Tom Longboat was one of the greatest long-distance runners of all time. He is also one of the most remarkable Indians who did sports and selflessly served the Canadian army. Longboat’s career was so impressive that he only lost three races in his career. It was said that he beat everyone in his generation and set record after record. He was affectionately called the “Bulldog of Britannia”.
The eternal legend Longboat is celebrated every year on his birthday, which is called Tom Longboat Day on June 4th in Ontario. Let’s go through everything there is to know about the longboat runner, from his early years to his last days.
Who Was Tom Longboat? – Bio
The legend was born on June 4, 1887, as Thomas Charles Longboat. He was a member of the Wolf Clan of the Onondaga Nation. His native Iroquois name was Cogwagee, which means “everything”. The Longboat family lived on a small farm, which was also their livelihood. Longboat started working on the farm at the age of 5 years after his father’s death.
There is a story that his walking ability developed while chasing cows in the meadow and that he ran from Hamilton to Brantford, which was 65 kilometers while trying to get home before his mother, who traveled by car. When he was 12 years old, he was enrolled at Mohawk Institute Residential School, which was required by Indian law at the time. However, due to the harsh conditions at the school, Longboat eloped to live with an uncle.
He began his sporting career in 1905 when he finished second in his first race on Victoria Day in Caledonia. His interest in running had been sparked by another resident of the Six Nations Reserve, Bill Davis, who finished second in the 1901 Boston Marathon. Longboat won the 1906 Bay Road Race in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1906, but he focused on the Boston Marathon, which was considered one of the most important races at the time.
Longboat kept his eyes on the finish line, and in 1907 he won the Boston Marathon, becoming the first First Nations runner to achieve such a feat. On the way there, he had to struggle against the cold, snow and rugged hills to reach first place in the record time of 2:24:24. This was the race that put him in the spotlight. His record remained unbroken until the track was changed.
Tom Longboat fell one step from glory when he was unable to cross the finish line of the 1908 Olympic Marathon when he collapsed alongside several runners. The second time, however, Longboat emerged victorious from the rematch, which was held at the same venue in Madison Square Garden in New York.
After winning the race, Tom Longboat turned pro in 1909 with his running career. During his whole amateur career, he only lost 2 races. In his first professional race, Longboat defeated Dorando Piertri and Alfred Shrubb, and in 1910 he won the professional world championship title, which eventually made Shrubb his biggest rival. Longboat won all 10 races against Shrubb in the 20-mile race but lost all short track races against his colleague.
As a pro, Longboat had a long winning streak and was nicknamed “the series from Bronze to Wildfire”. However, he was labeled lazy because of his training method, which was condemned for mixing hard days of intense training with less strenuous days of easy practice and rest. However, this method would become popular among today’s athletes.
During his life as a long-distance runner, he was always plagued by racism and biting criticism. Despite his celebrity status, Longboat still offered his country Canada during the First World War. He worked as a dispatcher with the 107th Pioneer Battalion in France, carrying messages and orders between units.
He was able to keep in shape by participating in sports competitions between battalions. He won the eight-mile race in 1918 at the Canadian Corps’ Dominion Day competitions. After the World War, Tom Longboat put an end to his incredible career and retired in 1919.
How Did He Die? Here Are The Facts
Tom Longboat was twice in his life the victim of a mortal fraud and – worse – an imitation. At one point when Longboat was falsely declared dead, it was said that he was trapped in a communications trench for 6 days during his service in World War I, which was buried by an exploding grenade. In 1919, Longboat exposed the story.
When Tom Longboat arrived in Canada after the war, he discovered that his wife Lauretta Maracle, whom he had married in 1908 before joining the army, had married another man. Lauretta had believed the false report that her husband was dead and remarried in 1918. Although she was pleased that Longboat was doing well, she had no intention of leaving her new husband.
Longboat would then marry another woman named Martha Silversmith. With her, he had four children. The family lived in Toronto, where Longboat worked in the street cleaning department until 1944.
Tom Longboat died of pneumonia on January 9, 1949, while living in the Six Nation Reserve in Ontario, where he had retired. Several years after his death, Longboat’s heirs received a sum of ten thousand dollars. This was the prize money for the Boston Marathon plus interest over the years.
Tom Longboat was honored posthumously with a number of awards. He was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1955 as the greatest long-distance runner. A Tom Longboat Award was created by Jan Eisenhardt to annually honor outstanding athletes from the First Nations. Longboat was named a National Historic Person in 1976.
On his posthumous birthday in 2018, Google celebrated him with a Doodle across Canada and the United States of America.