The Indian From Rhode Island Who Won the Boston Marathon—Twice
At the five-mile checkpoint an official timer asked the media representatives what they were doing. When they told him they were following the leaders, the timekeeper was shocked.
“That Indian from Rhode Island went through here five minutes ago!”
In fact, Tarzan Brown had shattered the course record for the first five miles.
The Legend of Heartbreak Hill
He ran “like a bat out of hell,” Nason said.
The press car sped up and caught the Indian and for 21 miles he burned up the course record. But then he slowed his pace. Tarzan’s unorthodox racing style was to run as fast as he could, for as long as he could. The wild style would cause the local press to dub him “Chief Crazy Horse.”
Tarzan did not pace himself, saying later in life that his career ended before he ever knew how to run a race or even train properly.
He dreamed about his races before they were run and in his dreams he always lost, Tarzan said. That spurred him to run harder during the race.
He had built up a huge lead in 1936 and then slowed, jogging along head-down. He might have lost the race except for an ill-advised display of sportsmanship that turned the race into legend – and gave a name to the most treacherous hill along the course.
With his own furious run, Boston legend Johnny A. Kelley – the defending Boston Marathon champ – caught up with Tarzan at the foot of the hills that had defeated many a runner. Nason said that as he passed Tarzan, Kelley reached him and patted him on the butt “as if to say ‘nice run, pal’.”
Tarzan’s head came up, he had no idea anyone else was near him. The Indian lit out “as if someone had stuck a pin in his ass,” according to Nason. That hill was christened Heartbreak Hill.
The original Boston Marathon, called the “short course,” was 24 ½ miles, but the distance had been increased to its current 26 miles, 385 yards in 1926. Tarzan became the youngest to win the longer distance.
Tarzan and The Fuhrer
With his surprising victory in Boston, Tarzan Brown earned a spot on the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. He was going to Berlin, where Adolf Hitler hoped to prove the superiority of the Aryan race. But Jesse Owens smashed The Fuhrer’s dreams in record fashion – and Tarzan almost joined him.
Twenty-four years earlier another Indian, Jim Thorpe, won Olympic gold only to have it taken away. Tarzan’s gold was taken away before he could earn it. What happened in Berlin? That was one of the biggest mysteries in the legend of Tarzan Brown.
One story says that on the ship to Berlin he was imitating the awkward style of the British long distance walkers and pulled a muscle; another claimed that Tarzan had taken a hot bath before the race, thinking it would help him relax, and it tired him quicker. Jerry Nason believed Tarzan was bothered by a hernia – and Tarzan did suffer from a hernia later that year. Nason said Tarzan told him he stopped due to a tremendous pain in his gut.
My father, John A. Hopkins, Sr., had a startling story to tell. He told me that Tarzan told him years later that he had gotten into a fight with “some of Hitler’s brownshirts” and was thrown in jail, where he was warned he had better not win the marathon.
You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page