Published May 22, 2019
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — Life is about learning lessons and overcoming challenges, Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray told fifth graders during a May 17 assembly in the Lynnfield Middle School auditorium.
Fifth graders have been reading McGillivray’s children’s book “Dream Big: A True Story of Courage and Determination,” which is about the race director’s life and the challenges he has overcome.
McGillivray began the presentation by giving fifth grader Heavenly Claypool a medal.
“One of the most important things in life is to feel good about yourself,” said McGillivray. “That is the foundation by which we accomplish anything in life. The bottom of the medal I just gave you says ‘My next goal is to earn my own medal.’ What is going to happen Heavenly is you are going to go run your own race someday, and you are going to get a medal. On the back of the medal I just gave you is my home address, and you are going to mail that medal back to me. Why? I want to give it to somebody else. I have given away about 400 of those medals, and 390 have come back to me.”
McGillivray noted he grew up in Medford and had “big dreams” as a child. He wanted to become a professional athlete, but he was only 5’4.”
“I wanted to become an athlete, but unfortunately I was vertically challenged,” said McGillivray. “I wasn’t the tallest kid around and all of my friends were bigger than me. It was difficult for me because whenever my friends picked sides, I was always the last one picked. When I went out for team sports, I was always the last one cut. It was really difficult to overcome. I learned about the concept of rejection and I had to learn how to overcome it.”
After McGillivray was cut from Medford High School’s basketball team, he decided to place a sign over his bed that stated “Please God, make me grow.”
“He must have been on vacation,” McGillivray joked. “Obviously I didn’t grow physically, but I can look back on my life and say I did grow. I grew morally, ethically, intellectually and spiritually. I grew internally because it’s who you are on the inside more than who you are on the outside.”
McGillivray decided to start running because he knew he would not get cut from any team.
“I found my passion,” said McGillivray. “I became an athlete. I knew there was another way and I didn’t want to succumb to rejection.”
McGillivray recalled that he decided to run 12 miles on his 12th birthday, which prompted him to start running his birthday age in miles each year.
“I am going to run 65 miles when I turn 65 in a couple of months,” said McGillivray. “That is the challenge of it all. It gets exponentially more difficult. It keeps me connected with the past and keeps me thinking about health and fitness.”
McGillivray noted his motto in life is “My game, my rules.”
“In other words, it’s your life to live,” said McGillivray. “You decide what you want to do. You have parents, teachers, mentors and coaches giving you advice and guiding you. But at the end of the day, you decide what you want to do. Don’t ever allow someone to tell you that you can’t do something. It’s your life, your game and your rules.”
McGillivray noted he attempted running his first Boston Marathon when he was 17, but he was unable to finish the race after collapsing in Newton. He said his grandfather was slated to watch him cross the finish line at Coolidge Corner.
“I said to him, ‘I failed,’” said McGillivray. “And he said, ‘No you didn’t. You learned.’”
McGillivray said his grandfather told him to train in preparation for the next marathon, and he promised to be waiting for McGillivray at the finish line. Unfortunately, McGillivray’s grandfather passed away two months later. Undaunted, he kept up his training regiment and was ready to compete in the marathon when he was 18.
“I was training really hard and the day before the Boston Marathon, I got sick,” said McGillivray. “My parents said I couldn’t run, but I said I have to run because I was running in memory of my grandfather. I asked them to give me what very few people have given me before, which was a chance. All I want in life is a chance.”
McGillivray noted the race was incredibly difficult, and said he collapsed at the 21st mile. While sitting on the side of the road feeling dejected, McGillivray turned around and saw his grandfather’s tombstone in Evergreen Cemetery.
“My grandfather was there spiritually,” said McGillivray. “He kept his end of the deal and I decided to keep my end of the deal. I kept going and I finished in four-and-a-half hours. I decided on that day in 1973 that I was going run this race every year for the rest of my life. My grandfather taught me that you have to earn the right to do things.”
McGillivray noted he became the technical director of the Boston Marathon in 1988 after running 15 consecutive marathons.
“I was standing at the finish line of the 1988 marathon and I was high-fiving everyone who was finishing the race,” said McGillivray. “But I didn’t have a good feeling because I didn’t run for the first time in 16 years. I tapped a state police trooper on the shoulder and asked him to drive me back to the starting line. He asked me if I forgot something. I said, ‘Yeah, I forgot to run.’ He drove me back at 8 p.m. and I crossed the finish line dead last. There were three people, six pigeons and three squirrels waiting for me. I fulfilled my commitment to myself and my grandfather to keep running.”
McGillivray decided to run from Medford, Oregon to Medford, Massachusetts in 1978 in order to raise funds for the Jimmy Fund.
“I was going to do it for a greater purpose, not for just myself,” said McGillivray. “I went in and saw these kids at the Jimmy Fund Clinic. There is a sign in the clinic that says, ‘God only made so many perfect heads. The rest of them have hair on it.’ What that meant was these kids were turning a negative into a positive.”
McGillivray noted he ran across America in support of a boy named Brendan and a girl named Tara. He said both of them are cancer survivors.
“I thought about them all the time when I was in the middle of the desert or running over the Rocky Mountains,” said McGillivray. “I knew that running five-and-a-half million footsteps across America was not the same battle that these kids were fighting.”
McGillivray recalled that he participated in eight Ironman Triathlons in Hawaii, where he had to swim 2 ½ miles in the ocean, go on a 112-mile bike ride and run a marathon in one day.
“I did the Ironman eight times in the 1980s,” said McGillivray
McGillivray also ran up the eastern seaboard with wheelchair racer Bob Hall during 1980’s East Coast Run, which the two friends completed in 38 days.
“It was pretty inspiring,” McGillivray said about his friend’s accomplishment.
McGillivray completed the Boston Marathon while blindfolded and being escorted by two guides in 1981, which enabled him to raise $10,000 for the Carroll Center for the Blind. He also completed the World Marathon Challenge last year, which entailed finishing seven marathons in seven days. He said the marathons were held on all seven continents including Antarctica.
“I have done all of these different things because I want to give back,” said McGillivray. “I want to take my athleticism and use it for a good cause and raise money for people who are less fortunate. Over the years, we have probably raised over $200 million for various charities. That is what I am most proud of. Not all the running, but all the giving.”
McGillivray recalled that he completed this year’s Boston Marathon six months after having triple bypass open heart surgery. He was thrilled he was able to keep his marathon streak going.
“I have run the last 47 years in a row,” said McGillivray. “The comeback is always stronger than the setback.”
McGillivray said accomplishing goals is incredibly satisfying.
“I am not up here telling you that you should be a runner,” said McGillivray. “I am telling you that you should follow your heart and follow your passion. Every day is a gift and you should take advantage of it. I have learned that there are no mistakes, only lessons. There is no such thing as failure. The only way that you fail is if you don’t try. If there is something you want to do, you should go after it.”
After McGillivray concluded his remarks and participated in a question and answer session, he was given a round of applause. He also signed copies of “Dream Big” for several students.