Just like the legendary Tom Longboat, Six Nations runners, walkers and bikers took to the local Rez roads to run in Longboat’s honour on June 4, more than a century after the celebrated athlete took the running world by storm with his incredible grit and talent.
Lonely country roads are where long-distance runners find their mojo. And following in the literal footsteps of Tom Longboat, Six Nations community members and friends pounded the pavement on the long country roads that make up Six Nations once again after a three-year hiatus from road running during the global Covid pandemic.
Last year, the Tom Longboat run, held every year on June 4, took place at the Six Nations track. It was put on hold for the previous two years during the pandemic.
Tom Longboat Day was officially sanctioned by the Ontario government in 2013, under the belief his birthday was June 4, but it was actually July 4, 1886, according to military records.
Longboat, of the Onondaga First Nation, was one of the first Indigenous men to ever compete in international races, taking the running world by storm when he won first place at the 30km Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton, North America’s oldest road race – even older than the Boston Marathon.
He came out of nowhere to beat all the top distance runners of his time in that race, practically becoming an overnight legend and success, and beating his nearest competitor by three minutes.
A year later, in 1907, Longboat won the Boston Marathon, which still remains one of the most prestigious marathons in the world.
From then on, Longboat made a name for himself in international running meets, marathons, and Olympic events.
In the 1990s, Longboat was named by McLean’s magazine as one of Canada’s greatest athletes of all time.
Over a century ago, Longboat had a training style that most distance runners adopt today – hard training, followed by “active recovery.”
For Longboat, he took long walks on non-running days, a training style that was criticized by the coaches and pros of the day as “lazy.” Indeed, his method of active recovery earned him racist scorn and stereotypical labels of being a “lazy Indian” but today, sports physiologists and the top distance runners in the world recommend active rest days to improve one’s running performance.
He was ahead of his time.
The roads of Six Nations still carry the footsteps of Tom Longboat more than a century later.
Today, his ancestors and fellow community members carry on his legacy of grit, fitness and determination by pounding the pavement every year on June 4 in his memory.
Perhaps there should be a Tom Longboat run and celebration on July 4 to honour his real birthday?