Every once in awhile a major celebrity will have a truly batty high school sports story that comes out years later in a seemingly inconsequential interview with one magazine or another. The latest to join that august list is Michael Dukakis, the erstwhile Democratic candidate for President in 1988, who now works in downtown Boston but is mostly known for his penchant for picking up trash on his way to work.
Let’s put aside those honorable trash collection efforts for a moment, because Dukakis has some high school sports story for the rest of us. In a recent interview with Boston magazine, Dukakis regaled author Garrett Quinn with the time he ran the Boston Marathon as a 17-year-old high school junior at Brookline High School in 1951. If that seems a bit odd, get this: He ran the entire race in low top Keds sneakers, and he didn’t even drink water.
The entire story is far too good to take in part, so we’ll let Boston deliver it to you from its fantastic portrait of The Duke on a walk:
I ran Boston when I was 17. I was a high school senior, and one of my cross-country buddies named Buzz, we ran the thing. This was in 1951. We ran it in low-top Keds sneakers. There were no shoes made for it at the time. They had running shoes for indoor track, but not hard surfaces. [He bends to pick up more trash, looks at a small glass Absolut bottle, and shakes his head.]
We ran 26.2 miles in low-top Keds sneakers and didn’t do too badly. Three and a half hours. The whole town is out there. Kitty claims she gave me water at Beacon Street, but I didn’t know her at the time. It’s entirely possible. I was dying of thirst. We knew nothing about exercise science in those days. You never drank water while running a race, right? Here’s some advice: When you’re running 26 miles, drink water.
So, I was the captain of the tennis team. My tennis coach, who had been a world-class hurdler at Dartmouth, begged me not to run the race. I said, “Coach”—his name was Monty Wells, wonderful guy—I said, “Coach, you know we’re going away to school, don’t know if we’ll have a chance to run this again, we’re from Brookline, been out there watching the race since we were three.” And he suggested we run some preliminary 10-miler or 12-miler to discourage us. Ten or 12, that’s like falling off a rock. That’s fun. So we ran the Cathedral 10-mile and the Hyde Shoe 12-mile, these were all before March and early April. So we’d come back and say, “We had a fabulous time.”
So the day [after the marathon] we have our first tennis match, it was Malden Catholic. Not a tennis power. Ran the race, came home, had something to eat, slept for 12 hours. Woke up, hobbled to the bathroom, and my thighs had kind of locked on me, so [he laughs] on the top of the stairs on the second floor of the house, my mom is downstairs making breakfast for me. I literally can’t walk down the stairs. So I finally sat my rump on the top step and bounced down on my butt and had breakfast. I have breakfast, get into the car, drive over to the tennis courts, and we beat ’em 8–1, I don’t want to tell you who the one was. All I could do was serve and come to the net, I couldn’t move laterally at all. If the other guy hit the ball to either side of me, I was done.
So, Michael Dukakis once ran the Boston Marathon in hopelessly inappropriate footwear, then tried to compete in a tennis match the following day. And he did it all wearing shoes that today would be classified as “casual” and might not be allowed in some gyms. And he didn’t drink water. Unreal, and probably one of the best high school running performances that no one had ever heard of before.