The Rainforest Trail Run aims to recognize the accomplishments our our indigenous Canadian athletes. Perhaps the greatest example of this, is an athlete who over 100 years ago, had a global reputation as one of the fastest men in the world over the marathon distance. Tom Longboat was an Onondaga born on June 4, 1887. He grew up on the Grand River First Nations Reservations near Brantford, Ontario. It was Tom’s destiny to become world renown as a long distance runner, now it is timely to celebrate his achievements as a member of our First Nations.
Tom’s road to success was filled with obstacles, the least of which was poverty. In 1906, while training with Bill Davis, a Mohawk, Tom ran his first race wearing cheap sneakers and a droopy cotton bathing suit. Others laughed at the sight, but Tom laughed last when he won the 19 mile race by a full 3 minutes. His indigenous name was Cogwagee, meaning “Everything.” As a child, Longboat lived in one of Canada’s Residential Schools. He ran away twice before moving in with his uncle and starting to train as an athlete while working various odd jobs.Longboat pioneered a training technique that alternates days of intense workouts with days of lower-stress exercise and rest. While it’s since been widely adopted by athletes, it was highly unusual in Longboat’s day.
Tom went on to run and win many other races, and with proper running shoes, he most notably won the Boston Marathon of 1907 when he was 19 years old. There he set a course record of 2:24:24. He represented Canada a the 1908 Olympic Games prior to becoming a professional athlete competing against the legendary Alfie Shrubb of Great Britain. After turning professional, he became world champion the following year. In 1912 he set the world record over 15 miles.
At the age of 29 Tom enlisted to fight in WW1. Tom relied on his athleticism as a dispatch runner, relaying messages between military units in France. Tom Longboat was wounded twice while in service, and even declared dead. Yet he survived the war and returned to Canada in 1919.
After the war, he never raced professionally again. June 4 is marked in the Province of Ontario as Tom Longboat Day, Tom Longboat died in 1949 at the age of 62. He was inducted to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1955 and Canada’s Olympic Hall of Fame in 1960.