By Jacqueline Hansen
When I think of Tom Fleming, what comes to mind is a fierce competitor, a kind and generous soul, a man who lived a determined life, a purposeful life and an exemplary life.
When we lose a loved one we soothe the pain in our heart with fond memories. Memories can bring comfort and peace.
Tom and I shared some good memories.
He loved the Boston Marathon as much as I do.
In my mind, Boston and Tom are intertwined. I cannot tell you how many times he ran there, but there were a lot of trophies in his collection, including two second place Boston trophies.
Tom was a fierce competitor, often a front-runner who liked to take charge.
He was at the same time a kind and generous soul.
One time, at the Olympic Trials for the Marathon in Eugene in 1976, he came up short – by his own high standards – and missed making the Olympic Team.
I will always remember him sobbing on my shoulder. His dream and all the training he put into the 4 years between Olympic Games was not to be. It tugged at my heartstrings.
We competed together all over the map: Boston, Eugene, Charleston, Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, to name a few.
Puerto Rico makes me smile. I said he was generous. He even shared his room suite with the rest of the USA team, including Bill Rodgers and me too, because he had the only one with working air conditioning in that hot, humid, sweltering climate.
In Los Angeles, Tom ran straight into history, leading the charge over an arduous course, which ran the length of famous Sunset Boulevard from downtown to the Pacific Coast beaches. It was the first race in LA and among the first anywhere to offer prize money. This was a radical act of the times and Tom raised the bar.
I’ll close with a lasting memory I’ll carry in my heart forever.
At the Cleveland Marathon, we won together. But the mayor of Cleveland (Dennis Kucinich) was ill-informed and brought just one key to the city at the awards ceremony. Since Tom was traveling home the same day and I was staying one more day, I suggested he take the key, since I could receive mine the next day.
Nearly forty years later, I would still be waiting for my key, despite the good intentions of a reporter who put the story out into the news on one of Cleveland Marathon’s anniversaries.
Well, Tom learned of the story and resolved the situation in his own generous way.
He sent it to me recently, saying after all this time, it was my turn to keep it for the next 30+ years. The key to my heart.
What a gentleman.
What a competitor.
What a team player.
What a friend.
I will miss him, but I have a cherished key and a treasure trove of memories.