe Shumock; Bill Racich; Sandy Nadwodny; Josh Culbreath; and Sherri Retif. In last row are Jim Davis, John Pergine and Tony Leodora of the Hall of Fame committee.

“That’s when I thought, ‘Maybe I should write this book,'” she said. “I was like, ‘Let me start writing about Cousin Josh.’ So I’m just starting to research I went to the Norristown Historical Society I went to the Norristown Public Library and the Upper Merion Library Plus I had information from my cousins ​​I just start writing stories about him. I incorporated stories from my family and stories from the diary, and that’s how I built the book and put it together.

From there, she bonded with surviving Olympian friends, as well as Morgan State teammates.

The book, which begins with a striker from Olympic great Edwin Moses, traces his early days in Norristown, bringing up the names of other icons (Tommy Lasorda, Al Cantello, Pete Lewis, Charlie Blockson, Ted Ellis, etc.) Marines and then the Games Olympics.

Cynthia Culbreath was fascinated to learn of the latitude given to Josh by the Marines.

“They saw what a great athlete he was,” she said. “They allowed him to train for the Olympics as an active duty Marine.”

Staff Sgt. John Mahoney wrote a press release before the Olympics, and she called Quantico for an original copy and put it in the book.

She also went beyond his athletic career, touching coaching at Central State in Ohio, where he won 10 NAIA titles in 8 years coaching men and women on outdoor and indoor tracks.

Under his tutelage were also several Olympians.

Meanwhile, Culbreath and his team were invited to the White House Rose Garden to be honored by President Bill Clinton on June 3, 1993.

“I really got into that chapter,” she said, adding that the full text of Clinton’s speech is reprinted in the book.

Although she worked on the manuscript, it was not with any real expectation of success.

“I never thought it would go anywhere,” she said. “I thought, ‘I don’t have any writing skills.’ I didn’t know anything about writing a book.

But she contacted four publishers and went with Pittsburgh-area Fulton Books because they were the first to respond and the most enthusiastic.

The book will be available for purchase from Barnes & Noble and other formats (Kindle, eBook, iTunes, Amazon, etc.)

Culbreath, a Norristown native and systems engineer, was also delighted to learn that the book can also be sold locally in conjunction with the Elmwood Park Zoo Gift Shop.

While writing the book, Cynthia Culbreath realized the full extent of those Josh Culbreath touched.

An example was when he taught students with special needs in the Norristown School District and led them to excel beyond expectations.

The highlight was when her students performed “Silent Night” in German during the Christmas show.

“I wrote so much about his life,” she said. “I wrote about how he was an educator. He taught kids that no one else thought they could do anything with.

A 1980 graduate of Norristown Area High School, Cynthia Culbreath hoped to surprise Josh with the book when it was finished, but he died on July 1 last year.

“I was very emotionally upset because of that, because he didn’t know about it,” she said. “It broke my heart.”

But her heart is warmed to know that it has a chance to resonate as she hopes with future generations.

She said: “The reason I wrote this book is because I want everyone to know about the life and legacy of my cousin, Josh. Not only was he an Olympian, but he was involved in so many other things in the community.

She mentioned stories like Josh running barefoot on the cinder track at Roosevelt Field because he couldn’t afford running shoes.

“These young athletes of today need to know the story of those who came before them,” she said. “Josh looked up to people like Jesse Owens, which is why he got into the sport.

“That’s why these millennials need to know the story of their past and pass the baton of the future to the athletes who follow them. It becomes like a cycle of knowing your story. I just want them to know that no matter where you come from, you can go where your dreams take you as an athlete.

To purchase Culbreath’s book, visit the following websites:




Naomi C. Amerson