Director of Athletics and Recreation Jack McDonald Featured In Waterbury Republican-American

"Cheshire Family Marathon" by Joe Palladino, Waterbury Republican-American (April 10, 2012)

Palladino: Cheshire family marathon 

We are one week away from the 116th annual Boston/McDonald Family Marathon.

The Cheshire McDonalds — that would be dad, Jack, and sons Brian, David, John Jr. and James — will run the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston on Patriot's Day.

They have graciously allowed about 25,000 others to join them.

Jack McDonald, who last ran Boston in 1978, gives the race another go, this time at age 60. In the highly competitive McDonald household, dad believed that if he completed a marathon, for crying out loud, so should everyone else. When the family gathered for Thanksgiving in November of 2011, dad fetched the gauntlet.

"I told them, 'You bozos have got to run a marathon.'"

Apparently, the word "bozos" did the trick, and all four boys accepted the challenge. All have trained and are healthy and will run on April 16, dad included, although he is not making any promises about finishing.

But that's the beauty of this family challenge. It is not about time or place, but about creating something of a family running legacy.

Sports is at the forefront of the McDonald household. Jack is in his 17th year as athletic director at Quinnipiac University. He is a Boston native, a Boston College graduate, and was for 10 years the track coach at B.C.

McDonald, in his prime, was a fast dude. In 1976 he ran an indoor mile in 4:00.9, still the fastest indoor mile ever run in New England.

In 1973, while a B.C. student, McDonald started the Greater Boston Track Club, which became one of the most renowned clubs in the nation. You may have heard of a few club members, guys named Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar.

The four McDonald boys all attended Cheshire High, where they ran track or played lacrosse. All went on to Quinnipiac.

But only the old man has run Boston.

"I asked them, 'If I can get you a (bib) number, would you run it?'" McDonald said.

Apparently, McDonald still has a few connections in Boston, because they all have a bib, and come next Monday morning, shortly after 10 a.m., they will dash out of corral No. 9 as part of the marathon's third wave.

Mom, Linda, is the smart one. She plans to spectate and, if needed, have the car at the ready just in case her husband needs mobile assistance to get to the finish line.

McDonald can tell some ripping marathon yarns. A good one comes from the 1978 race, won, by the way, by that Rodgers guy. McDonald is laboring on the course, which is not surprising when a miler puts 26 one mile races end to end. He is wearing his B.C. running shorts, and he has his track club jersey on, so when he hears a swell of applause and cheers on Heartbreak Hill, he assumes the crowd has just spotted him.

"They must have been cheering for me," he thought at the time. "All of a sudden a woman comes running up from behind and passes me, and says, 'Let's get going Jack.'"

That woman was Lynn Jennings. Just 18 years-old at the time and a Boston prep phenom, Jennings would become America's greatest road racer and an Olympic medalist in the 10,000 meters.

The marathon is a supreme athletic challenge, and McDonald, who organized marathon training clinics for years, used a simple teaching technique.

"I would say, 'If I put a million dollars 26 miles away, could you get there in six hours?' They always said, 'Yes.' I would say, 'OK, the clinic is over.'

Next week the McDonald clan — Brian is in the Coast Guard, Jack and Jim are businessmen, David a grad student, and dad the athletic director — go after that fictitious million-dollar stash, and something more precious, family honor, at the finish line of the 116th Boston Marathon.

Send comments to jpalladino@rep-am.com