With its history, prestige and popularity, one would think the Race is greater than its racers. The Race – I am referring to Boston Marathon here – demands so much out of runners, alters their lifestyle, and upper handedly crashes dreams of many eager runners year after year. It is one of the most exclusive marathon races, if not the most exclusive, that there is. However, John A. Kelley who ran 60 Boston Marathons with two wins and seven second places was as great as the Race itself to many. Young at Heart: The Story of Johnny Kelley, Boston’s Marathon Man, beautifully illustrates and brings forth tributes to his life that captivates and inspires runners of all ages. At the same time, the book loosely chronicles the history of Boston Marathon with Johnny as the main character, especially during those 60 years when Johnny kept running.
It must have been his destiny when his father’s parents emigrated from Ireland and landed in Boston on April 10, 1870 on S.S. Marathon. Boston Marathon started in 1897 (with only 15 runners!) and had already become a Boston tradition by the time Johnny was 13. That was when he first experienced the marathon. Soon after that, he discovered taste of distance running, and the history was in its making. In 1928, he entered his first Boston Marathon at the young age of 20. Though he was not able to finish the first two marathons, his talent blossomed several years later and he made a name for himself when he took second in 1934. The rest was history.
With 119 marathons completed and as a three-time Olympian (Berlin, Helsinki, and London), his athletic talent cannot be argued and truly impressive. But what makes me drawn to his character is his longevity – the fact he ran Boston year after year until he was 84 years old. Many elite runners had come and gone during these 60 years, and nobody comes anywhere close to what Johnny has achieved. He seems to give the credit to his luck, genes and support system, but obviously he knew what he was doing to stay healthy, injury free and focused for such a long time. He was king of conditioning.
Besides his running, the book shares his personal stories about his family, wives and friends. Obviously his talent and fame helped, but his down-to-earth and humble personality drew many people closer to him, not only locally from Boston but from all over the world. There is a lot of love he gave and received. Readers of this book will surely enjoy this aspect of his life.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and wish I read this sooner. I highly recommend this book, not only to competitive runners but to anyone who likes to read about inspiring people.