Falmouth, Mass. — 150 to 200 of Tommy Leonard’s best friends surprised him with an early 80th birthday party last night at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel as the 41st New Balance Falmouth Road Race weekend got under way on old Cape Cod. For those too young to know, it was Tommy who founded the Falmouth Road Race in 1973 after watching Frank Shorter win the Olympic Marathon in Munich 1972.
During Frank’s gold medal run Tommy watched in rapt attention while bartending at the now defunct Brothers Four on Falmouth Heights. A long-time runner himself, Tommy was so inspired by Frank that just one year later he welcomed 92 starters to the first Falmouth Road Race to raise funds for the Falmouth Girls Track Club. By year three Tommy had lured his hero to Falmouth to take on growing local legend Bill Rodgers.
The Shorter vs. Rodgers rivalry on the Cape — Frank won in 1975 &`76, Bill took revenge in `77 & `78 — helped Falmouth become the Great American Road Race which assisted mightily in spreading the running Boom throughout the country.
“My heart is going a million miles an hour,” Tommy said when he saw the host of people stand and cheer at his arrival last night. And from there it was one story after another recalling the life of a man whose passion for running and heart of gold has enriched the life of thousands upon thousands while elevating the sport of road running to heights few would have thought possible when he first began dreaming. (more…)