The 1932 Summer Olympics plaque at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. (Michael Barera/Wikimedia Commons)
Schwartz had previously considered running little more than a hobby, but after she won her gold medal, she embarked upon a serious training routine to prepare for the 1932 Olympics. Tragically, just the summer before the games, she made the fateful decision to join her pilot cousin on a short flight to cool off in the Chicago sun. Just outside the city, the engine stalled and the aircraft plummeted to the ground, crushing its occupants.
The first person on the scene took one look at Schwartz and assumed she was dead. She was unresponsive and bleeding from a large gash on her head, one of her arms was shattered, and one of her legs was snapped in three places and grotesquely twisted. She was taken directly to the local undertaker, who was the first person to realize she was still breathing. She spent the next 11 weeks in the hospital, where surgeons repaired her mangled leg with a steel rod and pins, which enabled her to get around with the help of crutches but didn’t return her to anywhere near racing form. After her recovery, her injured leg was a half-inch shorter than her other leg, and doctors were certain she would never walk again.