The “Bull Moose,” as he was known – the man who took a bullet in the chest and immediately gave a near-ninety minute speech – started out (in his words) as a “sickly, delicate boy, suffered much from asthma, and frequently had to be taken away on trips to find a place where I could breathe.”
Young Theodore was encouraged by his father to “make [his] body,” and worked hard at it.
And that included boxing.
He trained with an ex-prize-fighter named John Long. In TR’s own words,
Accordingly, with my father's hearty approval, I started to learn to box. I was a painfully slow and awkward pupil, and certainly worked two or three years before I made any perceptible improvement whatever.
Young Theodore was even entered into a local boxing championship – lightweight division – and won! A pewter mug of approximately fifty cents value was his treasured prize.
He continued to box while studying at Harvard, but never won or even fared as well as he had years earlier, “even at my own weight.” But it wasn’t a win that caught the attention of his classmate and longtime friend, the author Owen Wister.
It was a crushing blow.
Theodore was in a fight against another lightweight, C.S. Hanks. It was a lively fight. Then time was called on the round. Roosevelt dropped his guard.
Hanks took a swing at Roosevelt – knocking him right on the nose.
Booing and hissing flew up from the Harvard gymnasium over Hanks unsportsmanlike hit. The crowd was angry. TR had every right to be angry too. His nose was bursting blood from Hanks’ punch.
But the young and lean Roosevelt silenced the rowdy crowd with a single upraised hand.
“It’s all right. He didn’t hear him,” Roosevelt said, motioning to the timekeeper. Then, with his nose still bloodied, he walked over to Hanks – and shook his hand.
Here was a man who knew when to fight – and when to shake hands. It was, in the words of the observer Owen Wister, a “prophetic flash of The Roosevelt that was to come.”