Q&A: DAVE MCGILLIVRAY, BOSTON MARATHON RACE DIRECTOR (PART II)

NEWS & RECORD

Dave McGillivray, the race director for the Boston Marathon, will be the guest speaker Saturday at the Twin City Track Club's Winter Seminar in Winston-Salem.

Tickets are still available and will offer participation in a group run Saturday morning then the social, dinner and McGillivray's presentation at night.

McGillivray spoke by phone recently. The second of two parts of our discussion is posted here, with a gallery of Associated Press images of McGillivray at the end of the text. 

EW: Fundraising on behalf of charities, particularly in New England: Why has that been such a passion of yours for decades now?

McGillivray: "When I ran across the United States in 1978 and raised money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute here in Boston, that was the first time, at least publicly, (Runner's World) was aware of anybody using their running and raising money for cancer research. I didn't even know that. Then along comes Team in Training and Livestrong and all of these very worthwhile non-profits raising money for cancer research.

"For me, I did it because I just had the sense that I'm fortunate to have my health, and not everyone does, through no fault of their own, and how can I give back? I just felt a sense a greater purpose of doing what I was doing. The challenge I put myself up against trying to run across the entire continent was so significant that I needed another reason for doing it other than just a personal one so that if it got really difficult I would think about what my commitment was to sick children and say, 'If they can survive what they're going through, I can certainly get out of bed and run a few more miles the next day.'

"That kind of phenomenon just caught on. People felt the walls of intimidation crumbled when people felt that 'yeah, I can get off the couch or out of bed and get out on the road and shuffle through some miles and do it for my next-door neighbor who has some sort of illness.' I looked at that as the second running boom, if you will.

"That has not gone away, and for obvious reasons. It raises a lot of money. I look at other professional sports and I wonder, is running at the top of the list in terms of the amount of money it generates in fundraising by its participants vs. any other sport in America? I don't know. I think the running industry is about one thing and one thing only now, and that is about raising the level of self-esteem and self-confidence of people. Years ago, people used to ask me what I did for a living, and I would mumble that I'm a race director. They were like, 'You're what?' 'I'm a race director.' 'What the heck is a race director? What do you do? Chalk mark in the road and you all go?' I was like, 'Well, I guess, yeah, that's pretty much what I do.' But now when people ask what I do for a living, I say I help raise the level of self-esteem and self-confidence in tens of thousands of people in America. I truly believe that's what my mission is. The means to an end is the road race. That's the mechanism by which we get people to make a commitment and set the goal and then toe the line, answer the gun, run the course, cross the finish line, get the medal and go home feeling good about themselves. And that becomes infectious. And once they do it once, they're hooked for life, at least a lot of them are. Combining that with philanthrophy just accentuates it even more. Knowing that not only have you helped yourself, but you helped someone else in the process."

EW: As a race director, are you allowed to have a favorite memory, maybe an iconic moment from a past Boston Marathon?

McGillivray: "I have millions of them, so it seems, because I've been on so many different sides of the fence of the event in terms of managing it, running in it, just living it. It's in my DNA. I've seen so much. I rode next to Meb Keflezighi on my motor scooter the entire way in 2014 when he won and became the first American since Greg Meyer to win and he had the four names of the victims of the bombing of the year before. There are things like that that I get to experience that no one else on the planet does. They leave an indelible mark.

"There a woman named Katie Lynch. She called me up; she was a patient at Children's Hospital. She said, 'Can I come see you?' I said, 'Sure.' She came, and she was in a wheelchair, and I learned that she was 26 inches tall and she asked me if she could run the marathon. 'You want to run the marathon?' She said, 'I want to run 26.2 feet.' And I said, 'Yeah, let's do it.' So I set up the whole start line of the Boston Marathon, 26.2 feet, and she came out in a wheelchair and she got in a walker, and I yelled 'Go,' and off she went. It took her 7 1/2 minutes, and she did 26.2 feet. We put a laurel wreath on her head and a medal around her neck. A couple of years later, she died. She had 35 surgeries. But she ran the Boston Marathon – her way. That's my motto: It's my game, my rules. It was her game, her rules. It was something she wanted to do her whole life, and she got the opportunity to do it.

"I've got hundred of stories like that that I've been very fortunate enough to have experienced. My time with old Johnny Kelley (ran Boston a record 61 times, won twice). He and I were just really, really, really close friends. I was a pallbearer at his funeral. He and I had a lot of different exchanges, if you will. I saw him once in the lobby of the hotel at night after he had run and after I had just finished, and he said, 'How'd you do?' I said, 'Well, I finished.' He said, 'How many is that?' I said, 'I don't know, it's like 30-whatever.' He says, 'You're gonna break my record, and I'm not going to be alive to see it.' I said, 'Johnny, I would never insult you by saying I would even think that I could break your record.' And now I have 46. It's not like I'm going after his record. But imagine: I live long enough, who knows, right?

"The Boston Marathon obviously is very important to me personally. But I try to keep that very personal because I'm still more known as the race director. I have to focus on everyone else, not me. This event, although I wrote an article once and said, 'It's only a road race,' but the reality is, 'Yeah, only a road race in comparison to cancer and heart illness and what's going on in the world.' When you peel the onion and you get down to the common denominator for all of us, it's more than a road race for a lot of people. My job, along with everyone else on the team, is deliver and to put on the best possible experience we can put on for these people who, this is a dream come true. This is the Holy Grail for them. When they get here, we want to make sure they have nothing but the best possible experience."

EW: What would surprise people that you have to do regarding your duties as race director of the Boston Marathon?

McGillivray: "There's a lot of things behind the scenes that people ... wouldn't have an idea that you're even doing things like this. Today a lot of it today has to do with public safety. There's an awful lot of time and energy and resources spent planning out the event from that perspective that nobody – nobody – would have even the closest understanding as to the level of involvement of the public safety officials in this commonwealth as well as federal assets and local assets that are dedicated to making sure this event is safe.

"Our focus isn't just the runners. We've got 10,000 volunteers that we have to manage and take care of. When runners hear that maybe the weather is going to be really, really hot or really, really rainy or really, really cold or whatever, there response might be, 'I can run through that.' I get it; I'm a runner, too. But that doesn't mean we can manage the event through every single type of condition known to man. We've got 10,000 volunteers standing out there on the course, handing out water, and they're out there for eight hours, just standing. You're a runner, you're moving, you're getting warm. They're not. So we have to think about them and their safety and well-being. Safety even with spectators: We have a half-million to a million spectators out there. They're not directly our responsibility, but they're part of the experience. We have to be sensitive to our staff and our consultants and everybody actively involved in the production. I don't think, on the outside looking in, people have a really good sense for the magnitude of that.

"We have an Athletes with Disabilities Program, and we have wheelchairs and handcycles and visually impaired and mobility impaired and how does that all work together and making sure that there's inclusion but there's safety and it all can fit and no one is getting in the way of anyone else and safety is paramount. The list goes on, and on, and on. All our lead vehicles and how they're all staged and how they go down course, and one division's passing another division and they have lead vehicles that are escorting them ... and a really narrow course with crowds impinging upon the runners and making sure all of that goes well. Mother Nature and what she brings: Look what happened last year with the rain and the wind and the cold and the level of medical coverage that we have to plan for. Thousands of medical personnel along the course, at the finish. We've been through it all. Heat, infernos; in 2012, it was almost 90 degrees. Nor'easters in 2007 and again last year. Bombings. It's not just a road race. There are so many outside forces that you have to be sensitive."

EW: When the biopic is made about the life of Dave McGillivray, who is going to play the part of Dave McGillivray?

McGillivray: "Yeah, that's a tough one. First of all, I'm not sure there's going to be such a documentary. I would just want that individual to be the type of person who was just down to earth, 'we're all in this together,' 'no one is better than anyone else,' positive attitude. The idea that 'we're fortunate to have what we have' kind of attitude. Give back. Those kinds of qualities. That's what I would like to see this person having, if one were to portray me, because I would want it to be authentic."

EW: That sounds like Matt Damon to me.

McGillivray: "Well, it's funny, you say that. He and I are good friends. He has run in some of my races. He obviously grew up in the Boston area. His dad lived about six houses away from my house. When his father passed away a year and a half ago, the funeral was right here in my hometown. I was invited to come. I saw Matt and his brother. Ben Affleck was there. I wrote a children's book called 'Dream Big,' and he wrote something nice about it.

"So, yeah, I guess he would be a good choice (laughs). At least he'd know a little bit about me."