Canadian long-distance runner Tom Longboat is considered one of the greatest marathon runners of all time. And in honor of what would have been his 131st birthday, Google created an animated doodle of the marathoner-turned military-runner for its homepage.
Born on June 4, 1887 on the Six Nations Grand River reserve (near Brantford, Ontario), Longboat was remembered as a rebellious teen who ran away from school twice. But his skill as a runner would turn his humble beginnings into stardom.
He eventually became the first member of the First Nations to win the Boston Marathon in 1907, just two years after he began racing. He was 19 years old and set a new record by more than five minutes, according to Running Magazine.
During his career as an amateur racer, the runner only lost three races, Google noted in its doodle blog. But that didn’t stop him from experiencing bouts of racism.
In fact, according to CBC, Longboat was often referred to not as “the Canadian” but as “the Indian,” unfairly criticized for drinking too much, being lazy or being difficult to handle.
“His training wasn't lazy — it was decades ahead of its time by combining hard days with softer days, long-distance walking and more,” CBC reported. “His drinking (hardly excessive) wasn't more than anyone else was doing in those days leading up to Prohibition when there seemed to be a saloon on every corner and ale was considered by some coaches to be helpful to distance athletes.”
If he had been a British aristocrat during that time, “we would admire him for those qualities,” Bruce Kidd, an Olympian and Longboat biographer, told CBC.
Amid his professional racing career, the runner also joined the Canadian Army as a dispatch runner. During World War I, Longboat would deliver messages between France’s military posts.
“This was dangerous work, and he was actually mistakenly declared dead twice during his service!” Google noted.
The Canada Sports Hall of Fame member retired to his home-place of Six Nations Reserve after the war and died of pneumonia on Jan. 9, 1949. He was 62.
Today, Longboat’s global legacy continues. June 4 is officially “Tom Longboat Day” in Ontario, and his family members still participate in marathon running.
In May, Will Winnie, the great-grandson of Longboat, traveled from Buffalo, New York, to run the Mississauga Marathon in Canada.