Google recognized an early and overlooked Indigenous sports hero by featuring long distance runner Thomas “Tom” Longboat with the Doodle on its homepage today (June 4). The Doodle commemorates what would have been Longboat’s 131st birthday.
Indian Country Today and Google both describe Longboat as a member of the Onondaga peoples, an Indigenous group that lives on land currently spread between northern New York state and the Canadian province of Ontario. The Onondaga form part of the Six Nations Reserve of the Grand River, and Longboat was born on the nations’ Ontario reservation in 1887. His Onondaga name, Cogwagee, means “everything.” Longboat began distance racing as a teenager after seeing Bill Davis, another Indigenous athlete, earn second place in the 1901 Boston Marathon.
According to the Boston Athletic Association, Longboat won the 1907 marathon with a time of two hours, 24 minutes and 24 seconds, setting the record for the fastest winning time in any Boston Marathon to that point. It also made him the first Indigenous person to win the race.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) noted that Longboat developed a training regimen based on teachings from community members that involved alternating between training days and long-distance walking. Most competitive distance runners now regard such training variety as essential to building endurance, but the CBC said that Longboat endured criticism from people who thought he wasn’t training the “right” way. Per the CBC, this critique, along with unfounded allegations that he had a drinking problem, arose from the racist expectations placed on Indigenous people in North America.
Longboat left racing in 1912 and went on to serve the Canadian Army as a dispatch runner in World War I. He died on his home reservation in 1949. The Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, whose website refers to him as “Canada’s greatest long distance runner,” inducted him in 1955.