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April 22, 2016

The third Monday in April every year in New England is celebrated as Patriots Day. It is the day in 1775 that Paul Revere rode throughout the New England countryside to alert sleeping farmers that the vaunted British Army, the Red Coats, were coming to enforce Tax Laws on the Colonies that had been imposed by King George of England.
Earlier the populace had stood up to the Monarch by shouting “no taxation without representation” as they poured 1000’s of pounds of imported English Tea into Boston Harbor. This was to become known in American History as the Boston Tea Party.

The King was determined to put such insurrection down by force sending the Army to teach the colonists a lesson. “Paul Revere’s Ride” alerted the colonists and armed with shovels, axes, pitchforks and muskets they repelled the British. “The shot heard round the world” was fired in Lexington, Massachusetts signaling the start of the Revolutionary War… America’s fight for Freedom.

There are family picnics, political rallies, parades, lots of speeches, many sporting events, but just two that stand out. It is always the beginning of the baseball Season with the Red Sox Home Opener. Most importantly, it is the date of the Boston Marathon, the oldest continuous Marathon in the world.

This year, it celebrated its 120th birthday. It has been run continuously since 1897… never stopped by inclement weather. In fact, in 1903 (the year my dad was born) , Major league baseball created a tradition whereby either one of the Boston Teams in alternate years would open their home seasons. This continued until 1953 when the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee.

Since then, the Red Sox continued to open each season on Patriot’s Day. That brought about our own family tradition. From the time I was six, until I was 16, my dad would take my younger brother Bobby and myself first to watch the Marathon and then to see the Red Sox opener. What a thrill for a couple of kids!

The marathon starts at approximately 10 O’clock in the morning reaching the hills of Newton around 50 minutes later… ten minutes to eleven. The game with all its ceremonies always starts at 11:30 with the first pitch being thrown around noon.

My dad had a special parking spot. We planked ourselves down at the top of the Newton Hills (called Heartbreak Hill) and as soon as the first runners passed our position, we ran to dad’s car and he drove the 4 miles to Fenway Park. We never missed the first pitch.

In 1939, I was 8 years old when I saw a Narragansett Indian named Tarzan Brown establish the record, at that time, (2:28:51). In Narragansett speak, he was called Deerfoot.

Deerfoot was dirt poor. Living in a small shack on the Narragansett Indian Reservation, his diet consisted of Herbs and Vegetables which he plucked from the earth. As he passed us on Heartbreak Hill, our hearts and sympathy went out to him. We never dreamed this emaciated- looking man would even finish.

Sadly, in order to survive later in life even though he had been named to the Native American Hall of Fame, he either pawned, or sold all his trophies.

The Boston Marathon is a melting Pot for Foreign runners. I saw Korean Yon Bok Suh win the 1947 marathon in the world record time of 2:25:39. This victory was doubly meaningful since he was the first Korean to win an international sporting event following Korea’s independence from Japan’s colonialism.

Three years later in the 1950 race, Korean racers shocked the world by finishing 1,2,3. Their victories raised a hue and cry from both the American and Korean communities. Korea was at war and many Americans as well as young Korean men were being wounded and killed. The three runners were all soldiers from the ROK Army enjoying the United States and fighting alongside their countrymen.

Since then many foreign runners have been running away and garnering the wins. This year, for the first time, an Ethiopian won both the men’s and women’s raises. Over the years, the same country has won both the men’s and women’s division. For a long time, in modern marathon history, Kenyan runners had a lock on trophies.

Until 1963, all the winner would receive was an Olive Wreath for his head and his choice of either a Bowl of New England Clam Chowder or Beef Stew. They were amateurs.
The marathon developed its own heroes, There was Clarence DeMar. The Boston Press lovingly called him Clarence DeMarathon. He first ran the race in 1910. Later that year, doctor’s told him he should quit running because he had a Heart Murmur.

The next year, the starting line doctors were not going to let him race due to his heart condition. He did run and set a course record of 2:21:39. He took off from competition during World War I while in the army. He returned to serious competition in 1922 and would go on to win 4 more marathons.

He won the last at the age of 41 but raced until he was 69. The young boy with the 1910 Heart Murmur went on to race and win many road races for 55 more years.

In 1948, no commercial advertising was allowed anywhere on the race course. As I said, everything was pure amateurism. In 1948, my life-long pal Earle Wolfe, Joel Wolfson and myself crashed the Marathon riding in Joel’s 1938 Oldsmobile convertible.

On the sides of the car, we had a banner about Story Ville. Story Ville, at the time, was a Jazz Club in Boston owned by Joel’s cousin George Wien. As you know, George later went on to be recognized as America’s foremost Jazz Impresario.

We joined the race at the start in Hopkinton and for 16 miles, no one bothered us. However, just as we reached our home town of Newton, the police shoed us off the course with a deep scolding. In spite of this, most of our High School friends had seen our little escapade.

In 1963, the race was opened up to Pro racers and sponsors put up prize monies. From the amateur days of an Olive Wreath until today when the winners of both the Men’s and Women’s Divisions each receive $100,000 and a brand new automobile.

From as late as 1947, only 120 runners made up the competition until 1996 it reached epic proportions: 38,708 entrants set the world’s record crowd (36,748 starters and 35,868 finishers). Annually, 500,000 spectators watch the race live along the route.

In 1967, a 20 year old journalism student from Syracuse University named Kathleen Switzer was given a spot in the all men’s marathon when she filled out her entry form as K.V. Switzer. She became a pioneer when Jock Semple, the race manager for the Boston Athletic Club ran on the course in an attempt to throw her out.
Semple was knocked off stride by Switzer’s fiancée a Syracuse All-American football player who was running alongside her. She subsequently parlayed this into a fulltime career fighting for women’s rights and adopted the sobriquet, “Marathon Woman”.

However, a year earlier, the real “Marathon Woman” was Roberta “Bobbi” Gibbs . Bobbi grew up in the Boston Suburbs and graduated from Wellesley College. She moved to San Diego where she married and trained two years, running nearly every day for 700 days until she was ready.

She received a rejection letter because the race was for men only. This only fired her up. April of that year, she rode a Greyhound bus seat for four days and headed East 3000 miles.
That year, all 540 male entrants gathered behind a roped -off area guarded by police. Dropped off by her mother, wearing her brother’s Bermuda Shorts and a blue hooded seat shirt to cover her pony tail. Bobbi was afraid she might be arrested if she tried to crash the roped area.

Instead, she jogged for 2, or 3 miles around downtown, and hid in some bushes near the start line. At noon, the gun went off. Gibb let the fast runners go by and slipped into the middle of the pack.

It didn’t take long for the guys to notice. They loved the fact she was running and were protective and encouraging. She finished in a time of 3 hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds—more than 13 minutes ahead of what is to be the 2017 qualifying time for the 18 to 34 age group, and finished in the top third of the pack.
Then there was Rosie Ruiz! In 1980, Ruiz finished first among the women runners, only to be caught in a lie. She had finished in 2 hour and 30 minutes. The authorities were perplexed. When they gave her the trophy, she was not sweating, her makeup was unblemished and none of her hairdo was messed.

Officials discovered her duplicity when they learned that she had tried to do the same thing at the New York City Marathon. Which was to start the race legitimately… then when convenient jump off the course… jump on the subway … ride the train to the station that was nearest to the finish line and after an appropriate time, sneak back into the race and go on to win.

She faced criminal consequences. Later, it was learned she was an habitual felon with a long wrap sheet. She almost got away with it.
Kathrine Switzer went on to work long and hard for women’s rights in sports. However, among the things she claimed to achieve was to bring about the first Women’s Marathon in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. She probably worked on it, but it was FOX Sports that proved women in 1980 could run a Marathon over the same route as the 1932 winner and in equal times.

Shepherded by Sid Silver, 50 elite women from all over the world were invited to compete and they proved in a TV documentation it could be done. This documentation when presented to the IOC in Switzerland was convincing.

The rest is history! In 1984, the Marathon replaced 5000 meters as the longest race women were allowed to run in the Olympics.

Over the years, there have been many tragedies and many victories. Too many to account for in this one Blog.
Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about the terrorist bombing at the Finish Line of the 2013 race. The devastation, the sorrow, the fear, the carnage and the havoc have all been documented.

This year, gave new meaning to the word “courage”.
Undaunted, many of those injured and maimed wearing prosthetic limbs participated in the race. As I finish today’s Blog, I am wearing my blue and gold “T” shirt that says BOSTON STRONG!
The Boston marathon still stands alone as the “GRANDEST OF THEM ALL”!

5 thoughts on “GRANDEST MARATHON OF THEM ALL

  1. BOSTON STRONG for sure, Shelly! 👍🏻 Great memories of a truly great marathon! Thank you for you thoughts…
    😊

  2. Shelly, thanks for bringing this intriguing piece of history so vividly to life. I love your columns!
    Katie Williams

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