Boston: the Canadian Story
|Jacqueline Gareau 1980
On the morning of April 21, 1980, Jacqueline Gareau sprawled on the playing field behind the high school at Hopkinton and stretched her muscles beneath a blue Massachusetts sky. Calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, she went through the whole range of exercises, as much this day to calm her nerves as to prepare her ninety-eight-pound body for the long journey back to Boston. This was to be her first Boston Marathon and she thought her chances of winning were reasonable despite the fact that little notice had been taken of her entry.Gareau’s training had gone well and she felt ready, but for the moment there was only the long wait for the noon start. Dressed in worn blue sweat shirt and baggy warm-up pants, she faded into anonymity among the thousands who had converged this morning on Hopington. (a)
The warmups concealed yellow racing shorts, matching singlet and the official race number she had been issued by the Boston Athletic Association — W22. The number indicated she had run the twenty-second fastest qualifying time among women entrants but it was wrong. In fact, she was among the top ten women in the field.
Gareau’s feet were also a sign of nerves. For the first time prior to a race she smeared Vaseline on them to ward off blisters. Her toes wiggled about oddly inside her blue and white running shoes. Blisters had not been a problem for Gareau in previous marathons but putting on Vaseline, like the knotting and reknotting of laces, and the checking and rechecking of digital stop watches, was one of those reassuring rituals to be conducted before the starting gun.
With Gareau were Gilles Lapierre, a Montreal banker who was also her confidant and manager, and Alan Wright, the editor of Runner Canada (b) magazine. Accomplished runners themselves, having met the qualifying standard for men under forty by completing a marathon in less than two hours and fifty minutes within the previous year, they were also preparing to race. The group was completed by Lucie La Ferriere, a lithe blond woman with a camera hung from her neck. They were part of the sea of runners that filled the playing field and spilled over into virtually all corners of Hopkinton, more than doubling the prim New England town’s usual population of seven thousand, and filling the air with an expectant buzz.
From an equipment bag Gareau pulled out a jug of cold coffee and swallowed several ounces, the bitter taste trailing down her throat to an empty stomach. She shared it with the others and someone produced a bottle of mineral water to flush away the aftertaste. The ceremony occurred exactly on time, an hour before the race. Coffee was the latest marathon elixir in the spring of 1980, its magic property being caffeine. Ingested ahead of time, physiologists claimed, it helped hold exhaustion at bay in the final miles. Caffeine somehow tricked the body into burning fat for fuel faster than it otherwise would, thus sparing stores of muscle glycogen, the most readily available and easily depleted source of physical energy.
Glycogen was another sacrosanct matter. Gareau had maximized her supply of this precious substance by following a careful dietary regimen over the past week, another of the physiologists’ discoveries. For the first three days she avoided carbohydrates, the main sources of glycogen, by not eating potatoes, bread, pasta or other starchy foods. She also continued to run each day, a combination of activities that quickly emptied her muscles of glycogen and left her tired and irritable. Then for three days she returned to carbohydrate foods, eating them almost exclusively. The procedure was dietary sleight of hand. Her muscles, starved for glycogen, overcompensated, taking on stores well in excess of normal. Gareau’s good nature came back and she could almost feel the extended energies that experts assured such “carbohydrate loading” would guarantee athletes engaged in strenuous endurance sports.
Gareau was not alone in suspecting she had a chance to win the women’s race. Lapierre thought so too, as did Wright. Joan Benoit of Portland, Maine, the defending women’s champion, with a marathon best of 2:31:23, was absent from the field, recovering from an appendectomy.
So, mercifully, was Grete Waitz of Norway, that untouchable streak of Northern Lightning, as running magazines liked to describe her, the woman who so dominated marathon running. Among women marathoners in the spring of 1980 there was Grete, alone at the top, and then the others. The previous fall at New York City Waitz had set a new world record of 2:27:33 and done so with breathless ease. That same race had been Jacqueline Gareau’s best marathon. She ran third in 2:39:04, (c) a fast time by the standards of most women marathoners if not in Waitz’s class. (Gayle Olinekova, with a marathon best of 2:36:12, was the only Canadian woman who was faster than Gareau at the time.)
Gareau thought her training leading up to Boston would enable her to improve her time to about two hours and thirty-four minutes. If she was right it would put her in the thick of things with the fastest women entered, recognized elite runners like Gillian Adams of Great Britain and Patti Lyons of Boston.
” It’s an open race,” said Wright.
Gareau was wistful, almost dreamy.
“I suppose the laurel wreath would look good on me,” she said. (106)
The coffee was mobilizing more than the fat stores of the runners: it was also mobilizing their bladders. They headed for what privacy was offered by a wood adjacent the playing field, which wasn’t much. The place was crawling with hundreds of runners, male and female.
La Ferriere, deciding she could use a trip herself, trooped along, the camera swinging about her neck. As she entered the wood, it came alive with the screams of crouching inhabitants. Was nothing in this age of Boston mania sacred from the media’s probing gaze?
The starting line at Boston was a fresh strip of paint across the east end of Main Street, overlooking a downhill stretch of highway lined by leafless April trees. To the right stood a war memorial, a big pine tree and the town green, to the left a cemetery and the First Congregational Church. Hopkinton residents once thought their town crowded if Patriot’s Day brought an influx of a couple of hundred runners. On this day there were five thousand official runners and half as many more unauthorized participants.
Humanity massed back the length of Main Street, past the trim white church and the John Warren Lodge, AF & AM, past the Bank for Savings and the Brown and Smith luncheonette, spilling down the hill on the other side. The flow backed up side streets and into driveways, up walkways in some cases and onto doorsteps. Traffic stood halted in all directions and overhead in snarling helicopters television cameras looked down on a small New England town brought to kaleidoscopic standstill by one of the world’s unique sports spectacles.
Marathon officials herded runners into position, elite athletes shoulder to shoulder at the front across the bright white line, slower runners following in order of qualifying times. Gareau should have been close to the front. As her manager, Lapierre had planned, if necessary, to muscle Gareau’s slight five-foot-two frame to the front of the pack to protect against lost time in the chaos of the sta,-t.
Instead, a mix-up resulted when Gareau made a last-minute dash to the wood to allay competitive jitters. When she returned Lapierre was nowhere in sight, lost in the sea of slender bodies. Asking a race official for guidance she found herself thrust into the mob among runners expecting to complete the race in two hours and fifty minutes, well back from the starting line.
“They don’t have my time here,” she protested. “They’re slower.”
Annoyed, the official threatened to bar her from the race if she tried to move forward.
“Okay,” she conceded, “okay.”
The noon gun blast that sent Bill Rodgers and a clutch of other cardiovascular marvels spilling down Route 135 toward Boston left Jacqueline Gareau standing motionless in the crowd, unable to run, her watch flipping costly seconds away. When at last the assemblage moved she set off in hot pursuit, dodging and weaving past slower runners to make up time.
I was really far behind. I had to do five miles very fast. My competition? I had no women around me. You want to be with them.”
A fast start is gamble enough in any marathon, risking burnout in the final miles, but on this day the hazard was greater with the sun pouring down from a cloudless sky and the temperature at road level hovering near eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Two miles out Gareau overtook Lapierre who should have been behind her from the beginning. Alarmed, he urged her on and she left him behind. A few miles later she caught the women she was looking for and, despite the frantic chase to do so, she felt good, her legs strong, the miles flowing easily. Near Framingham, at about six miles, she passed Patti Lyons and a little later overtook Ellison Goodall, another American runner.
Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run Boston with an of ficial race number, was watching Gareau from a press bus just ahead. Switzer caught her eye and held up an index finger, flashing a grin as she did so.
“You’re number one, ” she shouted.
The course was lined with spectators virtually the whole twenty-six miles from Hopkinton to the foot of the Prudential Centre where the race would finish back in Boston. As the leading woman Gareau was carried along on an unbroken wave of applause, the cheers nowhere louder than when she sped through the screaming gauntlet of women at Wellesley College. Their welcome seemed as though it might sweep her from her feet. Rosie Ruiz Headquarters for the 1980 Boston Marathon was the Sheraton Boston Hotel. The Sheraton was attached by a walkway to the Prudential Centre and from many of its rooms it was possible to look down on the decorated marathon finish line. Among those registered at the Sheraton this day was a woman from New York, twenty-six years old, of Cuban origin, an executive assistant employed with a New York company called Metal Traders, Inc.
Although born in Havana, she had grown up in Florida and gone to university in Nebraska before making New York her home. At five-foot-eight and one hundred and thirty pounds she was taller and heavier than most women runners but she too was entered this day in the Boston Marathon. She had with her a certificate showing she had qualified for Boston by running the New York City Marathon in 2:56:29 the previous fall. An excellent time, if not fast enough to attract media attention, it was the fiftieth fastest among women runners at Boston and she had been duly issued the corresponding race number, W50.
She dressed for the race in white shorts with blue trim and a bulky yellow T-shirt with the letters M.T.I. stenciled across the front. The initials, for Metal Traders, Inc., were a gesture of thanks to her boss, John Emptage, who had paid her way to Boston after learning how fast she had run in New York. A runner himself he was pleased to have such a competent athlete on his staff and was happy to lend his support.
The woman’s name was Rosie Ruiz.
Then she left the Sheraton that day, stepping out into the balmy Boston air, she rehearsed in her mind the strategy she had planned for the race, a strategy that the entire country would know by sundown.
‘I saw something’
John Faulkner, a Harvard senior who ran track as a freshman was standing with a classmate, Sola Mahoney, near the Charlesgate intersection on Commonwealth Avenue about twenty minutes past two on Patriot s Day. Mahoney was a triple jumper on the Harvard track team. From where they stood it was less than a mile to the marathon finish line a good vantage point and a good day to watch the runners go past. Bill Rodgers, the hometown hero, had just sailed by en route to his fourth Boston victory and Faulkner and Mahoney were waiting for a glimpse of the Canadian runner that radio announcers kept saying had taken a commanding lead in the women’s division. Then a moment of commotion occurred that both would recall later. (107)
“I saw something right across the street that was sort of strange,” Faulkner said. “I saw a woman stumble out of the crowd. She looked like she wasn’t a runner. Her arms were flying around. She was wearing a number. I didn’t rake her very seriously. I watched her stumble along the right side of the street. When the Canadian girl came by everybody thought she was the winner.”
Mahoney remembered the woman too.
”She was running in a very awkward manner, almost out of control. My feeling was that nobody was taking any notice. Nobody was applauding. She did, in fact, have a number. I said to my friend, ‘Is this for real?’ ”
Gareau appeared minutes later and sped through, hair tied back in a bundle of unruly brown curls, taut body the picture of struggle and athletic excellence. Packed throngs sent her on to the finish with an ovation. For nearly fifteen miles Gareau was certain she had led all other women. It was evident from the tumult provoked by her every step as she advanced along the course, and now as she pressed in Commonwealth Avenue toward the finish she allowed herself to believe that she was about to win. Yet quite suddenly the applause dwindled, and in the most inexplicable of places, the final mile. Voices stopped shouting that she was leading the women.
”You’re second,” a man called.
”Second?” she thought. “He’s crazy. I’m not second. I’m the first.”
But something was amiss. The fans of Boston did not hold back at the sight of a winner, even if it meant, as it did on this marathon day, that a hometown favorite, Patti Lyons, was about to be beaten. Gareau was puzzled but her brain was too glazed by the effort of the race to figure it out. Swinging off Commonwealth onto Hereford Street she climbed the slight rise to Boylston Street, then swung sharp left into the long barricaded finishing chute, still hearing that curious lukewarm applause.
“The people were not really acting like I was the first,” she recalls. ‘ ‘I was a bit surprised when I arrived and I was not received.”
Gareau crossed the broad yellow finish line exactly according to plan, the overhead clock reading 2:34:28, her best marathon by four and a half minutes and also a course record, breaking the mark of 2:35:15 set by Joan Benoit the previous year.
Gareau glanced up at the victory podium to the left and was surprised at what confronted her. Another woman runner stood on the platform in her place, a woman she had never seen before, clad in white shorts with blue trim and a bulky yellow T-shirt. The green laurel wreath crowned her head and the diamond-studded medal of victory hung on a gold chain around her neck. The woman stood with upraised arms, acknowledging the cameras, acknowledging the crowds.
”She’s first,” Gareau realized. “I’m not first.”
The finish line clock read 2:31:56, a course record by nearly four minutes, when Rosie Ruiz half-ran, half-stumbled across the yellow strip of paint on the asphalt in front of the Prudential Centre, arms flailing, legs buckling, face contorted in pain. She was steadied by two Boston policemen and led to the victory stand where Edward King, governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was waiting to honor her.
The wreath was placed on her head, she was given the glittering gold medal of victory and Bill Rodgers, the men’s champion, leaned forward to congratulate her. So also did Gerard Cote of Ste. Rosalie, Quebec, there to be honored himself on the fortieth anniversary of the first of his own four Boston victories, and Kevin White, the mayor of Boston. Will Cloney, since 1946 the director of the Boston Marathon, reached out and steadied Ruiz when for a moment it appeared she might lose her balance and fall. Moments later Ruiz found herself ringed by reporters, all stunned that an unknown runner could win so exacting a footrace. It was common in the old days before many women ran marathons, before records had plunged and the limits of female anatomy had been much explored, but now? Who was she? How did she do it? The questions came thick and fast.
How many miles had Ruiz trained?
”About sixty-five miles a week.”
What about interval training?
”What’s an interval?”
Her ten-mile split?
”What’s a split?”
Charlie Rodgers, the brother of the champion, watched the scene with fascination.
”The first thing I did was look at her legs, and I said to myself, ‘Uh, oh, we have a problem here.’ I mean it was cellulite city.” (108)
Suspicions mounted rapidly. The heavy T-shirt was out of whack with the weather, far heavier than the light racing singlets worn by other women runners to vent as much body heat as possible. Moreover, it was wet at the front but not under the arms, a physical impossibility for anyone running all the way from Hopkinton in such a garment. Ruiz’s face, too, seemed curious, betraying none of the exertion evident in the features of other finishers.
”Anyone who has run a marathon is aware that over the course of twenty-six miles the body undergoes immense changes,” Ed Ayres wrote later in Running Times.
“Runners are intimately familiar with these changes and recognize them in others. They may not be able to say what those changes are (any more than one can accurately describe the face of a friend), but the signs are unmistakable nevertheless: a characteristic pattern of sweat on the clothing; a residue of salt left by the continual evaporation of sweat on the face; traces of foam or encrustation around the mouth resulting from dehydration of saliva; sunburn patterns which include whitish ‘squint’ marks from running into the sun, and from the characteristic facial tension (which reporters so often confuse with pain) of a marathoner; tautness of the leg muscles resulting from hours of repeated contraction without full extension; and the peculiar finishing chute walk of a person whose legs are usually strong but temporarily depleted of glycogen—the walk of an exhausted athlete, which is quite different from the walk of someone whose fatigue is due to lack of conditioning. These and many subtler signs make up the ‘gestalt’ of the runner who has just finished two hours of physiological struggle. There is no way this gestalt can be faked. ” (109)
Runners were funnelled from the finishing chute in 1980, as they had been every year since the finish line was moved from Exeter Street to the Prudential Centre in 1965, into the dank underground confines of the Prudential parking garage. As medical personnel tended to a stream of runners arriving with blisters, blackened toenails, chafed thighs and assorted other marathon miseries, Jacqueline Gareau stood by a concrete pillar watching Bill Rodgers and Rosie Ruiz answer questions in a glaze of television lights.
”I really didn’t expect to win,” Ruiz said. ”I came across in 2:31, that’s all I have to say. I know I ran the course. I did the best I can. What else can I say? How would you feel? I just wanted to finish. I didn’t know I was the first woman until I crossed the finish line. To be sincere, this is a dream.'” (110)
As doubts about Ruiz’s credibility escalated, Bob Anderson, publisher of Runner’s World, the largest and oldest of American running magazines, walked over to Gareau and told her she would be recognized by his magazine as the women’s champion.
”If they don’t disqualify her. you’re still the winner with us,” Anderson said.
Derek Clayton, holder of the men’s marathon record with a durable eleven-year-old best of 2:08:34, alleged openly that the race was a fix and Jock Semple, the BAA’s tart-tongued Scottish alter ego to Will Cloney, was even more explicit. Spluttering with rage, Semple paced about the tenth floor press room in the Prudential Centre, talking to anyone who would listen.
”That Rosie Ruiz is a fraud,” he said. ”Poor Jacqueline Gareau. I really feel sorry for her. She’s been robbed of her moment of glory up there on the victory stand, receiving the wreath and the medal.” (111)
The remainder of the day, the day that might have been the happiest of her life, was a nightmare for Jacqueline Gareau. The pressure brought to bear upon her by the media was exceeded only by that brought to bear on Ruiz. As the scent of scandal rose from the circle of media lights, filling the gloom of the garage, reporters became increasingly frustrated trying to pin down the true story of the race. First in a trickle, then a flood, they broke away from the impenetrable veneer of Ruiz and ringed the wronged Canadian. If the culprit would not confess, then the victim would do it for her. Gareau was caught in a crossfire of cameras and questions barked one over the other in a staccato English she could scarcely comprehend, the reporters almost demanding that she denounce Ruiz as the impostor they were so certain she was.
What followed was a remarkable display of grace under pressure by Gareau. Because Boston was new and bewildering, because French was the language she understood, not English, and because she had just run twenty-six miles, the fastest, hardest twenty-six miles of her life, and was physically spent from doing so, Gareau was among the last to grasp the dimensions of what was happening. Her responses to the shouted questions were small and halting but her instincts led her away from each trap laid in quest of the bitter quote.
“I supposed I was first,” she said simply. “Then I arrived at the line.”
Gareau was scheduled to fly home to Montreal that night, and with things as they were she was almost glad to be going back to her job as a respiratory therapist at Hotel Dieu Hospital, where she was due the next morning. In other circumstances she would like to have stayed in Boston but now she wanted nothing so much as to escape it. Serge Arsenault, the director of the Montreal International Marathon, a fluently bilingual reporter with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, came to her aid, disentangling her from the media, reuniting her with friends, getting her off to Logan Airport and the peace of a flight home.
Will Cloney reeled in the disaster that the eighty-fourth Boston Marathon had become. In the half century he had been part of the marathon, dating back to the Depression and his days as a journalist with the Boston Post, years that included Les Pawson and Tarzan Brown, and John A. Kelley before he became ”John the Elder” with the emergence of John J. Kelley, ”John the Younger,” years of foreign domination when even a starving Greek runner, Stylianos Kyriakides, outran the best America could muster, and the years of the modern boom which had swamped the marathon with unmanageable numbers and given rise to a carping new class of elite runners critical of the old way of doing things, through all this and more Cloney had encountered nothing to prepare him for the havoc wreaked by Rosie Ruiz.
Cloney did not discover the Ruiz controversy until forty-five minutes after she left the victory stand and he had extracted himself from marathon guests on the platform at the finish line. Until he walked into the Prudential garage and encountered it at full boil he never suspected a thing, not when Ruiz came through the finishing chute nor when he clipped the BAA medal around her neck. His response when he realized fraud might have occurred was as calm and controlled as Jock Semple’s was angry and accusatory. Assembling what facts he could in the confusion of the moment Cloney issued a statement to the press.
”There is an obvious problem with the determination of the women’s winner,” he said ”At this moment we have no proof one way or the other that would cause us to reverse the decision immediately. But we will try to do everything possible within the next week to check whether there was a discrepancy. If this proves to be the case we will invalidate the final results and adjust the places accordingly. If the medal had not already been awarded it would have been held up. I have not talked to the young lady in question. I have no reason to accuse her of anything. We do have grave doubts.” (112)
Fred Lebow, the director of the New York City Marathon, then the largest in the world, shared Cloney’s doubts. As head of the New York Road Runners Club, Lebow was to New York what Cloney was to Boston, only more so. Few people anywhere knew marathoners better than Lebow. Standing at the finish line when Ruiz crossed, he could only shake his head. “No salt stains? Her hair in place? Her sides dry?” When he learned the rest, that Ruiz had qualified with a 2:56:29 marathon in New York, that his marathon had been Ruiz’s first, and that no one among all the New Yorkers he could contact had heard of her, he was certain of fraud. While Cloney began an exhaustive review of photographs and television footage, and the interviewing of witnesses who had seen the Boston race, Lebow launched an investigation of his own.
The camera at the Central Park finish line in New York had recorded the arrival in 1979 of close to nine thousand runners who had made the twenty-six-mile trek through the five boroughs of America’s largest metropolis. Lebow dug out videotapes and discovered that Ruiz was nowhere in sight. No woman could be spotted crossing the finish line at 2:56:29. Runners who did appear in the tapes were located and interviewed. None had seen Ruiz at any point in the race. Lebow got out Ruiz’s marathon application form and found more incriminating evidence. In the space where runners were asked to forecast their finishing times Ruiz had written 4:10:00. The case seemed complete when Susan Morrow, a New York Times photographer, came forward and told of riding the subway with Ruiz to the finish line.
Morrow recognized Ruiz from Boston photographs. Dressed as a runner and wearing a marathon number, Ruiz had boarded the subway with Morrow at West 4th Street, saying she had turned an ankle and dropped out of the race at ten miles. Morrow said they rode to Columbus Circle, exchanging telephone numbers and agreeing to meet sometime for lunch, then walked the half-mile to Central Park where they wandered into the area of the finishing chutes. Ruiz told race workers she needed medical treatment, then disappeared. If normal procedure had been followed the computer bar code would have been removed from Ruiz’s race number and recorded in sequence with runners then crossing the finish line. In due course a marathon certificate bearing the recorded time would also have been issued by the New York Road Runners Club and mailed to Rosie Ruiz.
To Lebow the evidence was beyond question. He called a news conference to announce that Ruiz was being disqualified as a finisher in the New York City Marathon.
The news from New York might have resolved Will Cloney’s dilemma. If Ruiz had not qualified legitimately for Boston she could not, technically at least, have been a legitimate winner. But Cloney shunned the suggestion. From his law studies long ago at Harvard Cloney knew that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. So he pressed on with the painstaking BAA inquiry, the endless questioning, the endless probing of people and photos and footage by the harried officials of the BAA. Through it all, as media outrage swirled about him and pressure for the obvious conclusion increased, Cloney refused to be rushed. The day Rosie Ruiz was disqualified in New York he issued a progress report on Boston.
“We’re about eighty-five per cent there. We’re looking for a couple more details. I’d rather not say what they are but we’re very close. If our investigation alters the finish we absolutely want to be sure. We’ve been able to collect information from some very creditable sources. I’m looking for provable facts.” (113)
When the storm broke over Rosie Ruiz on Patriot’s Day, a lone defender came to her rescue. A flamboyant
Westchester, New York, promoter named Steve Marek, he was a big, beefy man who weighed more than two hundred pounds and stood six feet, three inches tall. Marek bore little resemblance to most marathoners but he was president of a running club, a group called the Suburban Road Runners, and he did run marathons himself, however slowly. Marek was also known to Fred Lebow for showing up at NYRRC races as Superman, dressed in flowing red cape and shorts, and for entering the New York City Marathon under a false name and forecasting a finishing time of 2:58:10 when he usually took more than five hours to finish a marathon. His explanation when discovered: “I meant to put 5:58. They wouldn’t let me run under my real name. …I made a mistake.” (114)
Marek, again dressed as Superman, was among the swarm of “bandits” who participated without sanction in the 1980 Boston Marathon. Sometime after Ruiz crossed the finish line, Marek appeared at her side, telling reporters he had met her in an elevator the night before and had spotted her in the crowd that morning at Hopkinton.
Marek cast himself as the good Samaritan, interested only in seeing that Ruiz had a chance to explain herself, but to those familiar with the man, an independent insurance adjustor when not engaged in promotional activities his sudden entry into the affair smacked of opportunism, a chance to inject his name into the headlines and gain publicity for his various personal and business activities. Whatever his motivations, Marek and Ruiz spent a frantic week together, shuttling between Boston and New York, buffeted by unfolding events, their every move and pronouncement followed by the media. When not seeking reporters out for their own purposes, it seemed, they were hiding from them in hotel rooms.
Ruiz responded to the unrelenting pressure of the media with tears when she ran out of words, an unrelenting stream of them. The more the evidence mounted against her, the louder she sobbed when the cameras were fumed upon her. Marek quickly betrayed the discomfort of a man who had signed on with a sinking ship, his stout words of defence on Monday dissolving by the end of the week to a weary uncertain litany.
”I don’t know what the story is any more,” he admitted. “I don’t know whether she ran the race. I know she believes in her own mind she ran the race. That’s all I know.”
It remained only for Will Cloney to bring down the verdict.
Nothing in Jacqueline Gareau’s background prepared her for such a preposterous controversy. Bom March IO, 1953, in L’Annonciation, Quebec, a French-speaking community one hundred miles northwest of Montreal, Gareau’s roots were not unlike those of Gerard Cote. Her father was a farmer, she fell in the middle of a large family, in her case two brothers and four sisters, and her upbringing was thoroughly rural. She went to school, she went to church, she played the games that country children play, swimming and riding a bicycle in the summer. skating outdoors and coasting down snowy hills in winter. Organized sports, especially for girls, were not much a part of the Quebec school system of the 1960s, not even in Montreal where the Gareau family moved when Jacqueline was twelve. Organized activity during her school years was confined to the odd game of volleyball.
Her father died of cancer in 1975, forcing her mother to take a full-time job, and with the oldest of the Gareau family off to college, Jacqueline became the housekeeper for a period, sweeping floors, making beds, cooking meals. When it came her turn to leave she entered Rosemont College for three years of study as a respiratory technician. By the time she graduated and was working full-time at Hotel Dieu Hospital she had fallen into the comfortable lifestyle of her peers, irregular hours, late-night parties, smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day.
In retrospect, it may have been smoking that made her a marathoner. The longer she continued, knowing her father had been a cancer victim and seeing patients stricken with lung ailments every day at the hospital, the more the habit began to bother her. Finally, she quit and began substituting long walks about the streets of Montreal just as once she had taken long rambling walks in the countryside around L’Annonciation.
That led to running, short jogs at first for health, then extra miles because she enjoyed it, her experience a mirror of what was happening to millions in the worldwide running boom that sprang out of the 1970s. Later she would look back with pride on her origin as a runner, differing as it did from most elite runners who started on the track. ”I come from the mass,” she would say.
In 1977, Gareau ran her first marathon almost on a whim, at Ile d’Orleans, an island in the St. Lawrence River east of Quebec City. She was on holidays at the time and she finished in 3:44:04, placing second to Eleanor Thomas of Ottawa. The following spring she ran the National Capital Marathon in Ottawa thirty-seen minutes faster. again placing second. and the obvious began to dawn on her.
“I think it’s about that time I really noticed I have some talent,” she remembers.
One reason for her improvement was the advice she was getting from Medhi Jaouhar, a Morrocan-bom athlete who managed a Montreal running store. Jaoahar recognized Gareau s talent and functioned informally as a coach through an important phase in her development as a marathoner. But as her confidence and training increased her family began to wonder.
“At first my mother thought it was good, but then when I started doing ten miles a day she would say, ‘Don’t do that, it’s bad for you, you’ll hurt yourself.'” (115)
Gareau did not become a snowshoe racer like Fabre, Young and Cole, the sport having all but disappeared in Quebec since their time, but she did become a cross-country skier, twice tackling the daunting one-hundred-mile Canadian Ski Marathon through the wilderness from Lachute, Quebec. to Ottawa, a two-day event. Gareau skied ninety miles the first year, missing the final checkpoint deadline by minutes because of improper wax. Of ficials forced her to stop.
But she went the entire distance the next time despite frightful conditions in which the thermometer plunged to thirty-five below Fahrenheit and the wind chill pushed the effective reading dangerously below that. Gareau was the only woman to finish and it took all her strength. Trouble occurred late in the race when the phenomenon known as honking — fatigue, dizziness, the sense of impending collapse — overcame her. Instinct told her to eat and she dug a handful of nuts, dates and chocolate from her pocket.
”My strength came back instantly. I just couldn’t believe the change. l thought to myself, I just saved my own life.” (116)
Home for Gareau became a rambling third-floor apartment in the Plateau Mont Royal district of Montreal, not far from Lafontaine Park and the slopes of Mount Royal where she often trained, a small, resolute figure running alone. One who noticed her, becoming her friend and eventually her business manager, (117) was Gilles Lapierre. Lapierre was a good runner in his own right but as Gareau improved he found he could not keep pace with her.
Gareau went back to Ile d’Orleans in 1978, finishing first in 2:59:15. Then followed a string of rapid improvements, 2:57:00 for first in the 1978 Skylon Marathon from Buffalo, New York, to Niagara Falls, Ontario; 2:47:58 to win the National Capital Marathon in 1979; 2:40:56 to sweep to triumph in her hometown debut, the Montreal Intemational Marathon of 1979, and then the New York City Marathon of 1979, third place in the biggest race in the world with yet another best time, 2:39:04.
As Gareau, exhausted and happy, mingled in the warm October sunshine with Central Park crowds that day she had no way of knowing a messenger was carrying the bar code of an injured runner to recorders at the finish line. Nor could she possibly have dreamed the significance the incident would hold for her if she had known.
Three more trips to Boston awaited Jacqueline Gareau before the affair occasioned by Rosie Ruiz was put mercifully to rest. The first came within days when WBZ, a Boston television station, talked her into returning to the city by telling her that Will Cloney was about to announce his decision. She arrived to find Cloney ready to do no such thing. She was plopped instead before a WBZ monitor displaying a tearful image of Ruiz so that WBZ cameras could tape what Gareau had to say in reply. Gareau said little, embarrassed that her presence in Boston might be seen by Cloney as pressure to come to a conclusion.
“That was not a good day for me. I was so tired, and I went to Boston for what? Only for the television. “
A week to the day after the marathon Cloney met in a Boston hotel suite with Rosie Ruiz and Steve Marek. The tired race director was as quiet and gentle with Ruiz as the media had been loud and belligerent. Again there were tears but Rosie budged not an inch from her story. She had run the race, she insisted, she had won it, and while she would respect Cloney’s decision, she would not return the medal if the ruling went against her. Cloney brought the meeting to a close, with Ruiz again breaking down in tears, by putting his arms around her and inviting her back to Boston the following year, whether she could meet the qualifying standard or not. Rosie promised to come. (d)
”She sincerely believes in her own mind that she won the race,” Cloney said. “Ours was a very friendly and helpful discussion.” (118)
The remark alluded to what was already being speculated openly as the underlying cause of the whole bizarre episode, the possibility that Ruiz was suffering from a mental disorder and could not distinguish between truth and fantasy. Among the disclosures, as details of her background were unearthed, was the information that Ruiz had twice undergone brain surgery, once for the removal of a benign tumor. No firm medical evidence was presented to support the theory of mental incapacity but it seemed in the minds of many the only plausible explanation.
The following day, in an anti-climatic press conference high in the Prudential Centre overlooking the marathon finish line, Cloney announced the invalidation of Ruiz’s Boston victory.
“Is Rosie Ruiz a liar, a fraud, a cheat?” he was asked.
“I would never use those words for another human being,” Cloney said. “People want me to say that she came up with the intention of doing this. I don’t believe that. If she did do anything it was on the spur of the moment. I’m not a doctor, a psychiatrist, a psychologist. I wouldn’t presume to figure it out. I am convinced that Rosie thinks she won the race. She is equally convinced, and this is a little bit strange, that our information is overwhelming. She is as baffled as we are.” (119)
The women’s marathon had been reconstructed from the halfway point, the order of the first seventeen runners being charted from Wellesley forward to Kenmore Square and a bit beyond. Nowhere in all that distance had anyone-seen Rosie Ruiz, not the official race checkers, not the media cameras, not witnesses who stood on the sidelines. Nor did she appear, and this was what Cloney had waited so long to determine, in any of the more than ten thousand frames taken a mile from the finish by the official race photographers. Every negative had been checked.
Cloney introduced the real women’s champion of the 1980 Boston Marathon — Jacqueline Gareau. With the moment illuminated by television lights, the green laurel wreath, a new one, not the one another woman had worn on marathon day, was placed on Gareau’s head. She had been right that morning on the playing field at Hopkinton: it did look good on her. Her right arm shot into the air in salute and she broke into a mile-wide grin.
The Eliot Lounge
It remained only for Tommy Leonard to make the day complete with a final flourish. At the Eliot Lounge, that storied Boston watering hole where Leonard reigned so cheerfully as bartender, the lounge made famous as a runners’ shrine by the sheer force of Leonard’s personality and love of runners, the place that hung with the framed photographs of great moments and great marathons, a warm old haunt that echoed with lies and laughter, in the confines of that wonderful place, a party was held for Jacqueline Gareau.
She arrived to find the Canadian flag hanging from the ceiling. Patrons rose as one to give her an ovation and Tommy Leonard, good stout-hearted Tommy, the patron saint of runners, opened a bottle of Dom Perignon.
The last detail was the marathon medal. Rosie was as good as her word. She did not give it back. A second medal was struck, not a small one like the medal taken away by Ruiz, but one identical in size to that given Bill Rodgers as champion of the men’s division. It was presented in another ceremony two weeks later, the BAA wiping away the last of its distinctions between men and women in bestowing it upon her.
For that final trip to Boston Gareau was met at Logan Airport by a limousine and whisked in stately splendor to the foot of the tall Prudential Centre on Boylston Street. The end of the marathon was re-enacted at the finish line in the presence of Boston’s running elite and a large appreciative crowd. This time the cameras caught what they had missed before: The Winner — Jacqueline Gareau.
Sheraton Boston Hotel
The Turning Point Bar to one side of the Sheraton Boston lobby is filled with noisy chatter, the air alive with anticipation of the 1981 Boston Marathon, a mere fifteen hours away. Around two adjoining tables, their merry chatter alternating between French and English, sits a group of Montreal runners and Canadian journalists. In their lively midst, sipping a glass of tomato juice, is a small woman with eyes so bright they leap halfway across the room.
A big raw-boned man arrives and sits down on the edge of the gathering, the seat sagging with his weight. His ears pick up the sound of French and his eyes settle for a fleeting moment on the woman with the tomato juice, then flick uncomfortably away. The man is wearing running shorts, knee socks and a long red cape. Twenty, perhaps thirty, minutes pass and the woman rises to leave. The big man has not acknowledged her so she turns to acknowledge him, eyes crinkling in a smile.
“Salut,” she says.
From somewhere within himself the man summons the absolutely correct response.
“Bonne chance,” he replies.
Jacqueline Gareau’s Marathon Record
(* winner) (CR Canadian record) 1977 Ile d'Orleans Marathon (August 27) 3:44:04 1978 National Capital Marathon (May 14) 3:07:19 He d'Orleans Marathon (August 26) 2:59: 15* Skylon Marathon, Buffalo, New York (October 21) 2:57:00* 1979 National Capital Marathon (May 13) 2:47:58* Montreal Intemational Marathon (August 26) 2:40:56* New York City Marathon (October 21) 2:39:04 1980 Boston Marathon (April 21) 2:34:28* Montreal Intemational Marathon (September 7) 2:31:26 Tokyo Women's Marathon (November 16) 2:30:58 1981 Boston Marathon (April 20) 2:31:28 1982 Boston Marathon (April 19) 2:36:09 Montreal Intemational Marathon (May 30) 2:41:19 1983 Boston Marathon (April 18) 2:29:27x World Marathon Championship, Helsinki (Aug. 7) 2:32:35 America's Marathon, Chicago (October 16) 2:31:56 1984 Los Angeles Marathon (February 19) 2:31:57*
Footnotes: (a) Portions of this chapter are based on an interview with Jacqueline Gareau at her home in Montreal on January 19, 1982. (b) No longer published. (c) Gayle Olinekova, with a marathon best of 2:36:12, was the only Canadian woman who was faster than Gareau at the time. (d) Ruiz did not return to Boston or enter any other marathon the next year.