By Gladys B. Vargas
Boston University News Service
Boston Marathon record-holder and Mi’kmaq tribal member Patti Dillon was interviewed along with Michael Monroe, the grandson of Ellison “Tarzan” Brown of the Narragansett Tribe last Friday, in an event to recognize the first and possibly only time the Boston Marathon will take place on Indigenous Peoples Day.
Mayor Kim Janey signed an executive order for the city of Boston this past Wednesday, replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. The marathon, originally held in April, was postponed to October due to COVID-19 public health concerns.
“It’s a good weekend; we’ve got some good weather. Recognition of the Indigenous peoples is due,” Monroe said.
Dillon, a three-time Boston Marathon runner-up who holds records for marathon, half marathon, and 30-kilometer races, was this year’s official marathon starter.
Dillon said she started running after wanting some time to herself out of a busy schedule.
“This was almost 40 years ago. Not too many women ran, I didn’t even know women ran. I just thought women didn’t like it,” Dillon said. “I ran for an hour at the cemetery there, I did seven miles, and I couldn’t walk for three weeks! I didn’t know I was sore until I woke up and reached for my cigarettes.”
Soon after, she said she overheard male friends who were runners talking about the marathon.
“I looked at him, and I figured hey, if he could do it, I could do it. Five months later I qualified, so that was cool!” Dillon said.
In 1980 she said she hit her stride, setting records in races around the country.
“You had to do [the Boston Marathon] to get invited to another race. I went to Cincinnati, I went to Florida,” Dillon said. “I trained for two races, and ran through the rest…48 races in 52 weeks, and I won 44 of them.”
Ellison Myers Brown, also known as “Tarzan” Brown, won the Boston Marathon in 1936 and 1939 and competed as a U.S. Olympian in 1936. Brown’s win in 1936 inspired a sports journalist to dub a hill in Newton, MA “Heartbreak Hill” after he beat fellow runner Johnny Kelley, who at mile 20 condescendingly patted Brown on the back as he passed by.
Monroe is a grandson of Brown’s, and currently a second councilman for the Narragansett Tribe in Rhode Island.
“He didn’t brag about what he accomplished,” Monroe said of his grandfather, “because we already knew.”
Dillon spoke about the importance of visibility as an inspiration for her and said she wants to visit reservations around the country to inspire more children to see what they can accomplish as athletes.
“Working with [Wings of America], that’s what we do. We have programs for running and homework. If I had known that a native woman was a runner, it might have been something that I would’ve thought about.”