Meet Me in Medford | Dave McGillivray
While winter is typically a hibernation season, for some of us, it marks training season for the most prestigious marathon in the world: The Boston Marathon. Runners of all ages hit the pavement no matter the weather — sleet, rain, and snow — including one of Medford’s most famous natives, Dave McGillivray, world-renowned athlete and Race Director of what New Englanders call “The Marathon.”
The 4Squares Team spent some time with Dave and talked about his Medford roots, what inspired him to take up running, and the ways Medford will always be the city he's proud to call his hometown.
As one of Medford's most well-known natives, we'd love to hear about your experience growing up here.
My whole family grew up in Medford. I'm the youngest of five siblings, and I was born in South Medford on Billings Avenue. When I was eight, we moved to North Medford, up in the Heights on Belle Avenue, next door to the Davenport School. One of my favorite memories is when we all came out for recess, and my mother would come out with her famous chocolate chip cookies and sneak them through the fence for my friends and me.
Athletics was my passion from an early age, which is no surprise coming from the Greater Boston area, where professional sports surround us —the Celtics, the Bruins, the Patriots, the Red Sox —and Carr Park was where it all began for me. I would go there every weekend from eight in the morning until eight at night and play sports, learning from Park Instructors at the park.
While I made Little League teams and played CYO basketball in my younger years, those aren't teams where you're chosen. When I tried out for high school sports, my smaller stature meant I was inevitably the last one cut. So instead, I took up running, which is what started my athletic career. Same result, a different path, and it all started at Carr Park. Ironically, I worked as a Park Instructor at Carr Park and a few other Medford Parks while I was in college and home on break, which was a great "full-circle" experience.
What are your favorite spots around the city? For folks new to Medford, where are the "hidden gem" spots that you enjoy, particularly for the runners amongst us?
For me, the loop around Spot Pond holds so many memories because it was where the majority of my training as a runner took place. I literally put thousands of miles of running and biking around Spot Pond. I'd head down Fulton Street toward the Flynn Rink, past the Stone Zoo, and up by the Sheepfold. Whatever distance I wanted to run, whether five miles, 10 miles, or 20 miles, I could do all of it on that loop.
In another full circle moment, when I opened my sports enterprise business, the very first event I coordinated was a triathlon at Wright's Pond. The swim took place at Wright's, and the running and biking portions were around Spot Pond and ended at Flynn Rink. In short, Spot Pond remains special to me because it marks both the beginning of my athletic and business careers.
They say, "you can't go home again," but you've remained deeply involved with the Medford community over the years, most recently with your partnership with Run Medford and Mayor Lungo-Koehn. What inspired that partnership? Do you foresee any other collaborations in the future?
When I ran across the United States from Medford, Oregon, to Medford, Mass, in 1978, I finished at the steps of City Hall, where thousands of people greeted me. I ran the additional seven miles to Fenway Park and finished ceremonially in front of 32,000 people. That moment in my life where I said, Okay, I finally became the athlete I always wanted to be. I dreamed of playing second base at Fenway, but if I couldn't play in Fenway, I would run in Fenway. To experience the kind of ovation and welcome home — the crowd, players, and media all cheering for me — was more than I could ever have hoped for, even as a player in Fenway Park.
After running across the country, I opened an athletic footwear and clothing store on Salem Street in Haines Square called Dave McGillivray Running & Sports Center, and started putting on events, — Bay State Triathlon at Writght’s Pond — to promote the store. I soon realized I liked putting on events more than putting shoes on people's feet. I opened an office five doors from my store for my sports event-planning business. And I lived in an apartment around the corner!
I got my start in Medford and want to give back to the city that gave me an opportunity and supported me, which is all I ever wanted in life, and my gratitude inspired the Run Medford event. I connected with the Mayor and other business folks from the city, and they all were 100% supportive of the concept. So this past September, we conducted the very first Run Medford event, a massive success that everybody's excited about bringing back next year, which I intend to do.
Among your many accolades, you are also an author many times over, both in autobiography and three children's books! Any other books in the works?
Yes, in my first book, The Last Pick, I write primarily about how to turn negatives into
positives, which has been the basis for many talks I've given to middle schoolers here in Medford and across Massachusetts. At the end of a speaking engagement in Westford, a teacher named Nancy Feehrer approached me and remarked that she'd never seen a speaker hold students' attention the way I had. Then she asked me if I had ever considered writing a children's book. I told her I had but hadn't pulled the trigger on it, and she offered to collaborate. So,we did, and that's how the books Dream Big, Running Across America, and Finish Strong were born.
Each book chronicles a different chapter of my running career. Dream Big is about my first few years running in the Boston Marathon and how the first year I dropped out and the second year, I wouldn't be denied and got through it and finished. The day I finished in 1973, I vowed to run this race every year for the rest of my life. And this past April, I ran it for the 50th consecutive time, without missing a year since I finished my first one. Running Across America is about my journey across the United States in 80 days. Finish Strong tells the story of my participation in the World Marathon Challenge, where I ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents.
What ties these books together is that they all incorporate a call to action. I didn't want to write a book, have a kid read it, and then jump on a smartphone. I wanted the books to live on in their DNA for the rest of their lives. Each book challenges kids to participate in the Dream Big Marathon Challenge. They log onto a website and sign up to commit to reading 26 books, running 26 miles, or performing 26 acts of kindness over 26 days, weeks, or months. In my world, those are the three pillars of life: running is health and fitness, taking care of yourself; reading books is education and literacy; acts of kindness are philanthropy and giving back.
Once they complete the challenges, they fill out a form and report back —tell me what books they read, the acts of kindness, and the physical challenges they performed — and we mail out a Dream Big Marathon Medal to them. I've had thousands of kids across America participate in the Dream Big Marathon Challenge on their own or in their classrooms in schools across the country. To me, it's a way to have kids get even more out of the book than just reading a book; it's a way to teach them how to make an impact.
I'm currently in the middle of a fifth book, describing my experiences both running in and directing the Boston Marathon, which I've been doing in tandem for the past 35 years. While there are many books about the Boston Marathon, I offer a unique perspective because I understand both sides of the equation.
While my title is Race Director, I'm two other things: a conductor, like an Arthur Fielder, bringing together the teams of experts who coordinate logistics and all the aspects of the Marathon. But I'm also a caretaker. The Marathon was here long before we all were born; now it's ours to take care of for a while. We'll eventually hand it over to someone else, but we are enhancing it, developing it, and managing its change from a field size of 1,000 to 30,000 people. There are so many stories to share: the inspiring tales, the comical ones, and of course, the story none of us will ever forget: the Marathon Bombing in 2013 and how we managed the race during the pandemic. The goal is for this book to be published by the Boston Marathon in April 2023.
There is no experience in the world like The Boston Marathon, and we have you to thank for it. In closing, knowing your roots here in Medford, what would you tell someone who said they were considering moving to Medford?
Remember the TV show "Cheers" and their tagline "Where everyone knows your name"? That applies to life in Medford. When I lived in Fulton heights, I knew people in West Medford, South Medford, and throughout town. Everyone knew everyone. And when I return, I still feel that inherited sense of family and connection continues. Of course, there have been changes, but it's a community of connection at the root.
Whenever someone asks me where I'm from, I always say, "Medford." I feel such gratitude to the community, and from what people here have shown me, they feel the same about me. I was valedictorian of my high school class, and I returned as a commencement speaker. At the Run Medford event earlier this year, I learned that the City will be dedicating the track at Hormel Stadium to me. I ran on that track 50 years ago as a high school athlete, and I would never have imagined that it would bear my name 50 years later. There's the saying, "You can take the kid out of Medford, but you can't take the Medford out of the kid," which still rings true for me.
The Dave McGillivray Finish Strong Foundation strives to inspire and empower youth across New England and beyond to increase physical activity, expand literacy, and build community and self-esteem through running, reading, and performing acts of kindness. You can learn more about the foundation and Dave McGillivray at www.dmsesports.com
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