Our Favorite Boston Marathon Stories
Five great stories about America’s greatest race.
It’s Marathon Monday, which means it’s time to watch endurance athletes run just over 26 miles in mind-boggling times. For mere mortals to prepare, read these these five great stories about the Boston Marathon:
A profile of three-time champion Cosmas Ndeti:
Ndeti, like most professional Kenyan athletes, represents a strange collision of Africa and the West, and he seems to draw his motivation from both worlds. One of 36 children of a prosperous Kamba farmer and his three wives, Ndeti trains 11 months of the year in the same Kamba highlands where he ran as a schoolboy. “I love the feeling of running around Machakos,” he says. “I love the clean air, the children following me as I go up the trails, the feeling of pushing myself on and on.”
At the same time, his foreign travels and celebrity hobnobbing—including a two-mile jog through Washington, D.C., last April with President Bill Clinton—have imparted a worldly sophistication and an appreciation for the good things in life that come with victory. The history, prestige, physical challenge, and U.S. setting of the Boston Marathon have drawn him irresistibly ever since he first heard about it as a secondary school student in 1988, the year of fellow Kenyan Ibrahim Hussein’s first victory. He named his son, three years old this month, Gideon Boston, after the race that has hosted his own historic wins–and it’s the one annual competition he feels compelled never to miss.
Dick Hoyt, the man who for the past three decades has run Boston while pushing his son Rick in a wheelchair, looks back:
Funny, how all that helplessness and hollowness—Dick’s just as much as Rick’s—dissolved when Dick grabbed those handlebars and they took off. Now Rick was an athlete, Dick said. A whole person. Showered by the girls at Wellesley with flowers that his gnarled hands tried to catch as they raced past. Cheered on by his new classmates as they flew by the campus of Boston University, which Rick entered in ’84 as a special-ed major. Now Dick, a former catcher whom the Yankees had dismissed as too slow at a tryout in 1959, was an athlete again, a guy you’d take for your plumber being hailed as a hero by the three-deep mobs along the road and feeling like there’s nothing I can’t do. It just builds and builds in me. It’s like I’m his arms and legs, but he’s the one running. I have no desire to do this on my own. He drives me.
An attempt to track down the infamous Rosie Ruiz, who in 1980 was crowned as the race’s winner—until organizers realized she was a fraud:
Trying to follow her over the next decade is like going through a maze. She moved often, changing post office boxes as often as others change clothes.
Today, the 46-year-old Rosie Vivas lives in West Palm Beach and works nearby as an account representative.
“Uh, Bill, hi, this is Rosie,” she says on the voice mail last week. “Listen, I was going to call you back the other day when you left me a message …
“I don’t have anything personally against you … The reason I cannot talk with you about anything to do with races or with my life or with anything like that is because I have a previous commitment that I cannot break, OK? I cannot break that commitment.”
The story of the first official female Boston Marathon entrant:
Switzer, her boyfriend, Tom Miller, and [coach Arnie] Briggs were two miles into the marathon when officials tried to evict her from the course. Their tactics were terrifying. In a rage, race director Jock Semple came lunging at her. He got his hands on her shoulders and screamed “Give me those numbers and get the hell out of my race!” The wild look in his eyes still haunts Switzer. “Seeing that face scared the s— out of me,” she said.
Before Semple could rip off Switzer’s numbers, Miller, a 235-pound athlete (he was a football player and hammer thrower), laid a cross-body block on Semple, sending him to the side of the road in a heap. The entire sequence was captured on film by the press corps bus, riding just ahead of Switzer’s group.
Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley, who finished first and second, respectively, in 1982, reflect on the race, which is now known as the “Duel in the Sun“:
“The story of that race isn’t that Alberto Salazar got first and Dick Beardsley got second,’’ says Salazar, who held off his pursuer in what still equals the event’s third-closest finish. “It’s that these two guys fought it out the whole way and finished within two seconds of each other. That’s what people remember.’’
Yet the more compelling story is what the two rivals have survived since. The 56-year-old Beardsley was battered by a series of physical torments that led to drug addiction and five years’ probation for prescription forging and possession. And the 53-year-old Salazar was brought back from the dead five years ago after a heart attack deprived his brain of oxygen for 14 minutes.
“There’s probably hardly a day when I don’t remember that I’m lucky to be alive,’’ says Salazar.