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Sunday, April 17, 2016

What is Right, Decent in Boston Every Year

(This appeared in Digital Sports Desk) 

By TERRY LYONS, Digital Sports Desk Editor-in-Chief

BOSTON - On Monday, April 18, they’ll run the 120th Boston Marathon. It is the oldest marathon race in the United States of America; as well it should be in the revolutionary spirit of Boston and its surrounding suburbs. The Boston Marathon’s history includes John “The Elder” Kelley, winner in 1935 and ’45, John J. “The Younger” Kelley, winner in ’57, and a whole load of runners in between and since. Beginning in 1965, the Boston Marathon, thankfully, has included Amby Burfoot, winner in ’68, who will be amongst the stampede from Hopkinton to Copley once again this year.

Great Boston's Jim Braude (l) with Bobbi Gibb, Amby Burfoot and Bill Rodgers
Burfoot, the Editor-at-Large for Runner’s World magazine and one-time HS student of the younger Kelley, is not the oldest marathoner to lace ‘em up come Monday. That honor goes to 84-year-old Jules Winkler, who will run his 41st marathon and his second in Boston as everyone in the Commonwealth takes a day off to commemorate Patriots’ Day. Somewhere interspersed between the elites, Burfoot, and Winkler will be 16,677 other men and 14,111 women, all qualified, registered and authorized by the Boston Athletic Association to take part in the great, great granddaddy of them all.

This year’s race is much about those 14,111 women running, as it is the 50th anniversary of Rebecca “Bobbi” Gibb joining in the race, jumping in a hoodie and a pair of Bermuda shorts back in 1966. The historical significance of this helped lay a foundation for women’s sports, much to the credit of determined and competitive women, a bit of federal legislation in Title IX, and fellow competitors like Burfoot.

You see, Burfoot happens to be one of the most wonderful and decent human beings to walk (or run) the earth. He is a world-class competitor, cross-country runner, and marathon champion. His career helped inspire the great Bill Rodgers, multiple winner of the Boston and New York marathons, much because Rodgers was lucky enough to be Burfoot’s roommate at Wesleyan in that crazy, influential decade of the ‘60s.  Maybe the Hamilton creative team of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Thomas Kail isn’t the only Wesleyan University duo ascending as movers and shakers of this world.

Just as Miranda has carved his astronomical influence in this world with a pen, so has Burfoot. Since 1978, Amby Burfoot has been a part of Runner’s World magazine, first as an East Coast editor, then as editor and now, still, as Editor-at-Large, a larger than life title for quite an unassuming man. 

“The big break in my life came in 1978, when I was offered a position at Runner’s World Magazine,” said Burfoot. “I’ve been with Runner’s World ever since, in one position or another, and I feel like a lucky, latter-day Lou Gehrig that I’ve been able to spend the best years of my life in a job that I would do for free. Shhh, don’t tell them.”

As a big part of Burfoot’s role with Runner’s World, this year he authored the definitive history of women’s running with “First Ladies of Running,” 22 inspiring profiles of the rebels, rule breakers, and visionaries who changed the sport forever. He has been out and about Boston and the nation promoting his book, signing autographs, and making appearances on radio, podcasts and in-studio at a half-dozen New England TV stations, some with Gibb and Rodgers at his side.

At each appearance, the people Burfoot interacts with come away with the exact same opinion typed a few lines above; he is so gracious and appreciative of the opportunity to meet people and discuss his life’s passion, running. Inevitably, he is asked about his experience and where he was at the marathon bombing in 2013.

“In April of 2013, I ran Boston to celebrate the 45th anniversary of my win. I was one of approximately 5,000 ‘third-wave’ runners who got stopped less than a mile from the finish. My initial disappointment turned to fear when I heard about the bomb explosions, because I had family members waiting by the finish. Then, feelings turned to relief when I found they were unharmed, but to shock, horror, and grief when I learned so many others were not so lucky. 

“I ran the amazing 2014 race and 2015, the 50th anniversary of my first Boston (run) and will run Monday,” he added, “and I’m hoping to run in 2017, then 2018, which will be the 50th anniversary of my Boston win.”

Burfoot, 69 now, will be looking forward to his 73rd birthday when that glorious day comes in April 2018 … and yes, it will come. And, then, way off in 2028 or ‘29, he might be in the exact same place Jules Winkler finds himself in this year. Let’s hope so, as the world is a better place when Amby Burfoot is here in Boston, running the most wonderful event of the year, the Boston Marathon.

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