April 18, 2016 09:16AM
By CATHERINE HEWITT
Sun Staff Writer
Narragansett tribal member Mikki Wosencroft of Manhattan planned to run today’s Boston Marathon in honor of fellow Narragansett Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, who grew up in Charlestown and Westerly and won the marathon in 1936 and 1939.
The 2016 race is the 80th anniversary of Brown’s first marathon victory, the 50th anniversary of women being allowed to race, and the 120th anniversary of the marathon. Brown was also a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic team.
To mark the anniversary of Brown’s first victory, the Boston Athletic Association presented “Native American Running: Culture, Health, Sport,” a free, multiday event leading up to the marathon that explored the history and importance of Native American running traditions and featured speakers and panel discussions. The event was a collaboration of the association, Harvard University, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and the Harvard University Native American Program.
Along with Brown, the athletic association celebrated Thomas Longboat, a distance runner of the Onondaga Six Nations people, who won the marathon and set a course-record time of 2:24:24 in 1907.
Wosencroft, 38, said she has run a number of marathons and always dreamed of running in Boston.
“I have run the Cox Communications race in Providence, and the New York City Marathon three times, the Miami Marathon twice, and a marathon in Quebec,” she said. “Anyone who runs marathons dreams of running Boston because it’s the oldest marathon in the world — the crown jewel of the marathon world.”
“Since I was a kid I always wanted to run Boston one day, so this is an incredible honor for me,” she said.
After deciding to celebrate Brown’s accomplishments this year, the athletic association asked the Brown family if one of his descendants could run the marathon, but none could.
Wosencroft said that because her family and the Browns were close, she was asked to run in Tarzan’s honor.
“Tarzan Brown is a hero to everyone in the tribe — everyone knows about Tarzan because he was the first American Indian to win the Boston Marathon,” she said.
Donna-Jean Wosencroft, Mikki’s mother, said her father knew Tarzan Brown well.
“My father was close friends with Tarzan, and he was at our house all the time,” she said. “My dad used to run with him when he was training, and they hunted together.
“The tribe is close — his sister married my mom’s cousin — we were always close,” she added.
Mikki Wosencroft said recognition of Brown’s accomplishments shows that anyone with talent and perseverance can accomplish his or her goals.
“When he won in 1936 — and then he did it again — it proved that anyone was capable of winning,” she said. “It wasn’t just if you had great training, or the right equipment and the right shoes, or if you were the right race — if you had the skill and the gift, you could win.
“That’s one of the neat things about this year in terms of highlighting all of the First Nations runners and all of the women who have challenged the idea that ‘you can’t do it,’” she said.
Indeed, Heartbreak Hill, an ascent of hills on the Boston Marathon course near Boston College, was so named in 1936 when Brown, who was leading the race, was briefly overtaken by runner John A. Kelley. The two runners struggled for the lead until Tarzan took the lead again. Reporter Jerry Nason christened the spot “Heartbreak Hill” because Tarzan “broke Kelley’s heart” there.
Mikki Wosencroft said other runners often talk about how difficult Heartbreak Hill is because of its location along the race.
“I’ve heard that the uphill isn’t too bad but it’s the downhill, because it’s really steep and that really taxes your legs after you’ve run 21 miles,” she said.
Donna-Jean Wosencroft, who was born in Westerly and recently moved back from Georgia, said she’s spending the weekend in Boston to attend the celebration of Brown’s life and to watch Mikki run the marathon.
“It’s important to us all that he’s being honored,” she said. “I think the recognition is wonderful.”