Marathon Man

John J. Kelly (AP Photo)Racer John J. Kelley, winner of the 1957 Boston Marathon, the 1959 Pan American Games marathon and eight consecutive U.S. Marathons, was dubbed the first modern American road runner by Runner’s World magazine.

Writer and adventurer Steve Fagin called him “friend.”

Fagin wrote about his famous friend, who died Sunday, Aug. 21, at age 80, in a beautifully written piece titled Johnny Kelley’s Long Run: Remembering a Friend, published in The Day of New London, Connecticut.

He described a young Kelley as “a boyish figure with a mop of dirty-blond hair and twinkle in his eye, frequently seen bounding along River Road in Mystic. In early years he flew like the wind; later he strolled with his dog.”

Fagin listed well-known facts about Kelley’s life. The runner taught English and coached cross-country teams at Fitch Senior High School in Groton, Connecticut. He led Sunday runs from his home in Mystic, Connecticut, “that allowed amateur joggers to rub elbows with some of the best marathoners in the land.” He owned a sporting goods store, where he sold running shoes and dispensed advice and encouragement to runners.

Best were Fagin’s personal stories about running, kayaking or swimming with his friend. Most touching were Kelley’s rescue of an ant from a sugar bowl and his choices to either allow fellow runners to set the pace in road races or to slowly pull away from the rest of the field.

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This post was contributed by Alana Baranick, a freelance obituary writer who lives in Northeast Ohio. She is director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers and chief author of Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers.