How Could a Thirteen Year Old Girl Set a World's Best in the Marathon in 1967?
|Maureen Wilton May 6, 1967|
One of the youngest ever world running record holders, Maureen Wilton of Willowdale, Ontario was a 13 year old Canadian girl who put all of two weeks of rather questionable training into running her first marathon. She was not new to the sport of running but to long distance she was a neophyte. A member of the North York Track Club in 1967, she had been training since the age of nine. But nothing prior to her effort on May 6, 1967 gave much indication that a world's best time was about to be recorded. Women were still fighting for a place on the roads with men, and I'm not referring to being allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia, but to compete in races of the same distance that men ran every weekend. Today even with the majority of marathoners being women, the under 60 age crowd are probably not even aware that this was an issue fifty years ago. Now it's rare that we see a man on the cover of a running magazine. I won't go into that in this piece. Never the less women were not welcome on the roads in 1967. Less than a month earlier, Kathryn Switzer had been able against the will of the organizers to run in and complete the Boston Marathon. Jock Semple, race director and never one to mince words or actions, tried to 'man handle' Kathryn off the course, but in that famous photo, the men around her kept Jock at bay and Kathryn on course. Bobbi Gibb won that race at Boston in 3:27.17 as well as 1966 and 68, and Switzer was second in 4:20.02.
|Bobbi Gibb winning Boston in 1966|
|Gibb post race|
|In 1967 Switzer getting mugged by Jock Semple race director at Boston|
|Years Later Forgive and not Forget|
Maureen's Wilton's story was brought to my attention last week at a running club workout when Jamie Kantor told me that there had been a story on the CBC that day about a young Canadian woman setting a world best for the marathon back in 1967. I was intrigued by the story, and couldn't think who that might have been. I thought Jamie might have been confusing Jaqueline Gareau who came along years later in 1979-80. So I looked up the CBC story when I got home. You can see it for yourself by clicking on "Maureen Wilton" at the bottom of this page. This is not the first time this story has been written, but for some reason it has filtered through the pages of various running magazines over the last twenty years, and its significance each time has been forgotten. A google search will bring out some of those other stories.
|Maureen and Her Parents after the Race|
|Maureen getting her award after the race and Sy Mah in Yellow Shirt|
Maureen's daughter Carolyn became a runner and was good enough to get a scholarship to run at West Alabama University. That was an opportunity not available to Maureen when she was old enough to attend university. Amazingly Maureen had never told her daughter about her running career until Carolyn was well into her career. Maureen eventually earned her way through her studies into a career in the financial world, and now at 58 years has taken on a whole new career in dog training.
Regarding Maureen's life after a world best, her family went to their lake cottage after the race and were surprised when they came home to see the overwhelmingly negative press coverage about her accomplishment. Even the track and field establishment was down on her achievement. Since then Maureen is yet to be considered for a Hall of Fame nomination anywhere in her native land. She has been soundly applauded at some recent events when Kathryn Switzer came to Canada and told the story to a packed audience at a pre-race event and then introduced Maureen who was sitting next to her totally unrecognized. Maureen Wilton , now Maureen Mancuso was finally acknowledged and given a heartfelt ovation from her fellow runners.
|Sy Mah in Olander Park, Toledo, Ohio|
Sy Mah would move on from Toronto to be an assistant professor of physical education at the University of Toledo. He was very instrumental in the running community in Northwest Ohio in the 1970s and 80s until his untimely death in 1988. Today his statue stands in Olander Park where many road races took place in Toledo and the annual Glass City Marathon. His name is on the mugs given to all finishers.
See the CBC story which put me on to this post.
Maureen Wilton by David Giddens, CBC Sports
I share your concern about young kids running marathons. I looked up the current world best for 13 year old girls and it is now 2 hr. 44 min. Thirteen year old boys is 2hr. 43 minutes. Also of note is that the girls' record was set in 1987, the boys' record in 1977. This indicates that nobody is trying to beat the record and putting their kids' health at stake anymore. At least not on a grand scale. The records are listed down to 4 year olds. Remember in the late sixties early seventies there were groups of parents trying really hard to have their kids doing long distance stuff. Even Runners' World put out some pamphlet books on a group called PaMaKids who were promoting family togetherness through distance running. There are probably still a few parents promoting such activitiy. Fortunately they are few and far between. But child abuse is rampant in many forms in our country and throughout the world, certainly not just through sport. For 15 years I worked in the field of very serious child abuse, and if there was a common thread in those cases, most parents never felt that what they were doing to their children was out of the ordinary. It would probably be very hard to prosecute a parent for training a kid to run a marathon today, even knowing that the child's health and well being might be at risk. Look at how controversial the vaccination question is. That said I recently saw a film from India about a little boy training to run marathons. He had run 48 marathons by the age of 4 when the HBO film was made. He was clearly being exploited, because the coach of this slum kid was obviously doing a lot of self promotion and making money off the child. Someone murdered the coach. I hesitate to say 'fortunately murdered' but the thought did come to mind. See Marathon Boy trailer. Of interest, that child is no longer running marathons, and someone has looked out for him, and he is getting an education in a boarding school which would certainly have been out of his family's reach had he not had that notorious past. In other ways less flagrant but still exploitative we see in every grandstand and every performance hall children being driven by aggressive parents to the brink of exhaustion to excel in various activities. Psychological abuse is no less devastating than physical abuse. Any college coach today can tell you stories of exploitative parents they have had to deal with. This is not only sport but spelling bees, dance, piano, theater etc. The parent clearly driving the child to thrive where the parent has failed..or excelled. In some societies it is seen as the only way out of poverty such as baseball in the Caribbean and South American countries as well as soccer. In their own way the East Germans and Soviet Bloc promoted their societal beliefs in the 70s, and there are still vestiges of that past in Russia today.
In Maureen Wilton's case, it was fortunate that her experience was a one and done. She was clearly a natural and her effort probably not much more than the equivalent of a long hike on a family outing.
To Once Upon a Time in the Vest
After coaching all ages of kids for fifty (50) years, I read with interest the Mo Wilton story and her marathon run at age thirteen (13). I can appreciate all of this since my club, the Kettering Striders, was one of the earliest running clubs in the US for young girls and from the beginning I trained them the same as if they were boys. In the late 60's, girls running anything was a cause for questions and much tsk tsking among the general population. I took girls from my PE classes in Kettering, Ohio and had them running round the school grounds and up and down the hills in a neighborhood pasture. None of them seemed to complain nor suffer any damage from the regimen I put them through. That first season I took them to one cross country race and a couple of road races. It was so unusual that our local paper ran an action picture with the caption: " What is this ? It is a girl running " Though the girls usually ran races in X-C up to two miles, they did participate in a half-marathon once each year with some as young as ten (10) completing the distance. When properly trained, kids can complete and enjoy the longer races. I cannot comment on how old one must be to run a marathon as we just didn't do it.........maybe too much of a good thing ! Remember something else folks: Not everyone is competitive at the same point in their lives. Ideally, it would be best if your most competitive peak came between the ages of twenty five (25) and thirty (30) but that doesn't always happen. Sometimes it may happen when the runner is thirteen (13) and when people see this boy/girl run, they immediately start with the " just think how good he/ or she will be when" (fill in what you usually hear) . All you can really do is say Bonnie/Robbie is a good runner and let it go at that ! Steve Price 1-20-17