Dave McGillivray is a runner, race director, entrepreneur, philanthropist, author, and athlete. In 1978, he ran across the United States, over 3400 miles, ending at Fenway Park in order to raise money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and he repeated this run in 2004 raising $300,000 for charities benefiting children. He has run 142 marathons, has organized over 1000 race events, has delivered over 1900 motivational speeches, has been the race director for the Boston Marathon for 29 years, and has raised millions of dollars in the name of local charities. In 2006 he authored the book, The Last Pick: The Boston Marathon Race Director’s Road to Success, with Linda Glass Fechter, where he talked about where his drive to accomplish comes from, having always been the last pick for team sports growing up. He’s now putting the finishing touches on a new children’s picture book, The Last Pick: The True Life Story of Boston Marathon Race Director, Dave McGillivray, which he’s writing with Nan Feehrer. It’s an inspiring memoir that tells of his early rejection for being small, his overwhelming drive to be a professional athlete (not easy at 5’4”) and his ultimate success in the world of running and in helping others reach their big dreams. Dave says his mission in life is to instill confidence in others through small wins which eventually lead to greater wins, and to teach others to stop waiting to be picked and to instead pick themselves. He is hopeful that the picture book will help to instill courage and determination in children before they are jaded against sports by being picked last, or not at all, for the team. I recently sat down with Dave to find out what it takes to accomplish every goal you set out for yourself, and what it takes to win. Step into the life of Dave McGillivray, world class accomplisher.
A Defining Moment: Dave attempted his first Boston Marathon in 1972 at the age of 17. He had not trained for it. He simply decided to run. He called his biggest fan, his grandfather, to let him know he would be running, and his grandfather said he’d be at the race to cheer him on. Dave’s body couldn’t handle the challenge, and he dropped to the ground midway through the race and was taken to the hospital. His grandfather waited on the sidelines, but Dave never ran by. The next day, Dave talked to his grandfather and apologized for failing. His grandfather reminded him that there’s no such thing as failure when you learn from a mistake, and what Dave had learned was not to be reckless. He would try again next year, and he would properly train to finish, and his grandfather promised him he would be there again next year to cheer him on. Dave’s grandfather died two months later. One year later, Dave ran the Boston Marathon again. He was five miles from the finish when his body gave out and he dropped to the ground. He sat on the ground for a moment and looked around, in shock that his body was going to defeat him once again. Then he noticed something unusual. He had dropped to the ground right in front of Evergreen Cemetery, where his grandfather had been laid to rest. Dave realized at that moment that his grandfather had kept his promise, he was there cheering him on, and so Dave would have to fulfill the promise he made as well. Dave pulled himself off the ground and finished that race. Dave says that he learned at that moment that pressure is a privilege. It can defeat you or it can define you for the better. Dave says that every once in a while you will find yourself in a moment in which you know it will define the rest of your life, and those are the moments you must rise to the occasion and succeed. For Dave, his defining moment was 5 miles from the finish line in front of Evergreen Cemetery with his greatest advocate cheering him on.
Stop Playing Their Game: Dave has delivered more than 1900 motivational keynote speeches to corporations and schools. He says his goal in life is to inspire people to understand that they can live life on their own terms. This is why he wrote his book, The Last Pick. He says that instead of waiting to be picked for someone else’s game, and rather than play by someone else’s rules, it’s time for people to make their own game, and their own rules. He says that when you make your own rules, success is the only option. You end up living up to your own expectations of success. As part of his keynote speech, Dave always asks the crowd if there’s anyone in the room who has ever wanted to someday run their first marathon. He says that inevitably a handful of people raise their hands. He chooses one and brings him or her up to the stage, and he awards them a marathon finisher’s medal, and then he asks the crowd to give this person a standing ovation. He explains to the crowd that this is what it’s like when you finish the last mile of the race, crowds cheering you on, inspiration pouring from strangers like magic. He lets the person keep the medal, and he says, “Send it back to me when you run your first marathon so I can use it to inspire someone else.” Of roughly 400 medals he’s given out at keynotes, about 380 have come back from people with warm letters about their journey of completing their first marathon. Dave says it’s never about winning the marathon, it’s about winning your own game, by your own rules.
Fit Doesn’t Mean Healthy: Two years ago, Dave went for one of his daily runs and he noticed it was difficult to breath. He went to a doctor and was told that he was in tip top shape. Still, he didn’t feel great. He went back to his doctor and insisted on more testing because he just knew something wasn’t right. The additional testing uncovered severe coronary artery disease with 70% blockage of his arteries. As it turned out, Dave, a top athlete who had run more than 150,000 miles in his lifetime, wasn’t that healthy at all. In order to reverse the damage of the disease, he changed his diet and nutrition and lost 27 pounds. Dave says that the big lesson here is that we all must be our own best advocates when it comes to health. He says that this is especially true for athletes. He says that athletes are bred to fight through pain, but what they need to realize is that some pain is much more than just “challenge” pain, it’s actually “warning” pain. He says that if you have big dreams in life, you have a responsibility to make sure you are healthy enough to achieve them.
Remember Your Why: Dave completed his first marathon in 1973 and 14 years later he was hired as the director of the Boston Marathon, and has been directing this race as well as hundreds of others around the country since then. He says that the first year he was directing the race, he remembers getting there at 4:30 in the morning and working all day long, until about 8pm. That’s when he realized that this would be the first Boston Marathon he hadn’t run in 14 years. He says that the only reason he even had this job was because he lives for accomplishing these marathons and that he would never love his job if it prevented him from running the race. And so, after working a 16 hour shift directing the Boston Marathon, he ran it too, and was the last one to cross the finish line. He’s been doing this ever since then, always directing the race first, then running it once everyone else has had their chance to finish.
Dave says that what he’s learned about himself ever since he scraped himself off the ground at Evergreen Cemetery in 1973, is that he can be, do, and have anything in the world he wants. He is a world class accomplisher, who is now on a very focused mission of helping others realize they can accomplish anything too.