Falmouth, Ma. — Last year a multitude of fans and friends celebrated Falmouth Road Race founder Tommy Leonard‘s 80th birthday with a big surprise party at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel. This year it was back to business as usual. Last night Tommy was in his element hard along the bar at the Quarterdeck Restaurant on Main Street as old friends and new acolytes alike helped him toast his 81st birthday. As people wandered in to sign up for his 24th annual Falmouth Walk Saturday morning, like the pope of Falmouth Tommy sat atop his bar stool greeting visitors from far and wide.
“I cant’ hear anymore, and I can’t see,” said Tommy amidst sips from a savory brew. “But I can still laugh.”
Among those on hand were the girls of the Pittsfield, Mass. High School cross country team, led by their coach Theresa Apple. As the bar clogged and laughter rose, you could hear many a tall tale being told about the lovable guru of the Falmouth Road Race, and ex-barman of the legendary Eliot Lounge in Boston. But through it all Coach Apple’s story came as close to explaining the quality that has made T.L. such a rare paragon of the sport.
“15 years ago when I started coaching the school sports teams were eliminated,” she began. “So parents protested, and the school officials said if we raise $1000 per team we could exist. But it was my first year coaching, and we only had three girls, so it was little difficult.
“So I was coming down here on the Cape for the Cape Cod Marathon, which also has a relay. I called Courtney Bird (race director) and asked if he could waive the relay fee so we could use it as a fundraiser for our team. Well Courtney told the story to Tommy, who is from Holyoke, Mass nearby. Tommy called me and he just took this ball and ran with it.”
Anyone who knows Tommy realizes this is how the Falmouth Road Race itself got started. Tommy took Frank Shorter’s 1972 Olympic gold medal run in Munich and ran with it, all the way into history.
“When we did eventually come down,” explained Coach Apple, “there were banners all over the Quarterdeck, there were tip jars at every bar in town. We more than made our fee for the team. Then they invited us to do the Falmouth Road Race, and for 15 years now we come back every October for the relay and then return for the Falmouth Road race in August.
“We are staying at Courtney Birds place. The girls have their bras and shirts all hanging in the trees. They have so much fun. Tommy has just exposed us to so many of the good qualities of running, and it’s been an amazing ride that has really affected everybody. The girls all love Tommy, and they will volunteer for his walk. In fact, you have to give back to sport to be on our team.”
Tommy had knee replacement surgery several years ago, and is a bit gimpy afoot. But he popped off that stool pretty quick when the girls asked for a group photo.
“Hey, Toni!” Tommy hollered across the room, making sure I caught sight of his entourage. “No bartender in the world has had the life I’ve had.”
And for that we all give thanks. Happy birthday, Tommy. Let’s do it again in 2015.