Today we celebrate the 131st birthday of Tom Longboat, a Canadian long-distance runner celebrated as one of the greatest marathoners of all time. Longboat was a member of the Onondaga Nation, born in 1887 on Six Nations Reserve, south of Brantford, Ontario. He first began racing in his early teenage years, inspired by Bill Davis, another First Nations runner who finished second in the Boston Marathon in 1901.
It didn’t take long for Longboat to chase Davis’ legacy. He began racing in 1905 as an amateur and won his first Boston Marathon just two years later, in 1907, making Longoat the first member of the First Nations to win the Boston Marathon. In fact, during his career as an amateur racer, Longboat only lost a total of three races! Two years after winning the Boston Marathon, he went on to become a professional racer. Longboat was one of the first athletes to use a training technique involving rotating training days of hard workouts, easier workouts and recovery days. While these training methods are widely accepted today, he faced skepticism from coaches and media despite consistent victories and multiple world records.
During his professional racing career, Longboat also served in the Canadian Army as a dispatch runner in World War I. He largely ran across France, delivering messages between military posts. This was dangerous work, and he was actually mistakenly declared dead twice during his service! Once he finished his service for the military, he retired to the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario, where he lived for the remainder of his life.
Tom Longboat’s legacy lives on as one of Canada’s greatest athletes. Not only is today his birthday, it is officially “Tom Longboat Day” in Ontario!