In honor of Cliff Cushman

The past two days have been a rollercoaster of emotions. When big things start creeping up on the calendar, I get a little anxious. Nothing too crazy, but the emotions are still there.

August 1. Today was the last day that I would find out if I won the Jim Murray Memorial Foundation scholarship. I tried keeping myself busy so I wouldn’t think about it. I went to Hobby Lobby, Scheel’s and went to get my car washed. As my car was covered in suds, I realized I missed a call… from Beverly Hills. I immediately gave the number a call back. It was Linda McCoy-Murray, Jim Murray’s widow and the CEO and Founder of the JMMF. She was calling to tell me that my column was one of the five national winners. I was (and still am) in shock. I couldn’t believe something I wrote is something of that high of caliber. I also couldn’t believe I won $5,000.

I started the process back in April. I spent the week of April 20-27 slaving over my computer in the library, researching what I was going to write about.

The prompt was to “write a column that tells the story of an event, incident or person who figures prominently in the sports history of your university. It could be a memorable game, or coach, or player, or even an artifact that has become an indelible part of the story of your college (or maybe town).”

After a meeting or two with Professor Scott Reinardy, we came to the conclusion that the story of Cliff Cushman was one that needed telling. The following is a summary about him. I’ll be sure to share my column when it’s published.

Cliff Cushman. Photo credit: Grand Forks Herald
Cliff Cushman. Photo credit: Grand Forks Herald

Cushman was a hurdler for the University of Kansas from 1958-1961, and won the NCAA title in the 400-meter hurdles in 1960. In that same year, Cushman earned the Silver medal at the Olympics in that same event. Four years later, Cushman was expected to win on the Olympic level, but fell in the Olympic Trials. After that, he retired from track and field and continued his service in the Air Force.

Just a little over two years later, Cushman received his notice that he was going over to Vietnam. He felt that he wasn’t going to come back, and tried purchasing a life insurance policy from his best friend. But he couldn’t.

Cushman wasn’t over in Vietnam more than 60 days before he was shot down by enemy fire. His body was never recovered. He was listed as Missing in Action for nine years before being officially declared as dead.

Winning this award means so much to me, but it means even more to me that I put Cushman’s story out there. Before writing this I didn’t know a thing about him. As a Jayhawk, that’s not right. In his honor, I’m dedicating this award to Cliff Cushman. He made the ultimate sacrifice.

Even though I’m a journalist, I’m having a hard time putting my feelings into the right words. Without being guided by two of my bosses, Dave Skretta and Herbie Teope, former editors Blake Schuster and Brian Hillix, current editor Emma LeGault, fellow Murray Scholar Mike Vernon and advisor Scott Reinardy, I don’t know if I would be at the place in my writing that I am now. I realize there is still progress to be made with my writing, but winning this award gives me encouragement that I am on the right path.

Thanks to everyone for all the support over the years. I appreciate every one of you who continues to believe in me.


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