Photo Courtesy of Boston Public Library
The 119th annual Boston Marathon takes place on Monday, April 20, 2015, a good time to reflect on John Adelbert Kelley, considered by many to be the quintessential amateur runner who exemplifies the spirit of the Boston Marathon.
Kelley ran his first marathons in 1928 and 1932 but did not finish either race. He ran again in 1933 and then competed in every single race through 1992! He finished in the top 10 eighteen times, taking first place in 1935 and again in 1945. He owns the record for the most races started (61) and the most finished (58). His best time was two hours and thirty minutes, posted in 1943. He was 84 when he ran his last race in 1992, posting a time of five hours and fifty-eight minutes.
He was christened Johnny "The Elder" Kelley, when John J. Kelley (no relation) emerged as a champion in the 1950s, winning the race in 1957.
Kelley was born in 1907 in Medford, MA, and traces his ancestry to County Wexford. "My father's people left to go to Australia," he told The Boston Globe in 1981, when he was preparing for his fiftieth race. "The boat stopped in Boston and they never left."
In 1993 the Boston Athletic Association erected a statue honoring Johnny Kelley on Heartbreak Hill in Newton. The twin statues depict Kelley in 1935 and again in 1995, holding hands as they cross the proverbial finish line.
For more on Boston Irish history and heritage, visit IrishHeritageTrail.com or visitIrishMassachusetts.com.