[On April 19th, 1897, the first Boston Marathon was run. So for the 125th anniversary of this iconic road race, this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of Marathon histories and contexts, leading up to a special Guest Post from my favorite RunningStudier!]
On three layers to the infamous Boston Marathon scandal beyond the headlines.
1) New York and Boston: I’ve been reading recently about the Mandela Effect, the way in which large groups of people can remember something differently than how it actually took place. I don’t know if this quite qualifies, but it seems to me that Rosie Ruiz is consistently remembered for having cheated her way to the 1980 Boston Marathon women’s title by taking the subway instead of running the full course. Yet that’s in fact a combination of two different sides to Ruiz’s story: she was discovered to have cheated to the Boston title (by jumping out of the crowd on Commonwealth Avenue near the finish line) and stripped of that crown; and subsequently, stories came out about her being spotted on the subway during the 1979 New York City marathon, which had provided her qualifying time for Boston and which was then also stripped from her record. Obviously these are parallel and interconnected stories, but the combination of them into one event reveals at the very least the need to reexamine our collective memories of any figure and history.
2) Subsequent crimes: As far as I can tell, Ruiz largely disappeared from the public record after those 1980 revelations, with two specific, also parallel exceptions: her April 1982 arrest in New York (on the same day as the Boston Marathon) for embezzling from a real estate company; and her November 1983 arrest as part of a South Florida drug bust. These arrests would seem to indicate that both Ruiz’s propensity for cheating and her troubled life went far beyond the 1979 and 1980 sports scandals, but it’s also possible to see them another way: that after those scandals (before which the 26-year-old Ruiz had never been arrested) her life went off the rails, spiraling into additional criminal behavior. Obviously that’s a chicken-and-egg type question, and the answer wouldn’t change the facts of these different unethical and illegal actions in any case. But it’s always worth thinking about narratives of contingency and inevitability when it comes to the arc of any individual life, just as with all of history.
3) A Cuban American childhood: Ruiz was born in Havana, and immigrated to (or rather fled to, given the realities of movement under Castro’s regime) the United States with her family in 1962, when she was 8. She was apparently then separated from her mother and lived with extended family in South Florida. I don’t want to overstate the relevance of these complex childhood details, as of course the vast majority of either Cuban Americans or immigrant children separated from their parents do not go on to a life of cheating and criminality. Yet if we simply examine Ruiz’s own life, it’s fair to say that these early experiences would have been influential, and perhaps more specifically that they left her with feelings of instability or uncertainty about such foundational elements as home and family. All part of understanding the story of Rosie Ruiz beyond the headlines, anyway.
Next Marathon split tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other Boston Marathon histories or stories you’d highlight?