Hurdler Connie Darnowski represented the United States in the 1952 and 1956 Olympic games and is the greatest female athlete our area ever produced. Her success is all the more amazing because she succeeded at a time before Title IX opened up women’s sports. She competed when there were only two women’s college track teams and Connie never had the chance to compete on the college level. Connie graduated from St John’s University in 1956, but the school had no college women’s teams. It is ironic that Connie is in the St. John’s Athletic Hall of Fame, yet never had the chance to compete for her school.
Connie was born in Greenpoint in 1934 and went to St. Stanislaw Kostka elementary School at a time when few girls ran; but at age twelve she began running in McCarren Park as part of the Police Athletic League. She met a man in the park, Henry Blaul, who as an expert in the hurdles and he wanted to see women take part in track, an activity that was unusual for girls in the 1950s. Blaul coached her and Cathy began to excel in the hurdles. She went to Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School, but there was no girls sports program. Still, she went to the Olympic Trials in 1952 and won the 80 Meter Hurdles in 11. 8 seconds, only a tenth of a second off the American women’s national record. She was one of just ten women chosen to take part in the Helsinki Olympiad. Sadly, the Olympics were not televised then, so her family and friends were unable to watch her. She ran the hurdles in 12.1 seconds, far off her best, and failed to make the semi-finals, but one of the highlights of her life was cheering on the American women relay team, which one the gold medal.
She returned to Greenpoint and entered St. John’s University School of Education. She also represented the United States in the Pan-American Games in 1954. Connie worked part-time, studied full-time and ran track. In 1956 she again qualified for the Olympics, but failed to run near her personal best. Connie went on to become a math teacher, married and had five children. Today she is retired and lives in Connecticut. Perhaps the track in McCarren Park should be named in honor of this Greenpoint olympian.