After being put on pause for two years due to the pandemic, the Tom Longboat Run last weekend once again brought people together for a shared love of running and remembrance of the famed Onondaga distance runner.
Over 100 people converged on the track at the Six Nations Sports Fields to run or walk five or 10 km around the track in honour of the celebrated Olympian.
The annual run takes place on June 4, which was officially recognized as Tom Longboat Day by the Ontario government in honour of the celebrated athlete, which is also his birthday.
But long before that, here at Six Nations, a few local women discussed among themselves the desire to celebrate Longboat.
In 1999, Six Nations women Cindy Martin, Cindy Thomas and Cheryl Henhawk (today, the director of Six Nations Parks and Recreation), were sitting in the old community hall and they started talking about planning an event for solidarity day on June 21 in 2000.
They thought they should honour someone who is one of the greatest runners in history.
“And he comes from our community – Tom Longboat,” said Henhawk last week at the 23rd annual Tom Longboat Run. “So it started in the year 2000 and thankfully…we have been going strong since then. We’re today to honour his memory.”
Longboat, Onondaga, Wolf Clan, was born on June 4, 1886. His parents were George Longboat and Elizabeth Skye.
If he were still alive, he’d be 136 years old.
He died of pneumonia on Jan. 9, 1949, at the age of 62.
In the early 1900s, Longboat raced his way to fame in dozens of long-distance events.
His first major achievement was winning the 30 km Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton in 1906.
He won the Boston Marathon the following year, creating a new course record in 2:24:24. He broke numerous Canadian running records throughout his career and ran the marathon in the London Olympics in 1908 but was unable to finish because of the hot, muggy weather. That was also the year the marathon was standardized to 26 miles worldwide. In 1912, he set the 15-mile world record.
Throughout his career, he won many races against other elite professionals and even raced against horses.
He was nicknamed Streak of Bronze to Wildfire. He faced discrimination during his time as a professional athlete, from coaches to sports media, for his practice of taking “active rest” – walking instead of running every day during training earned him criticism for being “lazy.” Today, the concept of active rest is a vital part of training for distance runners.
Aside from his running career, Longboat served as a dispatch runner in the First World War and was mistakenly declared dead.
Longboat’s service in the First World War will be highlighted in an upcoming documentary that just wrapped up filming called Our War.
His great-granddaughter and great-great-grandson Jagger assisted filmmakers during the shoot, some of which have scenes filmed on Six Nations.
It will be released on the History Channel on Remembrance Day.
A community viewing of Our War will be announced soon.