Tom Longboat – Long Distance Runner
Thomas Charles Longboat (June 4, 1887 – January 9, 1949), whose native name was Cogwagee, which means “Everything”, was an Onondaga distance runner from the Six Nations Indian reserve near Brantford, Ontario, and for much of his career the dominant long-distance runner of the time. June 4 was officially declared “Tom Longboat Day” in Ontario with the passage of Bill 120, a Private Member’s Bill put forward by Liberal MPP, Mike Colle (Eglinton-Lawrence). He was known as the bulldog of Britannia and was a fighter for the air force at the time.
When Longboat was a child, a Mohawk resident of the reserve, Bill Davis, who in 1901 finished second in the Boston Marathon, interested him in running races. He began racing in 1905, finishing second in the Victoria Day race at Caledonia, Ontario. His first important victory was in the Around the Bay Road Race in Hamilton, Ontario in 1906, which he won by three minutes. In 1907 he won the Boston Marathon in a record time of 2:24:24 over the old 24-1/2 mile course, four minutes and 59 seconds faster than any of the previous ten winners of the event. He collapsed, however, in the 1908 Olympic marathon, along with several other leading runners, and a rematch was organized the same year at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Longboat won this race, turned professional, and in 1909 at the same venue won the title of Professional Champion of the World in another marathon.
His coaches did not approve of his alternation of hard workouts with “active rest” such as long walks. When he was a professional, these recovery periods annoyed his promoters and the sports press often labeled him “lazy”, although the practice of incorporating “hard”, “easy”, and “recovery” days into training is normal today. Because of this and other disputes with his managers, Longboat bought out his contract, after which his times improved.
Members of his family wouldn’t even believe how fast he could run over such a long distance until he gave his brother a half an hour head start driving a horse and buggy while he ran on foot, and yet he still made it to Hamilton first.
Longboat’s chief rival was Alfred Shrubb, whom he raced ten times, winning all the races at 20 miles or more and losing all those at shorter distances.
He served as a dispatch runner in France in World War I while maintaining a professional career. He retired following the war.
Tom Longboat was enrolled at the Mohawk Institute Residential School at age 12, a legal obligation under the Indian Act at that time. He hated life at the school, where he was pressured to give up his Onondaga beliefs in favor of Christianity, as well as his language. After one unsuccessful escape attempt, he tried again and reached the home of his uncle, who agreed to hide him from authorities. After his athletic successes, he was invited to speak at the institute but refused, stating that “I wouldn’t even send my dog to that place.”
In 1908 he married Lauretta Maracle. In 1916 he enlisted in the Canadian Army, running messages between military posts. After he was mistakenly declared dead during World War I, Lauretta remarried in 1918. He later married Martha Silversmith, with whom he had four children. After the war Longboat settled in Toronto where he worked until 1944. He retired to the Six Nations Reserve and died of pneumonia on January 9, 1949.
In 1951 the Tom Longboat Awards were instituted by Jan Eisenhardt. This program, administered since 1999 by the Aboriginal Sport Circle, annually honors outstanding First Nations athletes and sportsmen in each province; national male and female winners are selected from the provincial winners. Longboat was inducted into both Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame (in 1955) and the Indian Hall of Fame.
Longboat is also commemorated annually by the Toronto Island 10 km race, as well as having his name and image printed on a limited edition stamp by Canada Post. Awards are given out to top Indigenous amateur athletes in Canada every year.
Tom Longboat was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He was the first person of Indigenous descent (Onondaga) to win the Boston Marathon, and one of only two Indigenous runners ever to win it (the other being Ellison Brown, a Narragansett.
* Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Longboat