This Sunday the New Balance Falmouth Road Race turns 45. But today race founder and guiding spirit Tommy Leonard celebrates his 84th birthday.
Back in the Summer of `72 Tommy was tending bar at the Brothers 4 on Falmouth Heights when Frank Shorter ran to the gold medal at the Munich Olympic Marathon. Inspired by Frank’s win, Tommy dreamed up a local road race to help raise funds for the Falmouth Girl’s Track Club. 45 years later, both the founder and his founding spirit live on.
Though he summered on Cape Cod, T.L. called Boston’s Eliot Lounge home for nearly a quarter century, and it was there that his legend took root. In honor of his birthday, here is a little verse that recalls the days when a visit to Tommy was on every runner’s wish list.
For this is where we runners met, the bar we called our own,
Hard along the marathon course, just a half a mile from home.
On the corner of Mass and Commonwealth Aves. in Boston’s old Back Bay,
Where we came to recover from training, and put victories on display.
With Tommy Leonard tending taps, the guru in his lair,
Every runner’s true best friend, with a heart big enough to share.
And Coach Squires in his corner, the wack in classic form,
Holding court, as usual, untranslatable being the norm.
With walls festooned with photos, of racers in their glory,
Posters, banners, flags, as well, each one with a telling story.
And footprints of the running stars pressed out front in wet cement,
Of course, Tommy mixed the formula wrong, so the prints didn’t quite indent.
And remember the night the horse clopped in or the Stanford marching band?
And Heidi singing in those tight blue jeans, they and the joint absolutely crammed.
’twas a clubhouse for every iconoclast, be they runner, writer, or pol,
And while few were ever joiners, to the Eliot they came one and all.
When running meant more than fitness, or a bucket–list check for the masses,
But formed a band of close brothers, before our youth and speed finally passed us.
Yes, those days are fondly remembered, when lines did snake ’round the block,
But we knew the secret back entrance, sometimes I wish we could turn back the clock.
When time was the measure of merit, and Greater Boston the club above all,
When speed was the currency in issue, but a good time was a night at Fall Call.
But if running has taught any lesson, it’s that time stands still for no man,
No matter how hard we might wish it, it’s to the future we must look to and plan.
Knowing that our memory still carries, those times that were once ours alone,
When speed and endurance were in abundance, and we called the Eliot our home.
Sadly, it’s doors had to shutter after the hundredth marathon was through,
Though the friendships we made there still linger, how fortunate, how lucky, we few.
Who experienced the sport when it was booming,
When its flower was still in first bloom,
When Tommy was our loveable guru, and the Eliot our nurturing womb.
So thanks to all who join us today, in celebrating T.L.’s 84 years,
But just consider the man’s constitution, good God it should bring us to tears.