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The Boston Globe

Sports

Bob Ryan

Joshua Cassidy turns in ride for the ages

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Canadian Joshua Cassidy, an accomplished artist, got to celebrate his athletic ability with a record-setting win in the Boston Marathon.

When he wasn’t answering questions, the man wearing the laurel wreath with the gold medal around his neck was giving those Tweet thumbs a pretty good workout.

“I had a lot of people contact me,’’ said Joshua Cassidy. “Just saying to them, ‘I won and I’m happy.’ ’’

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Now that Mr. Cassidy has both a Boston Marathon Men’s Wheelchair championship and a world record time of 1:18:25 to celebrate, he can attend to some unfinished business.

“I’d like to work for Marvel Comics,’’ he said. “That’s the Olympics of illustration.’’

Cassidy hesitates to call himself a renaissance man, but that doesn’t mean someone else can’t do it. An athlete with an artistic soul isn’t unprecedented - we’ve got accomplished artist Tom Heinsohn as Exhibit A - but the Athletes & Artists Society is relatively small and we can never make a big enough fuss about these people.

On a day when the heat was the No. 1 topic, the 27-year-old Canadian essentially ignored it. He obliterated the field, respectfully dismissing nine-time champ Ernst Van Dyk between the 4- and 5-mile mark, then creating significant space between himself and his three staunchest competitors, Australian Kurt Fearnley and the Japanese duo of Kota Hokinoue and two-time winner Masazumi Soejima. He could have crossed the finish line and done a victory lap around the Public Garden before anyone else made it to the end.

Cassidy was gracious enough to make an attempt at convincing people he really thought he was in a race, even though he appeared to be rolling solo for the last half of the course. He said he didn’t really feel secure until, yup, Heartbreak Hill, because he felt a lot better about going down an incline than he did about going up, especially since, as he explained, “Kurt Fearnley is the best climber in the world.’’

The Australian’s slim hope of victory did indeed rest on that fact. At least, that’s the way he saw it.

“I knew if I got to the top of the hill and didn’t see Josh’s [rear end], I was done and dusted,’’ he confessed.

He didn’t, and he was.

“Heartbreak Hill lived up to its name,’’ said the affable Aussie with a smile.

It will be interesting to see if Cassidy transforms his victory into a new work of art. Drawing, illustration, and painting are far more than just a pleasant diversionary mode of expression. He is a beguiling combination of brawn (massive forearms help explain his racing prowess), brain, and sensitivity. He is a 2009 graduate of Toronto’s Sheridan College and this reference to working at Marvel is hardly facetious.

It’s hard to imagine on a day like this that he is as passionate about art as he is about athletics, but he is.

“My teachers have asked me what is more important, my art or my athletics,’’ he once explained, “and I honestly say it is straight down the middle.’’

Of course, there is nothing to prevent him from indulging in both on the same day, or even in the same hour.

“If something is not working out on the drawing desk, then I go training,” he said. “Then I come back and do some drawings, which is an escape, as well.’’

No competitor, in any of the Marathon categories, got out of bed Monday thinking about breaking any records. An elite few could think about victory, but most everyone else was thinking about survival.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Men’s wheelchair winner Joshua Cassidy of Canada was all by himself when he broke the tape in a course- and world-record time of 1:18:25.

Cassidy was no different. But when he arrived at Heartbreak Hill feeling as good as he felt, he allowed himself to think about what had been, up to then, The Unthinkable. He wasn’t exactly sure what the Van Dyk record was, but he knew it had been in the books for a while (2004), and he knew was in the vicinity of 1:18:25. “That’s when I switched from the speedometer to the clock,’’ he said. And that’s when he found one last gear on this sweltering day.

He wasn’t sure he had broken the record of 1:18:27, even though the digital clock clearly read “1:18:25’’ as he crossed the line. The time would have to be verified, naturally, so he spent a few anxious moments awaiting the word. The wait was blissfully short. He was informed that, yes, he had both won the race and broken the record.

And now, who knows? This could be the start of something big.

That’s Fearnley’s belief, anyhow. “I can say I saw this coming when we trained together in Australia,’’ he said. “When I won in New York in 2006, it was what I needed to take it up a notch over the next few years. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this takes Josh up a notch, as well.’’

Josh Cassidy was born with neuroblastoma, a rare cancer commonly found in the spine and abdomen. He took up competitive wheelchair sports in his mid-teens. “I thought I could apply my life focus and attitude to sports,’’ he said. “I also wanted to use sports as a platform.’’

He happens to be a successful motivational speaker, and now he’s got a new punch line to the basic story.

The duality of careers has always fascinated competitors. “[Canadian paralympian] Jeff Adams has said that you can tell I’m an artist because of the creative way I get through the pack sometimes,’’ Cassidy said. “But today it was all about the work ethic.’’

The Artists & Athletes Society is one of society’s more exclusive clubs. I’d say that Josh Cassidy gets to chair the next meeting.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.
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