EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 18, 2010

Rosie's Run

By Bill Burt
bburt@eagletribune.com

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally ran in The Eagle-Tribune on April 16, 2000, 20 years after Rosie Ruiz "won" the Boston Marathon. Ruiz, who married and changed her name to Rosie Vivas, spoke exclusively to The Eagle-Tribune a few weeks before the 2000 race. Since the story first ran, former race director Will Cloney has passed away. Ruiz is believed to be living in South Florida and has not run a race since her "victory.''

The voice is very pleasant and professional. It is also unmistakable.

"This is Rosie Vivas, may I help you?"

Then she realizes the caller who reached her at her office in south Florida knows who she really is.

"You've got the wrong person," and the receiver slams down.

No, it really is Rosie. Rosie Ruiz. Our Rosie Ruiz.

Twenty years ago this week, she came out of nowhere to win the Boston Marathon.

Minutes after she was crowned with the winner's laurel wreath, it was clear she really had come out of nowhere.

Men's winner Bill Rodgers asked, "What were your splits?" Ruiz answered, "What are splits?"

Within a week, her title was gone.

"I ran the race," she said in 1980.

"I ran the race," she says now, before cutting short another call to her office.

Rosie M. Vivas — she married in 1984, divorced in 1986 but kept her ex-husband's name — is still running these days. Running away from the fame, or infamy, she won as Rosie Ruiz.

By most accounts, she actually ran only about a mile of the 26.2-mile course back on April 21, 1980, jumping into the race somewhere between Kenmore Square and Mass. Ave. But no marathoner left a more indelible mark.

"Rosie Ruiz is the most famous runner of all-time," says four-time Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers. "Really, to the general public and the media, everybody knows about Rosie Ruiz. I think it's kind of funny, to be honest."

A few months ago, she was an answer to a question on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Of course, the contestant's final answer was the right one.

"I watch (the Boston Marathon) every year," Rosie Vivas once told the Palm Beach Post. "I'm a masochist."

Everybody knows what Rosie Ruiz did in the 1980 marathon: She cheated.

What happened to Ruiz before and after Boston is not so well known.

Born in Cuba in 1953, she arrived in Florida as a child with her mom.

In late 1973, after periodic headaches and blackouts, she underwent surgery in Miami to remove a tangerine-sized tumor from her head. Five years later, a plastic plate was inserted into her skull.

She moved to New York City soon after and took the step that would change her life.

She filled out an application for the 1979 New York Marathon. On the form, she estimated her time of arrival at the finish line in Central Park at 4 hours and 10 minutes.

She crossed the finish line in 2:56:29, the 11th woman overall.

Nobody made a fuss, except for her office mates at Metal Traders Incorporated. Her boss, a jogger himself, was so proud he paid her way to Boston the following April.

Her time in New York was good enough to qualify her for Boston — good enough, in fact, to earn her the number "W50," as the 50th-ranked woman runner.

After Boston, her life fell apart. In 1982, she spent a week in a New York jail before being placed on probation for stealing $60,000 in cash and checks from the Manhattan real estate company where she worked.

She hit the road back to southern Florida. But a year later, she was nabbed with two other women selling two kilos of cocaine to undercover agents at the Miami Airport Marriott.

The Miami Herald reported Rosie was "the middle-woman, the arranger, the broker," of the failed drug deal. She spent three weeks in jail but again was placed on probation.

Trying to follow her over the next decade is like going through a maze. She moved often, changing post office boxes as often as others change clothes.

Today, the 46-year-old Rosie Vivas lives in West Palm Beach and works nearby as an account representative.

"Uh, Bill, hi, this is Rosie," she says on the voice mail last week. "Listen, I was going to call you back the other day when you left me a message ...

"I don't have anything personally against you ... The reason I cannot talk with you about anything to do with races or with my life or with anything like that is because I have a previous commitment that I cannot break, OK? I cannot break that commitment."

What was Rosie Ruiz thinking that afternoon 20 years ago?

Was she looking for international fame by winning the historic marathon?

Or was she just trying to finish high enough to impress her boss and co-workers back in New York, only to mistime her jump-in?

That's what Bill Rodgers, the men's champion that day, thinks.

"She had no idea she was going to win," says Rodgers. "Just looking at her and talking to her, she was overwhelmed. It wasn't someone who planned to win."

"I have something in the works, OK?" Rosie Vivas says on the voice mail. "For a lot of people that have asked me and have written to me and have someway gotten through to me to talk with me about what I feel, which is something that no one else has done, OK?"

Susan Morrow went to her first New York City Marathon in 1979 to watch a friend who was among the 8,000 entries. The Greenwich Village resident hopped a train at the West 4th Street station.

"I saw this woman in running clothes with her head down," says Morrow, a free-lance photographer and designer. "The seat next to her was open. So I sat there."

Morrow wanted to talk to the woman, but was afraid to because she appeared upset.

The woman said, "Do you know what time it is?" recalls Morrow.

Soon they made introductions.

"She said, 'Hi, I'm Rosie Ruiz,' " says Morrow. "I'll never forget that."

Rosie Ruiz told Morrow she had hurt her ankle about the 10-mile mark.

Before long, the two women realized they were both headed to the same place: the marathon finish line at Tavern on the Green in Central Park.

They got off at Columbus Circle and made their way through a series of barricades manned by police officers and race volunteers.

"Every time we got to a barricade, she would put her arm on my shoulder, like she was leaning on me, and the police would let us through."

At one barricade, the limping Ruiz stopped at a table, grabbed a can of juice, opened it and poured it over her head. "I remember thinking it was a little weird," says Morrow. "But I figured that's what all runners do."

They reached the last barricade, 50 feet from the finish line. "Rosie said, 'I'm an injured runner,' and all of sudden, about 10 people surround her and start helping her out," says Morrow. "They took her to the medical area and I got to go, too. It was right at the finish line."

A few minutes later, Morrow says, Ruiz came back and asked for her telephone number.

"We'll have lunch some time next week," she said.

A week later, Morrow's phone rang.

"Susan, hi, it's Rosie," the caller said.

"Rosie?" Morrow replied, caught off guard.

"And she said, "You forgot me already,''' says Morrow.

The pair never got together for lunch.

Six months later, Morrow was home watching Boston Marathon highlights on TV.

"I saw this woman on the winner's stand with the wreath on her head," says Morrow. "And I almost fell out of my chair. That was the woman I sat with on the train. I remember starting to feel real nervous. I didn't know what to do."

News spread that Ruiz may have cheated in Boston. Her 11th-place finish in the New York City Marathon also became suspect.

Morrow's runner friend told her to call the New York Times. She did, and spoke with sportswriter Neil Amdur.

Amdur, today the Times sports editor, took Morrow to a press conference Ruiz had called in New York to defend herself.

"He wanted me to see if she was the one who was on the subway," says Morrow. "He pointed to her and I said, 'Yes. That's her!' "

Twenty years later, Morrow is still proud of being a footnote to the Rosie Ruiz story.

"I'm the only person in the world that knows for a fact that Rosie Ruiz didn't run the New York Marathon," she says. "My only regret is I didn't have my camera with me that day. A picture of Rosie in the subway train or near the medical tent would probably be worth $25,000 today. Maybe more."

"I would appreciate, if you are some kind of a, one of the rare breeds of journalists. And you don't know me from Adam. But if you could keep that other specific part out of the newspaper," Rosie Vivas says on the voice mail, asking that the company where she now works not be named. "I would appreciate it, just to make my life a little easier."

John H. Faulkner was a Harvard senior when he and classmate Sola Mahoney went to their first Boston Marathon in 1980.

It was a warm day so they decided to jog over the Mass. Ave. bridge, crossing the Charles River from Cambridge and running right into the race course on Commonwealth Ave.

"Bill Rodgers and the leaders had just come by before we got there," says Faulkner. "It was about 2:15 or 2:20 and the male runners were coming in sporadically."

At one point, Faulkner remembers, he looked to his right as runners approached from Kenmore Square.

"I see this woman in a yellow T-shirt, sort of stumbling from the crowd onto the street," he says.

"Her arms were flailing away, like she was swimming. She was just very erratic. I told Sola, and we just stood there thinking, 'The gall of that woman.'''

Minutes later he heard a loud roar from Kenmore Square as Jacqueline Gareau, a Canadian runner, came through.

"Those people thought that Gareau was the first woman," recalls Faulkner.

Faulkner didn't give another thought to the woman in the yellow T-shirt as he jogged back across the Charles to his dorm.

"I figured that woman would just jump out before the end or somebody would stop her."

That evening, a friend who happened to be one of Harvard's top woman runners asked if he'd heard about the controversy over the women's marathon winner.

"I told her, 'I hope it's not that woman,''' Faulkner recalls.

He knew it was when he checked the newspapers the next day.

Urged on by his roommate, Faulkner blew the whistle and became a minor media celebrity himself for a few days.

"By the end of the week, I was tired of it and decided to visit some friends at Brown (University) in Providence," says Faulkner. "I had to get away from the madness."

Now a lawyer for a major investment banking company in Manhattan, Faulkner laughs about his Rosie Ruiz moment 20 years ago.

"The way I look at it, I ran longer, from Commonwealth Ave. to my on-campus apartment, than she ran in the Boston Marathon," says Faulkner.

"I understand where you're coming from and, believe me," says Rosie Vivas on the voice mail, "I have calls from all over the country all the time. It's not even close to the marathon when I get these calls. This week, they seem to be flowering, and raining and everything else like that ... I am sorry and, will reiterate what I just said, I cannot meet with you, OK?"

Of Bill Rodgers' four Boston Marathon victories, the last one, on April 21, 1980, was the most uneventful, and most painful.

A road-racing icon after be broke the course record to beat Toshihiko Seko in '79, Rodgers wanted to win this one badly. He spent a month in southern Florida training in the heat and was ready for this muggy race day.

As expected, Rodgers labored his way to a win in a time of 2:12:11.

It appeared to be "Boston Billy's" day again — until the woman wearing "W50" came running down Boylston Street.

As Rosie Ruiz was led to the winner's stand, Rodgers noticed something. There were no sweat stains on the back or underarms of her yellow T-shirt.

"I remember thinking, 'Oh, no, somebody made a big mistake here,''' recalls Rodgers.

Bill's brother Charlie was even more certain of it.

"I started to get sick to my stomach," says Charlie. "Rosie looked like a housewife with two kids, not a world-class marathoner."

While Charlie searched for someone in authority, Bill sat at a table with Rosie Ruiz, awaiting the start of the press conference.

"I asked her about her training and how many intervals she did," recalls Rodgers. "She didn't know what intervals were. You don't run 2:31 and not know about intervals."

The investigation of Rose Ruiz was about to begin.

"The person I was most concerned about was Jacqueline Gareau," says Rodgers. "I'd won Boston four times. I know how it feels to be out there on Boylston Street getting the wreath put on your head."

The next day, Rodgers and Ruiz were to appear together on a national morning TV show. Backstage a few minutes before air time, Rodgers gave her some advice.

"I said, 'Rosie, if something went wrong here, now is the time to rectify it," recalls Rogers. "She started to hesitate, like she wanted to say something. I thought she was going to admit it. But then she started crying, saying, 'I won! I won!' I just said, 'OK, Rosie, it's OK. Forget about it.'''

"I don't want you to take it personally that I can't see you or speak with you," says Rosie Vivas on the voice mail last week. "There's too much going on right now. I have tons of work to do. I'm all over the place. And that isn't even the real reason; the reason is the other one that I just told you, OK?"

To most, Jacqueline Gareau is "Jacqueline Who?" To those who remember 1980, she is "Poor Jacqueline Gareau."

Gareau was only the 22nd-ranked woman for the 1980 Boston race, and she didn't get the special treatment shown to world-class marathoners.

But she was happy to be in Hopkinton that unseasonably warm morning. Six years earlier, she was smoking and out of shape. Running changed her life. Gareau ran her first marathon in 1977, almost on a whim, just outside Quebec City. She finished second and was hooked.

Her adviser and manager, Gilles Lapierre, a Montreal banker who later became her husband, urged her to run Boston.

"He told me it was the most prestigious race in the world. I remember being a little scared," says Gareau in her French-Canadian accent.

But with top-ranked Grete Waitz opting not to run Boston in 1980, Gareau quietly believed she had a chance to win if she could break 2:35. A year earlier, Joan Benoit won with a time of 2:35:15.

Placed in the pack behind the top-ranked women, she fought her way to the lead.

"I just concentrated on my race from then on. And the crowd was great. They cheered the entire way."

About a half-mile from the finish line, a spectator on Commonwealth Ave. blurted out "You're in second place!"

"I looked over at him like he was crazy," says Gareau. "And I kept running."

Darting down the homestretch, Gareau noticed the cheers weren't as loud as they had been.

"I remember looking up to my right, at the winner's stand ... and I saw Bill Rodgers and a woman wearing the wreath," says Gareau. "It started to hit me. I didn't win."

Gareau finished at 2:34:28, remarkable in the steamy weather. Even more remarkable was Rosie Ruiz' official time.

"When I heard the time of 2:31, I said, 'All the power to the woman,''' says Gareau.

But soon after the ceremony, the editor of Runner's World magazine and others began telling her Rosie Ruiz might be a fraud. Gareau returned home and waited patiently until race director Will Cloney finally called.

"He apologized for what happened," says Gareau. "And he told me there would be a special ceremony for me."

Back in Boston, Gareau jogged about 20 yards in blue jeans and a pullover to break a mock finish-line tape.

"Sure, I would have loved to have gotten the wreath on my head in front of the crowd, but this was a good thing," she says.

Two years later, Gareau was getting ready for a 10K race in Miami when a woman walked up.

"She says, 'Hi, Jacqueline. I'm Rosie Ruiz,''' says Gareau.

"I looked at her and recognized her. I said, 'Why did you do that in Boston?' She says, 'I ran it, and I'll run it again.' I just shook my head and walked away."

These days Gareau lives in Boulder, Colo., with her husband and their son, Yannick, 7. She still runs, mostly shorter distances, and bikes a lot.

She hears that people, especially around Boston, feel sorry for her because of what happened in 1980. Save your pity, she says.

"My life is real good," she says. "My son takes up a lot of my time. We love living out here. To be honest, I never think of the negative that happened in 1980. That was a small part of my life. There are more important things than winning races and getting accolades."

Nor does she feel any anger toward Rosie Ruiz.

"I feel sorry for her," says Gareau. "I don't know if she's all right. I hope she is. Maybe the older she gets, maybe she will say she is sorry. With age comes wisdom, and maybe Rosie will learn about the important things of life."

"I will run a marathon again," says Rosie Vivas. "It just won't be Boston."

Will Cloney remembers being astonished but not suspicious when Rosie Ruiz crossed the finish line first.

"Because I had never heard of Rosie Ruiz," says the former Boston Marathon director, now 88 and living in Duxbury.

At the post-race press conference, Bill Rodgers told him something was wrong. But Ruiz had been crowned with the laurel wreath 15 minutes earlier.

"Part of the problem is we live in an era of immediacy," says Cloney. "When the winner crosses the line we get them up on the stand immediately. That's the way it works. Everything is bang, bang, bang."

Hours after the race, Cloney met with Ruiz at the Sheraton hotel next to the Prudential Building. Ruiz was accompanied by a man named Stephen Marek, who had jogged the marathon that day wearing a Superman outfit. A small-time race promoter from New York, Marek befriended Ruiz after the race and claimed he saw her in Hopkinton that morning.

"She was very convincing," says Cloney. "We talked a long, long time the first night. I told her that our records didn't have her at any of the checkpoints, but she didn't care. She said, 'I ran the race.'''

It was different at their second meeting.

"She cried a lot," recalls Cloney.

"I told her that it didn't look good for her, that we were probably going to name Jacqueline Gareau the winner. I felt very sorry for her."

A few days later, her only "witness" — Marek — announced, "I'm not sure if she ran or not."

But Cloney, who had been a lawyer in the military, wasn't ready to declare Ruiz a fraud.

New York Marathon director Fred Lebow called Cloney and said he would take "Boston" off the hook by disqualifying Ruiz from New York City, which would nullify her Boston entry.

Still Cloney wouldn't budge.

"I told Fred 'We're not done investigating,''' says Cloney. "We wanted to be absolutely certain."

Cloney and other race officials scanned every photo taken at the checkpoints. "We couldn't find one with her in it."

Racing people and the media were calling for Ruiz' head, but the 68-year-old Cloney adopted an almost grandfatherly attitude toward the disgraced 26-year-old woman.

"I felt bad for her," he says. "I know a lot of people don't understand that. They wanted me to come out and lay into her. But that's not my style."

Rodgers was in awe of Cloney's style throughout the fiasco.

"He was very respectful of Rosie until the very end. I think that's why this race is so special," says Rodgers. "If she did this in New York, who knows what would have happened to her?"

Cynics suspected Cloney, who retired two years later, had a reason to go easy on Ruiz

"Some people came up with the idea that Rosie got the marathon world-wide publicity, and that I pulled a publicity stunt," says Cloney. "I'm not that smart."

"I would really appreciate it if you would take it to heart and understand that it's not a personal thing," says Rosie Vivas on the voice mail. "I do have, and, as you know, people have prior commitments and I can't break that."

Guy Morse was a 27-year-old volunteer when Rosie Ruiz shocked the marathon world.

"It was the end of the age of innocence in our sport," says Morse, now in his 14th year as Boston Marathon director. "The sport has always held itself with honor. The people in this sport are some of the nicest in the world. But Rosie Ruiz changed all of that.

The "goal from that point on was to never let that happen again," says Morse.

More photographers and more checkpoints were added the year after Ruiz.

In 1996, the 100th Boston Marathon, each of the 40,000 runners was given a computer chip to tie to one shoe.

The chip automatically registers at every checkpoint. Surveillance cameras at those same checkpoints provide a backup to catch those who manage to trick the computer — like the husband and wife runners from Cypress, Calif., who "won" their age division in 1997.

"We now have 125 people out on the race course looking for things," says Boston Marathon spokesman Jack Fleming. "They are in groups of eight throughout the checkpoints. We also have other people and cameras at undisclosed locations throughout the course."

Today, it is virtually impossible to "pull a Rosie Ruiz" in Boston.

But Rosie Ruiz did more than end the Boston Marathon's age of innocence.

Like Katherine Switzer, who in 1967 defied the B.A.A. and crashed the previously all-male race, Rosie Ruiz focused international attention on the women of the Boston Marathon and put women's long-distance running on the map.

"We've come a long way since Rosie Ruiz," says Morse. "I think we're better for it."

Not that the Boston Marathon will ever welcome back Rosie Ruiz, who two years ago told the Palm Beach Post she would run this year.

"Once you're disqualified, you're out," says Morse. "Rosie Ruiz will never run in the Boston Marathon again."

SDLqI think that the information you received, or had filtered through to you, that I don't want to run the Boston Marathon is not true," says Rosie Ruiz Vivas at the 20-year checkpoint of running a marathon she will never finish.

"It was very well publicized that the Boston Marathon did not want me to run there, OK? There are other races that I have been asked to run in, but that's something that you'll probably hear about a little bit down the line. OK?

"And thanks a lot for your call. And, again, don't take this personally, OK? Thank you very much. Bye, bye."

• • •

Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.