Joe first came into prominence as a runner with the Moreland Athletic Club in 1920 in all distances from one to 26 miles and made his debut as a walker in a 7 mile handicap with VAWC in 1929.
He at once showed a natural aptitude for walking and his improvement was astonishing. Within 2 months, he was placed on the honoured mark of scratch in the club’s first 50 km road championship. He showed that this was well deserved with the fastest time for the event.
He and Bert Gardiner (also a member of Moreland Athletic Club) raced off scratch in the VAWC races from then on and it helped both of them to improve and set new standards. In 1930 he won his first State title and he was pre-eminent amongst Victorian walkers throughout the 1930’s. He recorded many fine wins over both track and road and was unbeatable during his peak racing period in 1935 and 1936. His win over the 50 km distance in 1935 (4:55:36) set a new Australian record.
He was hopeful of selection for the 1936 Olympics but did not walk up to form in the Selection trial.
He continued on and soon shook off that disappointment and had some great battles with Jim Gaylor in 1937 and 1938. With the war, his career as a top walker ended but when the club was reformed once again, he returned as an official and spent many more years working for the club.
The following newspaper article which appeared in 1937 perhaps sums up his career and standing in the athletics community at the time.
On Saturday, the Victorian Amateur Walking Club held a 25 mile yacht handicap which was contested at Albert Park. Amongst the competitors was J. J. Cummins, Moreland’s most consistent former champion middle-distance runner, and now its champion walker. After a thrilling and exciting race, during which the lead fluctuated between different men, Moreland’s representative took the lead after 13 miles had been travelled and went ahead to win comfortably by about two miles in the time of 3 hrs 55 mins 12sec. He not only was the first man to finish but he also won the handicap when times were adjusted.
In order to give the large number of readers who are interested in the club an idea as to the performances of its champion walker, the following facts will not go amiss. Cummins started his athletic career some 14 years ago in 1923 and he was the club’s cross country champion till 1928. In 1926 the club had four of the six men in the Victorian team for the marathon race, when Cummins was the first Victorian to finish, the distance of the race being about 26¼ miles. He then went to the country, but on returning in 1929, decided to take on walking.
From the outset he showed championship form, and since then has won innumerable championship including the Victorian 3 miles, 5 mile and 10 miles and the National Games 3 miles title. He was unable to gain the 1 mile title, having to lower his colours to his team mate H Gardiner. As a distance walker, he is without peer in Australia. In the 50 kilometres race which is held at the Show Grounds, he has been successful twice in the last 3 years. On the other occasion, he had to withdraw through violent cramp when leading by over a mile. For the last 4 years he has been captain of the Victorian Amateur Walkers Club, and throughout that period, Victoria has won every teams race held. This is in no small measure due to the valuable coaching methods adopted by Cummins.
Next Saturday he is once again competing in the 50 kilometres race for which he is favourite. Whatever the result, this loyal clubman and evergreen athlete will be striving hard to win the race and uphold the traditions of the Moreland Club.
Should any youths be interested in walking or an any athletic event, they would be welcomed any Tuesday or Thursday evening in the old grandstand in the Brunswick Football Ground where they are assured of capable coaching by men who were and are still champions in different branches of athletics.
He was awarded life membership in 1960, in recognition of his many years as both a walker and as an official.