Tom Longboat was a dominant long distance runner in his time. In fact, he was the dominant long distance runner throughout most of his professional running career. He was born and lived in Ontario, Canada, and Google wants to celebrate his life on his would-be 131st birthday with a Google Doodle on Google US and Google Canada.
Tom Longboat was nicknamed “bulldog of Britannia” and he also was a fighter for the Air Force and the Canadian army. He served as a dispatch runner in World War I. He had a hard childhood, growing up on a small farm in a poor family, and his father died when he was only five years old. He tried to escape his school because they pressured him to give up his Onondaga beliefs in favor of Christianity.
He married Lauretta Maracle in 1908 in 1916 joined the Canadian army. He was mistakenly declared dead during World War I, and his wife remarried in 1918. She remained married to her new husband, and Longboat then married Martha Silversmith and had four children with her. He lived until the age of 61, dying on January 9, 1949.
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!
Here is the animated Doodle: