Jock in his Salon de Rubdown in the old Boston Garden

To say that his office was tucked away in the labyrinth of the old Boston Garden is to understate the quest to find it. Yet to say that his office was the heart of the Boston Marathon would not be to overstate its importance.

Jock Semple’s Salon de Rubdown had been upstairs, past the gauntlet of the North Station bottle-in-bag regulars, and down the hall from the offices of the Boston Celtics for more years than most can recall, and to more thousands than chose to remember where the workhorse of the Boston Marathon was stabled.

“Well, I’ve been a willing workhorse, so it’s OK,” said Jock of 80 years in 1984, a step slower if no less zeroed in on the task at hand.

Just the month before he worked with the Scottish team as they competed in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in New Jersey.  That was in March. I visited his office in early April as the Marathon neared. Continue reading


Hodgie (in red) battling Rodgers, Salazar, Roche & Thomas at 1979 Freedom Trail Road Race in Boston

Hodgie (#3 in red) battling #1 Bill Rodgers, #2 Al Salazar, with Mike Roche & #14 Randy Thomas hanging on at 1979 Freedom Trail Road Race in Boston.

As 2015 slides into 2016, we offer a New Year’s story written by guest blogger Bob Hodge, a Lowell, Mass native who was a charter member of the Greater Boston Track Club.

A graduate of the University of Lowell, Hodgie went on to finish third in the 1979 Boston Marathon. He has also won the Beppu-Ōita Marathon in Japan in 1982, while setting his personal best of 2:10:59 finishing second at the 1980 Nike OTC Marathon in Eugene, Oregon.

The following is part of what made Boston a running Mecca in the 1970s.

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John "The Younger Kelley

John J. “The Younger” Kelley

He didn’t finish his first Boston Marathon in 1949, but over the next two decades Connecticut’s John J. Kelley would become the face of American marathoning at a time, like our own, when international athletes dominated the Boston winner’s circle. What’s more, this two-time Olympian remains the only member of the Boston Athletic Association to win the club’s most famous race, though he would finish second five times, only two less than his namesake, but not relative, John A. Kelley, the man known as “Old Kel” to differentiate him from “Young John”.

But racing wasn’t John’s sole legacy to the sport. When his competitive days were over the man many believe to be the father of modern American distance running became a mentor to dozens if not hundreds of dedicated acolytes. Thus, since John’s death three years ago at age 80, friends and admirers have worked tirelessly to commemorate the life and legacy of this special man.

This Sunday September 21st, a bronze statue of Young John (and his dog Brutus) will be unveiled at 56 West Main Street, Mystic, Connecticut, right next to Mystic Pizza.

Six former winners of the Boston Marathon are expected to join in the unveiling and dedication, including 1968 Boston Marathon champion Amby Burfoot, who was coached and taught by Kelley; Bill Rodgers, Amby’s college roommate at Wesleyan who won Boston four times between 1975 and 1980; Geoff Smith, 1984 & `85 Boston champion; and Jack Fultz, the 1976 winner. On the women’s side, three-time winner Sara Mae Berman (1969-71) and Nina Kuscsik the 1972 winner will attend. Local TV station WTNH had the story.

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1957 Boston Marathon champion

The great wheel turns, and thus are we all ground into dust.  Such is the Rib-Taker’s design, and so must we all be delivered.  I just returned home from covering the 34th America’s Finest City Half-Marathon here in San Diego, another celebration of the fullness of life, only to hear of the passing at age 80 of 1957 Boston Marathon champion John J. “The Younger” Kelley at his home in Connecticut.  An e-mail from John’s protégé, great friend and fellow Boston Marathon champion (1968) Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World brought the sad news.

Anyone who had been a part of the New England running scene over the last sixty years would have tales to tell of Young John, a man who would’ve been as comfortable in Revolutionary times – perhaps even more so -than in these currently devolving ones.   To fully understand and appreciate the life and legacy of John J. Kelley, I urge you to read Amby’s moving tribute. John J. Kelley, RIP, 1930-2011: 1957 Boston Marathon Winner; America’s First Modern Road Runner.

As his nickname implies, John “The Younger” was a man who shared a name (though no relation) with a marathon runner of even greater renown. Before Young John came Old Kel, John A. “The Elder” Kelley of Massachusetts, the legendary two-time Boston champion (1935 & `45) and 62-time Boston starter.  Both Kelley’s lived to run, were  two-time Olympians, and became as famous for their non-wins at Boston as for their victories.  Ten years spanned Old Kel’s wins, while Young John was the lone member of the BAA to ever wear the olive wreath of victory at his club’s grandest race.  Yet between the two they claimed twelve second place finishes at Boston (seven for Old Kel, five for Young John).

And so today, my sympathies lie with Tesfaye Alemayehu of Ethiopia and Ariana Hilborn of Scottsdale, Arizona, runners-up in the 2011 AFC Half.  Alemayehu came up just five-seconds shy of race winner Weldon Kirui of Kenya following a race-long duel through the cloud-covered skies of San Diego. Tucson, Arizona’s Ian Burrell claimed third position in an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying 64:22. Ms. Hilborn, 30, of Scottsdale gave way only in the final mile to California’s Mary Akor, who was competing in the AFC for the first time. Akor’s margin at the Balboa Park finish was ten seconds, 77:17 to 77:27.  San Diego’s Natasha Labeaud, 24, finished third in 78:15. Continue reading