55 Years Later, Carol Heiss Jenkins Reflects on Historic Day

Photo Credit: Twenty year-old figure skating champion Carol Heiss Jenkins in March 6, 1960, after winning her fifth consecutive World Championship, her fourth consecutive National Title and first Olympic Gold Medal. BETTMANN/CORBIS

It’s been 55 years since a female athlete has been honored with a ticker-tape parade in the City of New York. 

The last time such recognition was awarded was on March 6, 1960, and the woman sitting inside that white convertible waving to the USA faithful along the streets of Manhattan was New York native Carol Heiss Jenkins, a figure skater who had just returned home after earning her first Olympic gold medal.

From 1956-60, Heiss Jenkins was a dominant force in the world of international figure skating. She won five consecutive World Championships, four straight National Titles and earned two Olympic medals (silver in 1956 and gold in 1960), all by the time she was 20 years old. She was also the first woman to land a double axel in competition.

Despite not recalling in detail the organization of the event itself, Heiss Jenkins vividly remembers what it felt like.

“I just remember looking up at the high buildings and seeing the confetti and people waving all along the Canyon of Heroes and wishing congrats,” Heiss Jenkins said. “They were smiling and saying I love you. It was a magical day. When we finished and it came to an end, Mayor Robert Wagner greeted me and gave me the Key and Medallion to the City, and he also kissed me on the cheek. As a 20-year-old I was like, ‘oh my goodness.’”

The U.S. Women’s National Team will not only be the first female athletes to get a ticker-tape parade in their honor since 1960, but the USWNT will also have the recognition of becoming the very first all-female team to ride through the streets of New York City. 

“I watched all of it; all of the goals and also the historic three goals from Carli (Lloyd) were phenomenal. It was a star moment to have a hat trick in the Final. At that level - the actual performance like the Olympics, like the NBA finals; you work so hard to get to the Final and then to do that in the Final it’s unbelievable. The girls were wonderful. They never let down, and that’s so important at a Final, never over until it’s over. The whole team was superb.”

Unaware that her parade had been the last for a female athlete, when she was told that that was the case, Heiss Jenkins felt a surge of pride and excitement for this new generation paving the way for future female role models and champions.

“If you believe in something, write it down, because if you believe it, then it becomes a goal. Young girls have to have dreams and believe in those dreams in order to make them happen. I think this parade is so important. Everyone is going to watch. It’s such a big thing for women and girls to see. I hope the team takes it all in because it’s a wonderful day. It’s one of those rewards that you don’t expect. You have to earn it. But this is a reward that is the icing on the cake and it’s engraved in history forever. I didn’t realize the history of this but I think these girls know it and will appreciate it.”