THE HERALD NEWS
WESTPORT – Lenny Silvia took his running seriously. But not too seriously.
He was one of the few humans on the Earth who could honestly say he had finished 26 consecutive Boston Marathons. But getting him to brag about it, or even elaborate on the feat, was a chore.
“He would never say anything, but he was very proud of the consecutive marathons,” said John Riley, of Somerset, a close friend of Silvia. “He never talked about himself.”
“A great guy,” said Kevin Daley, of Little Compton, R.I., a longtime friend and running partner. “He didn’t run for the glory.”
“He was under the radar screen, humble and unassuming,” said Fall River’s Phil Silvia, Lenny’s older brother.
Part of Greater Fall River’s distance running boom of the 1970s who kept on pounding the pavement for decades after, Lenny Silvia, 71, died on April 12, three days shy of his 44th wedding anniversary and four days before the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon. He had last run Boston in 2002, extending the streak to 26. Later that year, Silvia nearly died in an automobile accident. He was comatose for a week and his extensive injuries ended his running days.
Silvia maintained his Boston Marathon connection in subsequent years by volunteering on race day. He was working the finish line area, with Riley and friend Bill Sullivan, five years ago when the two bombs exploded.
Boston was “very important. Very, very important to him,” Riley said.
Silvia’s best Boston time was 2:42.48, in 1986. He finished 332nd.
Phil Silvia, soon-to-be-retired Bridgewater State University history professor, said there was one year when Lenny’s Boston streak should have been in serious jeopardy. Due to injury, Phil said, Lenny was not able to get in a training run of more than seven miles.
He completed that year’s race without stopping. “You can’t do that,” Phil marveled.
Boston wasn’t all about running to Lenny. Good food and drink and socializing with buddies was a very important part of the routine. Lenny and his crew made Carl’s Pagoda in Chinatown their annual post-race destination. Carl, the owner, and Silvia became friends.
And one year in the Pagoda, Phil said, the president of Saucony was also dining. Saucony already had an outlet store in Fall River, so Lenny walked over to the president’s table to offer advice. “He told him, ‘You should bring your headquarters to Fall River,’” Phil said.
Daley said Silvia and he got their start in running while working as lifeguards at Horseneck Beach in the late 1960s. They would run, barefoot, the four miles to the Westport River and back.
Daley said the duo made their marathon debut at the 1976 Ocean State Marathon. They were, Phil Silvia said, one of only 11 runners to compete in the first 10 Ocean State Marathon. Silvia often used Ocean State to qualify for Boston.
Silvia’s Boston Marathon streak began in 1977. Daley joined him in that race the next two years.
Lenny Silvia’s long running achievements are even more impressive when one considers he worked as a postal carrier, mostly on walking routes. So he would walk miles during the day before logging often double-digit mile training runs in the afternoon or evening.
“He enjoyed running,” said June Silvia, Lenny’s wife. “It kept him in shape. He was devastated when he couldn’t run anymore.”
Silvia contracted pancreatic cancer and much of the last 10 months of his life were a painful struggle, Phil Silvia said. Lenny spent his last month in hospice in Providence.
On one of the final days of his life, Lenny Silvia received a handwritten note, from David McGillivray, the race director of the Boston Marathon. Phil Silvia’s daughter, Katie, had through a series of connections that included Jen Bogan and former Olympian Judi St. Hilaire, asked McGillivray to reach out to her dying uncle.
One of the busier people on the planet in the last two or three weeks before the Boston Marathon, McGillivray composed a hand-written note, on BAA stationery, dated April 1. The latter portion of the letter reads:
“You are a legend an inspiration and will be missed on race day. Stay Strong, Lenny. We are all thinking, praying and rooting for you. Friendship, Dave.”
To help keep him as comfortable as possible, Silvia in hospice was heavily sedated. But when McGillivray’s letter was read to him, “He had a smile on his face,” Phil Silvia said. “He understood the moment.”