MARINES, MOFFETTS, AND MARATHONS
Fitness is part of the Marines Corps ethos. If you want to be a Marine, then you need to be able to run. My brother John was a cross-country standout in high school, so when he joined the Marines running was not a problem. Because he could shoot, move, and communicate he was the honor graduate for his Parris Island recruit training platoon. He later became an officer.
I followed John into the Marine Corps and for a while we were both lieutenants stationed in California. It took me longer than it did John to become a shooting expert but I eventually made it. I also recorded some excellent run times but never could quite match those of John.
After finally beating him in a 10K road race on a Marine base, I immediately called our mom with the great news. Always careful not to show favoritism, she congratulated both of us instead of just me!
John eventually ran in the Marine Corps Marathon, the same one that Oprah Winfrey famously completed. John’s time was considerably better than Oprah’s fairly impressive 4:29:15
Years later, while stationed in Hawaii, John met and married Mette, a beautiful Danish girl. He retired from the Marines and then they moved to Boulder, Colorado, where they had two beautiful children, Kristian and Malia. Then, to honor their Danish heritage, they all moved to Copenhagen in 2007.
Tragedy struck in Copenhagen on Sept. 6, 2007. John was competing in a road race when he suffered a cardiac seizure and died right on the course.
It’s always painful to lose a family member, and it’s especially hard when that member is still relatively young with two small children.
In part to honor John’s memory, Mette literally hit the road and became a regular runner. A year ago she traveled from Denmark to Edinburgh, Scotland, to run in a marathon. She surprised even herself with her fast time and her strong finish actually qualified her for the Boston Marathon.
Last August she and the kids moved back to America—to Concord—and Mette continued to train with a goal of completing the Boston Marathon.
My brother Jim, nephew Caleb, and I drove into Boston on April 17 to see the Marathon and to support Mette. Our mom, Mette’s mom, and Malia traveled down separately.
I was struck by the thousands of female runners, and thought about Kathrine Switzer, who used her initials to register for the 1967 Marathon, for which she received bib number 261. (Mette’s bib number of 20164 would include Switzer’s numbers.)
Midway through that 1967 race, a Marathon official, Jock Semple, realized that a woman was running in what had always been a males-only competition, and he stepped onto the road in front of Switzer to forcibly remove her from the marathon. A Kathrine supporter literally knocked Semple off to the side of the road and the young woman continued running towards Boston, where she became the first female to officially finish the historic race.
Many runners just can’t complete the Boston Marathon, for any of a myriad of reasons. I hoped that Mette would make it, but whatever happened, I’d remain proud that she’d tried.
And finish she did, with a very credible time of 3:44. Through the magic of cell phones, Mette’s fans all linked up with the triumphant runner on the Boston Common afterwards to celebrate. Mette had accomplished her goal of honoring John’s memory with a completed marathon ten years after his death.
And on the subject on anniversaries, we later learned that Kathrine Switzer celebrated the 50th anniversary of her historic 1967 marathon run by also completing the 2017 race. The 70-year-old icon, wearing bib number 261, finished with a time of 4:44—exactly an hour behind Mette.
A marathon is the most difficult of sporting events to watch. It’s not like a basketball game in a gym. It’s a 26.2 mile course. Spectators have to pick their spots to get glimpses of their favorites. I found a perch by the Buckminster Hotel—near Fenway Park—to watch the field and try to get a photo of Mette. It was a joy to see just a tiny part of this Hallmark sports event, with its diverse thousands of runners drawing inspiration from the continuous cheering from hundreds of thousands of spectators.
It then occurred to me that maybe John was somehow in a position to see the whole race, not just a piece of it.
I’m sure he was very proud.
When was the first Boston Marathon? (Answer follows)
Born Today …
That is to say, sports standouts born on April 27 include major League Baseball legend Enos Slaughter (1916) and NBA great George “Iceman” Gervin (1952).
Sportsquote “The difference between running the mile and running the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.” – Hal Higdon
Inspired by the success of the first Olympic marathon in 1896, the first Boston Marathon took place in 1897 and is the world’s oldest annual marathon. John J. McDermott beat out 14 other runners to win with a time of 2:55:10. The Boston Marathon is always held on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday of April.
State Representative Michael Moffett was a Professor of Sports Management for Plymouth State University and NHTI-Concord. He co-authored the critically-acclaimed and award-winning “FAHIM SPEAKS: A Warrior-Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back” (with the Marines)—which is available through Amazon.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.