Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mile 3: So Many Colors in the Rainbow

This is the unedited original draft of the third in a series of letters that I sent to my young son, Hunter, beginning in Decemebr 2003. The letters evolved in to a book entitled Safari Into the Black and White Jungle due to be published in mid-2009. This particular letter was written in January, 2004.

So Many Colors in the Rainbow

Do you have a favorite color Hunter? Mine was green when I was your age. I liked green because it was my father’s favorite color. He chose it, he said, because it was the color of money. Even so, he never seemed to have much of it. I also liked green because when we got our first television I could see the green grass of Fenway Park. It looked so beautiful to me. As I grew older I never thought too much about colors. Then a singer and music composer named Harry Chapin wrote a song that changed my mind.

Most likely, you have never heard of Harry Chapin. He died very young after suffering a massive heart attack while driving on the Long Island Expressway in 1981. During the attack he lost control of his VW Beetle. It was crushed between two 18-wheelers. After that, radio stations rarely played his music. You may occasionally hear his two most well know songs, Cats in the Cradle and Taxi, but much of his music is forgotten by all but his most dedicated fans. I first heard Harry Chapin in concert at Cornell University and was impressed that he gave away half of the proceeds from his concerts to eradicate world hunger.

Harry’s song about colors criticized teachers that stifle kids’ creativity by giving them too many rigid rules. They do this, for example, by telling them to color flowers red and leaves green instead of letting the kids color the pictures in hues of their own choosing. “There are so many colors in the rainbow,” Harry said. “Why don’t we let our children see them all?” It is a powerful message. I hope you are able, whenever possible, to see every color through your own eyes and not be forced to look through the filter of someone else’s mind.

This story is about different colors: red stockings, a green monster and a blue & yellow unicorn. However, the stockings aren’t clothes as you might have imagined. They represent a baseball team known as the Boston Red Sox. The monster isn’t a scary creature. It’s a 37-foot fence. And the unicorn is not an animal or a myth. It’s an embossed figure on the front of a rare medal. The medal is so rare that only 35 of them are produced each year and are presented to the top finishers in the annual Boston Marathon.

The 1964 Boston Marathon was the first that I witnessed in person. It was held on a brisk and bleak April day while the city was in deep mourning over the assassination of President Kennedy, which happened less than six months earlier. My impression as a 15-year-old was that most of the adults were still in shock. I am certain that the nuns in school were. Sr. Miriam Patrice, our sophomore homeroom teacher, would burst into tears and whip out here rosary beads every time his name was mentioned. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was, first and foremost, a Bostonian. He was a Yankee democrat and, apparently, so was everyone else in the area.

Like many other events in my life, the vantage point and circumstances of my first marathon viewing were very unusual. I watched the lead runners enter Kenmore Square from the top of the “Green Monster”. I saw Aurele Vandendriessche of Belgium, Tenho Salaka of Finland and Ron Wallingford of Canada running along with a mile to go from the top of the Fenway Park left field wall. That probably sounds absurd, like some stupid headline you might see in one of the supermarket tabloids, but I had witnesses: Peter Marso and Red Sox General Manager Dick O’Connell.

Peter Marso was a high school friend who lived about four miles north of Milford in the town of Hopkinton. His father was Charles Marso, a famous Boston College hall-of-famer who compiled a 23-1 record as a pitcher and batted over .300 in his collegiate career, despite being born with a stump for a right hand. Peter’s grandfather pitched in the Detroit Tigers’ farm system. Like me, a passion for baseball was in his blood.

Here’s the link

I occasionally rode my bicycle over to Peter’s house on weekends. We would trade baseball cards and get into mischief like most other teenagers. We had a three-day weekend due to the celebration of Patriot’s Day, a holiday unique to Massachusetts. I had permission from my parents to stay at his house for the weekend. With my three younger siblings still at home, my mom was glad to get rid of me for a few days.

We were both avid Red Sox fans. On Sunday afternoon we were trading stories about games we had attended. “Hey, why don’t we take our bikes into Boston for tomorrow’s Red Sox doubleheader against the Yankees,” he said. “Are you kidding?” was my response. It was my customary answer to all of his nutty propositions. “It’s supposed to snow tomorrow; they may not even play. Besides, the trip I took with Ernie Bertulli a couple years ago took four hours each way. You’re crazy, Pete.”

“No, I mean it Frank. Let’s take our bikes to the Framingham depot and hop the train from there. We can get up early, before my parents, and nobody will notice that we’re gone.” So, we were awake and on the road before 6 am, armed with a small transistor radio and about twenty bucks between us. It was overcast and chilly, but at least there was no snow. Yet.

The first game was scheduled to begin at 11 am, a longstanding tradition established to allow fans to see the game and then watch the runners plod through Kenmore Square shortly after the game. Back then, in the days before the designated hitter, games were played more quickly and the lead marathoners were slower. It was definitely possible to catch the game AND the race. In recent years, it has not been possible. You either have to leave the Patriots Day game early or miss the lead runners in the race. It amazes me that no one in charge has decided to adjust the starting time to compensate. As usual, there’s probably a political or financial reason (or both).

The second game was scheduled to start at 3 pm with a separate admission charge. As a result, the stadium would have to be completely emptied of fans after the game. The logistics, complicated by limited parking and roads closed for the Boston Marathon, were a nightmare. For obvious reasons, the doubleheader experiment was abandoned soon thereafter.

We arrived at the park around 9:30. The gates weren’t yet open to the public. Our intention was to attend the first game. We had no tickets to either game and the money we had left was just enough for the train ride back to Framingham. Undaunted, we waited patiently by the service gate for an opportunity to sneak in.

Our chance came in the form of a bread truck. Honking his horn feverishly, the driver had arrived to deliver the fresh hot dog bund for the day’s concession sales. When the metal overhead door started to lift to allow access to the truck, we bolted through the opening. “Let’s head for the ladies room at the top of the stands behind third base,” Peter said. “They will never look for us in there. Once they start admitting fans we can come out and mingle with everyone else.”

“Go ahead, Pete. I’ll follow you. It doesn’t look like anyone saw us come in.”

We sat huddled in the corner of the ladies room for more than an hour. “I don’t hear anybody coming in, Pete. Don’t you think they should be letting the fans in by now? The game is supposed to start in a few minutes. Why don’t you turn your radio on and find out what’s happening?”

“Oh no,” he said, “the morning game is cancelled due to inclement weather!”

It never occurred to us that it might be harder to sneak out of Fenway Park than sneak in. We carefully pushed the door to the stands open and didn’t see anyone. Even the light stanchions were turned off. It didn’t take long to realize that the park was completely empty. All the exits were locked. One by one, we checked them all. “Now what do we do, Pete? Is it time to panic yet? How will we get out of here? How will we get home?”

Our only option was wait it out until the afternoon game. The weather seemed to be improving. We prayed that they would play the game. Surely they would, we thought, because a lot of tickets had been sold. In the meantime, we decided to give ourselves a tour.

We jumped down onto the field and went in the Red Sox dugout. Down the long runway to the clubhouse, we found only a locked door. The runway was much longer than we had imagined. We wanted to run around the bases but there was a tarp on the field. Instead, we walked across the tarp, over the pitching mound, to the visitors’ dugout.

The visitors’ dugout appeared to be a little smaller than the Red Sox dugout. The runway to the Yankee clubhouse, by comparison to the other runway, was very short. We walked up to the clubhouse door and tried the handle. It was locked, but this one had a window that allowed us to peek inside. “Hey look,” Pete said, “there’s Mickey Mantle’s uniform number 7 hanging up by that locker.”

Ah, stop your kidding”, I said. “O my God! You’re not kidding, Pete. Pinch me. This is incredible.”

Next, we headed to the bullpens in right field. We helped each other hop the short fence. Pete stood on the Red Sox warm-up mound and went through the motions like he was throwing a pitch. I stooped down behind the plate and made believe I was his catcher. What a rush! Then I noticed something that seemed out of place: an ashtray with spent cigarette butts. “Do you think the players smoke out here?” I said. “Nah, that’s impossible. But look, there’s one in the Yankees’ bullpen too.”

We ran along the warning track from right field to the left field wall. We flipped the tiny latch on the door to the scoreboard. It opened; this one wasn’t locked! We went inside the scoreboard and started playing with the wooden numbers. Some were white and some were yellow. The yellow ones were for runs scored in innings still in progress. The numbers were much bigger than they looked from the stands or on TV. We put numbers in all of the innings on the scoreboard. According to us, the Red Sox beat the Yankees 103 to 0 in Game One. Unfortunately, we had no camera.

Then we noticed that the internal walls of the scoreboard were lined with hundreds of signatures and notes from baseball players present and past. We found Ted Williams. We found Carl Yastrzemski. Some were impossible to decipher. Some were old and faded. I wrote my name next to Sammy White. ‘FK3 was here 4/20/64’ is what I wrote. Peter put his name under Pete Daley’s. We stayed inside the scoreboard for a long time since it was relatively warm. We also knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

We came out of the scoreboard to hear the fans starting to cheer loudly in Kenmore Square. We climbed the ladder up to the catwalk on top of the wall. The ladder was used to retrieve home run balls from the screen, which acted as a giant net above the wall. Recently seats have been built above the wall relegating the old screen to history. Sadly, there were no baseballs in the net that morning, but we had a good view of the B.U. Bridge as well as a portion of Kenmore Square. We could see the 25-mile mark of the Boston Marathon. I didn’t know then, of course, that I would run past that mark myself during the Boston Marathons of 1966, 1967 and 1990.

“I think they are starting to let some people in”, Pete shouted.

“That’s great, Pete, now we can get out. We can go home. But first I want to see the lead runners go by. They will be here any minute.”

“Are you nuts, Frank? I’m heading down now. Somebody is going to spot us and we’ll be in big trouble.”

“Go ahead, Pete. I’m not leaving until I see the first three runners.”

Pete was already to the third base stands when I started back down the ladder. My objective was accomplished. He stood in the first row waving at me frantically to get off the field. As we walked up the aisle, we came face to face with Dick O’Connell who was staring blankly at the center field bleachers. Even though neither of us had seen him in person before, Mr. O’Connell’s picture was in the programs, the Red Sox Yearbook, and frequently in the newspaper. He was easy to recognize.

“Good afternoon Mr. O’Connell,” Pete said sheepishly. “Mr. Topping said…”

I never found out what story Pete had in mind to share with the GM, but thankfully it turned out not to be necessary. “Hello boys,” was his response. He seemed to be smiling, so I chimed in.

"There’s a great view of the marathon from the top of the wall.” He didn’t seem to hear me.

“Well, it looks like we will be able to play this game,” he said, “so I think I’ll tell them to open the gates and let the players take batting practice. You boys should get back to work before Mr. Stevens see you out here.” Then he walked away.

We had no idea at the time what he thought we were doing there. Maybe he thought we were the staff members assigned to pick the baseballs from the net. Remarkably, once the ushers and groundskeepers saw us talking with him, nobody said another word to us. We were in for the game, which was scheduled to start in another 30 minutes.

Over the years I have come up with the hypothesis that the Mr. Stevens referred to by Dick O’Connell was Harry Mercy Stevens, the head of concessions. He must’ve thought we were peanut vendors or program hawkers sneaking on the field to get a look at the marathon runners as they passed by. In any event, we got to stay for the game.

We found a seat in the right field grandstand for the first few innings. It was adjacent to the Yankee bullpen. It was the same section that my grandfather (“Bud”) Flaherty and I sat when he took me to my first game in 1957. Bud, like nearly everyone else in my home town, was a big fan of Ralph ‘Lefty’ Lumenti, a flame-throwing southpaw who was the first major league baseball player born and raised in Milford, Massachusetts. Lefty Lumenti pitched for the Washington Senators. The Senators were in town so he bought tickets. It was my good fortune that he wanted to take his eight-year-old grandson to the game. We sat next to the bullpen so we could get a glimpse of Lefty.

Bud was a diehard Red Sox fan. The Sox had won the World Series when he was 22 back in 1918 and only came close once since (1946). “I want to see the Red Sox win the World Series again before I die,” he told me. Sadly, he died soon thereafter, in 1959, two days before my eleventh birthday.

During the 1970s I had the pleasure of knowing Lefty Lumenti as a friend. Every time I shook his hand, I could see Bud smiling in my mind’s eye. My father wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but he died in 1990 with the unfulfilled wish of seeing the Red Sox win a World Series in his lifetime. They almost did it in 1948, 1967, 1975, 1978 and 1986. When the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series against the Mets, the image of my grandfather slapping himself on the forehead came immediately to mind. Seeing the Red Sox win is a dream that I have, too, and I’m planning to stay around long enough to see it happen. (This letter was written before they won in 2004 and repeated in 2007)

Pete and I worked our way to seats behind the Red Sox dugout. The attendance was about 15,000, so there were plenty of empty seats. Each half inning we moved a few sections closer. Before leaving our initial seats, I saw something that astonished me. Whitey Ford was in the bullpen smoking a cigarette during the game. First of all, Whitey Ford was a starting pitcher and a star player. What the heck was he doing in the bullpen anyway? Was that the designated smoking area? He was an athlete. Smoking was wrong for an athlete, I thought. Eventually, I came to the realization that athletes are human like everyone else.

As we found seats near the red Sox dugout, a rookie outfielder from nearby Swampscott named Tony Conigliaro hit a home run into the net above the left field wall. It was his second major league home run. “Don’t you wish we were up there now?” I exclaimed. “We would have a souvenir.

“Nah, he’s just a rookie,” Pete relied. “It’ll never be of much value.”

The Red Sox won the game 4-0 and Bill Monbouquette was the winning pitcher. Afterwards, we waited outside the players’ parking lot fence to get autographs. We had one scrap of lined paper between us that we tore in half. Most players in those days gave their autograph’s cheerfully to fans like Pete and me as long as we were polite, patient and respectful. Nobody thought of charging money for a signature in 1964. Several of the players obligingly signed that single piece of paper for me. I still have it. It’s not worth much to a collector because all the signatures are jammed into a cramped space in no particular order.

Here’s a copy. See if you can pick out some names. Look for:

Gil Blanco, Jim Bouton, Al Downing, Steve Hamilton, Joe Pepitone and Dooley Womack of the New York Yankees; also Tony Conigliaro, Jack Lamabe, Bill Monbouquette, Bob Tillman, Carl Yastrzemski and Curt Gowdy (announcer) of the Boston Red Sox.

Some day I hope you will take the time to learn about each of these people. You will find some remarkable stories behind these names.

When we finally left for the train station it was starting to get dark. Moreover, it was starting to snow. The prospect of riding our bicycles the eight miles from Framingham to his house in Hopkinton after dark in a snowstorm at the end of the long day was worrisome. We were discussing our dilemma when the passenger next to us offered us a ride. He was an angel sent from heaven disguised as a hockey referee. Fortunately for us, he was on his way home in Ashland following the Bruins game. I saw him on telecasts many times during the next ten years or so, but I no longer recall his name.

Mr. Hockey Referee put our bikes in his trunk, drove us to his home, introduced us to his wife and children, fed us, insisted that we use his phone to call our parents, drove Peter to Hopkinton, and drove me to Milford. Despite four inches of snow, a rarity so late in the Spring, I was asleep in my own bed by 11 pm.

I saw only the start of the 1965 Boston Marathon. The race was dominated by the
Japanese runners. They swept five of the top six places. The first American, Ralph Buschmann, finished 7th. The race was won by Morio Shigematsu in the course record time of 2 hours, 16 minutes and 33 seconds. On the way home I made a commitment to myself to run in the Boston Marathon in 1966. I didn’t want to be a spectator any longer.

My goal in 1966 was to run the entire 26 miles and 385 miles without walking. Most of my family, friends and coaches tried to discourage me. They pointed out that I was too young to enter the race as an official runner and that I would have plenty of opportunities to run in future years. Four people, however, gave me all the encouragement I needed: Richard Ramaskwich, Tom Derederian, Bob Pagnini and, most importantly, Stanley C. Tiernan.

Everyone in the area knew Stan Tiernan. He was in his early forties and lived in Bellingham. For many years he lived in neighboring Hopedale. He ran thousands of miles on the streets of Milford, Hopedale, Mendon, Medway and Bellingham. He was a local legend and a fixture on the roads as he relentlessly pounded the pavement, always in training for his next Boston Marathon. He was a daily sight for the local residents as Common as the dairy truck delivering milk bottles to each home. One sure way of determining if someone was an out-of-towner was to ask if they knew who Stanley Tiernan was.

Stan Tiernan set a Hopedale High School cross county record in 1942. We still used the same course through the woods twenty years later. Nobody challenged the record over all those years. It was a benchmark that high school runners in the area measured their performances against. “I ran the Hopedale course and only finished 49 seconds behind Tiernan’s record,” I can recall saying.

His running style was distinctive. He held his hands in front of his chest like a puppy dog extending each paw to shake hands. His legs churned away while his upper torso remained perfectly still. He didn’t sway from side to side like I usually did. His style was a model of running efficiency. It was a style that I wanted to emulate.

Stan Tiernan first entered the Boston Marathon in 1950. After that, he ran every year except one. Four times he placed high enough to earn one of the coveted B.A.A. medals awarded each year to the top 35 finishers. He first broke three hours in 1958 when he finished 31st in 2 hours, 50 minutes and 52 seconds. His best result was 2:43:15 in 1960 when he finished 18th, ahead of both Johnny Kelleys. His best time was 2:42:39 (24th) in 1963. Until Tom Derderian and I started logging 50 miles per week on the Milford roads, only Stan Tiernan had done so. Among the locals, only Stan Tiernan had broken three hours in the Boston Marathon. I wanted to do it too. I wanted to be like Stan Tiernan.

In 1966, he held the North Medford Club record for distance covered in one hour on the track: 11 miles, 189 yards. It was a record he set nearly 10 years earlier. As a junior in high school I ran an hour on the track as fast as I could. I barely made 9 miles, two miles less than Stan’s record.

Tom and I entered an unusual competition during the summer of 1966. We ran in a two-man 10-mile relay on the track at Bowditch Field in Framingham. The relay was intervals of 440 yards. We each ran a quarter mile and passed the baton; twenty laps each with an average of eighty seconds rest while the other ran his lap. We finished in 4th place in 53 minutes and 28 seconds and were proud of the accomplishment…until we realized that if we ran another six minutes and 32 seconds we would probably not be further than 11 miles and 189 yards. With two of us splitting the distance, resting half the time, and racing each lap as fast as we could, we still couldn’t beat Stan Tiernan’s club record for an hour run. Man he was fast in his prime, we thought. His record was broken by Jim Daley, Jr., on 10/22/67.

One day in the fall of 1965, I went running where I expected Stan Tiernan to be. When he came past me I asked if he would help prepare for the Boston Marathon. “Sure, if you are serious about it,” he said. “You need to run as much as you can; you need to train every day. Your pace isn’t as important as the miles you log. If you can’t find the time to run eight to ten miles every day, then don’t bother trying the marathon. Make sure you eat well and get plenty of rest. That’s all there is to it. And keep up your schoolwork. Don’t let running interfere with more important things or your mind won’t let your body do its best. I’ll see you at the starting line.”

I followed his advice completely. I treated it like it was the Gospel handed down by the Lord Himself. To me, it was the 11th Commandment: ‘Thou Shalt not Skip a day of Training’.

By the time spring rolled around I was well prepared for my first marathon. But getting to the starting line turned out to be a delicate proposition. The outdoor track & field schedule produced a dual meet against Medway High School on the morning of the 1966 Boston Marathon. I customarily entered the two-mile event, which was one of the last races on the docket. It would have been logistically impossible to compete in the two-mile race and get to the marathon before the starting gun. I asked the track coach, Vin Franco, for permission to run the mile race instead. Our mile runner, Mike Minichiello, agreed to run the two-mile in my place. It would be an easy switch for both of us.

Mr. Franco objected. He felt that running in a marathon would reduce my effectiveness over the balance of the track & field season. I went over his head to Bob Pagnini, the school’s athletic director who had been my cross country coach, gym teacher and Geometry teacher during high school. He knew me as well as any adult. Mr. Pagnini was keenly aware of how important the marathon was to me and how hard I trained for the event. He overruled Mr. Franco and gave me permission to run the mile race and leave early.

I finished in second place in the mile run with a time of 5:09 and my teammate won the two mile event. We won the meet handily. But coach Franco was not pleased. He felt that I had not run as hard as I could have. He told me I didn’t fight as hard as possible to win my race. The winner, Mike Cronin, finished in 4:45. He beat me by two thirds of a lap on our 220 yard cinder oval. He was one of the premier milers in the area and I had never beaten him in four years of high school. Short of his getting tripped by a dog, I wasn’t going to beat him that day either. Mr. Franco got his way with me in the end. A week later I was thrown off the team for missing practice. Tell me how THAT helped the team.

I had no ride from the track meet to the marathon starting line. My father was disinterested and unavailable. I thought about running the six miles as a warm-up. But there was only a half hour window; the idea wasn’t feasible. Besides, who needs to warm up for a twenty-six mile race? The mile track race was already more of a warm-up than I needed. Tom Derderian and his father came to my rescue.

I met up with Stan Tiernan at the starting line. We ran side by side the entire race and crossed the finish line holding hands. I didn’t wear a number because I was too young to enter officially. The age limit was arbitrarily set at 18. My unofficial time, according to my watch, was 3 hours, 42 minutes and 43 seconds. Stan Tiernan’s official time was 3:43:00 for 177th place. I presume it took us 17 seconds from the gun to cross the starting line. “It’s important to run an even pace the whole way,” he advised. “I’m planning to start at an eight minute mile pace and stay there. Your body will want to go faster. It is easy to get fooled into starting too fast. If you do that, you will suffer the consequences later.” Thanks to Stan’s encouragement, I kept an even pace and never stopped to walk during the race.

My memories of specific aspects of the race are still vivid. I remember that it was bright and sunny because I became sunburned. It looked like someone tried to tattoo a running singlet on my shoulders and back. I remember passing some of my high school friends in Framingham and Natick. I had never been good enough for the varsity basketball or baseball team. I had heard the same voices cheer many times over the past four years but this was the first time they had ever cheered for me.

When we got to Wellesley College, I moved over to the right side of the road into the throng of female spectators. A coed offered me a cup of water that I drank quickly. After a few yards more young women were passing out water. I took another cup and drank it. Then another lady offered me a drink. It was red in color. “Hawaiian Punch,” she said. It smelled and tasted very good.

Just ahead, there were more tables with cups. “Take some, please,” a voice implored. Apparently, she wasn’t getting many takers so far down the line. There were only 401 runners in the race. How much liquid could they ingest in a quarter mile stretch?

Water stations were a new concept to me. I didn’t want to appear rude so I took another cup. I poured this one over my head. Unfortunately the cup didn’t contain water; it was ginger ale. The sticky fluid oozed down the back of my neck and got under my armpits. It was not a comfortable feeling. Now the sun had something besides perspiration to work with while frying my body.

Crossing route 128 after the 16 mile mark was alarming. Dozens of times previously, I had passed the same stretch of highway, but it was always in an automobile. Suddenly I realized there was a big hill there. I would have sworn it was flat the month before.

By comparison, the Newton hills seemed unremarkable, not much different than the hills in Milford. I think their location in the race is what makes them so daunting to most runners. Heartbreak Hill seemed to be no big deal. Perhaps the adrenalin was kicking in at the right moment.

By the time we got to Boston College and Cleveland Circle the crowds were huge. The newspaper said 100,000 spectators. It seemed more than that. Maybe the same people were moving from place to place along the route. That was possible in the days of small fields. The surrounding roads were not gridlocked like they are now on race day.

With four miles to go, a little boy gave me a Hershey’s chocolate bar. It was the best tasting piece of chocolate I ever ate and exactly the fuel I needed for the home stretch.

The crowd at Coolidge Corner in Brookline encroached on the course so much that it was only possible to get through in single file. There were two miles to go. At that point, I knew I was going to make it all the way. Stan Tiernan never had a doubt. He had promised to help me make it and wasn’t going to let me go home without achieving my goal.

All of a sudden I felt a big chill as we crossed Boston University Bridge over the Massachusetts Turnpike. I looked to my right and saw Fenway Park in the distance. The backside of the green monster is quite ugly, relatively speaking. But I was happy to be on the outside that day. Little had I realized in 1964 that I would be passing through Kenmore Square with the runners just two years later. And little did I know in 1966 that two years later the race would be won by my friend Amby Burfoot while I was laying in a hospital bed, while Rick Bayko was in boot camp ready to go to Viet Nam, while Tom Derderian was in college studying for final exams. Things can change pretty fast in life. Much of the time, unfortunately, there isn’t sufficient warning.

As I mentioned earlier, Stan Tiernan and I crossed the finish line holding hands. “Congratulations,” he said. “You are now a marathon runner. No one can ever take that away from you.” We went inside the Prudential Center to the cafeteria for the traditional post-race bowl of beef stew. I was introduced to Fred Brown who immediately signed me up as a member of the North Medford Club. “Of course I want to join the North Medford Club,” I said. That’s Stan Tiernan’s club.” I still wanted to be like Stan Tiernan.

The North Medford Club (NMC) was the largest running club in New England at the time. NMC was founded in the late twenties, incorporated in 1933, and boasted of three Boston Marathon winners; Jimmy Hennigan (1931), John A. Kelley (1935) and Joe Smith (1942). Joe Smith set a course record of 2:26:51 which remained an NMC club record for thirty years, until Rick Bayko ran 2:23:32 for 18th place in 1972. Oddly, Tom Derderian also broke Joe Smith’s record the same year. But he did it two and a half minutes too late as he finished 26th in 2:26:06. As one of the finish line officials, I was there to congratulate each of them. How strange that my two closest friends broke the record that had stood all those years on the same day; the same record that I had often fantasized about breaking myself.

The Boston Athletic Club, host club of the Boston Marathon, was smaller. But BAA was successful in recruiting most of the best runners. Over the years, strong rivalry between NMC and BAA developed and was embodied in the respective club leaders: Fred Brown and Jock Semple. Once I became a regular on the running circuit, I was one a the few runners who had a good relationship with both. I was often asked to be the go-between during their frequent feuds. Each always seemed to be in an argument with somebody. The most entertaining arguments were the ones they had with each other.

The NMC colors were orange and black. I wore the colors proudly and became very fond of the combination. But as Harry Chapin once sang:

”There are so many colors in the rainbow:
The trees and the flowers and the morning sun.
So many colors in the rainbow,
And I see every one.”