Early Life

Nora Young (1917 - 2016) was born in Middleborough, Yorkshire, England, the youngest of ten children, and her family immigrated to Fort William (now Thunder Bay) when she was two years old. She grew up playing hockey on Lake Superior and in backyard rinks, with Eaton’s catalogues under her wool socks for shin pads, always the only girl on the ice. As she grew older, she began to play for girls’ hockey teams in the area such as the Port Arthur Maroons. In the late 1920s, when Young was about 10, her family moved to Toronto so her father could find work as the Depression began. They settled first in Cabbagetown, and then moved to Parkdale.

In her teens, Young began participating in organized sports in the city, starting with softball at age 11. For the first time, women were beginning to play sports on a mass level in the 1920s and 30s, something known as the Golden Age of Women’s Sports in North America – and Young is a perfect example of that era.

Nora and The Golden Age

A national champion in three sports (cycling, javelin, basketball), Young competed in top venues all over North America during the Golden Age, in front of the likes of William Randolph Hearst and Mary Pickford. She was a natural athlete and a rare “all-rounder” who excelled in multiple sports. For example:

  • She was an ace player at Sunnyside Stadium (famous across North America for women’s softball) where she was coached by legendary athlete Bobbie Rosenfeld.
  • She was a basketball player who helped her Toronto team to capture the national championship (Underwood trophy) in 1948.
  • She was a member of the Toronto Ladies hockey team when it was invited to demonstrate the sport at Madison Square Gardens in New York, and then participate in a “barnstorming” tour, playing games across the United States.

Cycling and Nora

Among her many athletic pursuits, and beyond her considerable prowess in many of them, Young excelled the very most at cycling - it was also her favourite sport.

She competed constantly in the cycling competitions of her day, starting in the early 1930s, and usually winning or placing near the top of the weekly women’s races on dirt tracks the Canadian National Exhibition (where the top female cyclists of the time competed). It was here that she set a national record in the ¼ mile time trial in the 1930s, winning the Corcoran trophy. She also distinguished herself at major long-distance road races in Toronto (sometimes as the only female competitor) and at a historically significant women’s demonstration held as part of a Six-Day Race at Maple Leaf Gardens. Often Young was racing on her women’s coaster bike – because that’s what she had – except in cases where she borrowed a professional bike from one of her male colleagues.

The 1950s and Beyond

Outside of her sporting career, Young also had a career in the workforce.  She was employed in a variety of jobs during her peak years as an athlete, from domestic servant (in her teens) to lab technician . She served in Europe in WWII in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps as a jeep driver and canteen operator. In 1959, Young bought a house in the Danforth area of Toronto on her own (a rare thing for a woman in those days). She retired from her job early, in her 50s, as she was beginning to experience arthritis that affected her work. She also stopped cycling for a while, but missed it, and began racing training again in the 1970s.

An Olympian at Last

In the 1980s she embarked on a second astonishingly successful athletic career in Master’s athletic tournaments (competitions for elite athletes in their senior years, sometimes referred to as the “Seniors' Olympics”).  As a Master’s athlete, she competed in Canada, across the U.S., and even in Australia, in cycling and a number of other sports, accumulating numerous medals and setting many records, and often beating others much younger than she was.

In 2005, Young moved from Toronto to Newcastle, Ontario, where she lived independently during her final years; she finally gave up bike riding at the age of 92. She died in 2016, at 98, a friend and inspiration to many and a true pioneer and lifelong athlete.