PROVIDENCE — On Monday, more than 30,000 runners will face the heart-pounding challenge of mounting “Heartbreak Hill” between Miles 20 and 21 of the 126th Boston Marathon.
But not everyone knows that the Newton hill’s name stems, not from the heartache of bonking on that 91-foot climb, but from the inspired performance of one of Rhode Island’s greatest runners, Ellison “Tarzan” Brown Sr. of the Narragansett Indian tribe.
On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Anna Brown-Jackson recounts how her grandfather broke Johnny Kelley’s heart when the legendary Massachusetts runner caught Tarzan Brown on that hill and patted his backside – “as if to say good job and move over” – prompting Brown to pick up his pace and beat Kelley in the 1936 Boston Marathon.
During Monday’s race, runners will pass by a statue in Newton, about a mile from Heartbreak Hill, that commemorates Kelley’s long and impressive running career, duirng which he competed in a record 61 Boston Marathons and won two of them.
But there is no statue of Brown, who won the Boston Marathon in 1936 (2:33:40) and 1939 (2:28:51) and competed in the 1936 Olympic marathon in Berlin.
Brown-Jackson, who lives in Narragansett and works as an accountant at the University of Rhode Island, thinks there should be a statue in Rhode Island honoring her grandfather, who was born in Westerly and lived in Charlestown.
“But I also think there should be one at the Boston Marathon,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be exactly near (the statue of) Johnny Kelly, but it should be on Heartbreak Hill because without one, you wouldn’t have had the other. The two of them are the reason we have Heartbreak Hill.”
Meanwhile, she said, plans are underway to dedicate a trail in Brown’s name in the Nature Conservancy’s Carter Preserve in Charlestown.
Also, Brown-Jackson said her grandfather’s Narragansett tribal name was Deerfoot, and the annual Deerfoot 5K Run will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 30, at Ninigret Park in Charlestown.
“So many athletes and famous people have schools, parks, streets, athletic complexes named after them,” she said. “My grandfather has none of that. After our grandmother’s death in 2015, the grandchildren wanted to change this. So we have been working hard to bring attention to his story and accomplishments – hopefully, for our grandchildren and their grandchildren to see.”
Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.