Friday, December 14, 2007

Eddie Gardner and the 3,400 Mile "Bunion Derby"

With the death of Ted Corbitt on Wednesday (post), it got us thinking about a story of another pioneering distance runner we read about in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer a few days after Thanksgiving. The piece was on Eddie Gardner, who at the end of his life had been an unassuming Seattle janitor but was once a ground-breaking African-American distance runner who took part in the storied 3,400 mile “Bunion Derby” of 1928.

The Derby was a true cross-country footrace, following Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago, then on to a finish in New York City. Though ultra distance races are often viewed as more modern phenomena, endurance running and cycling events were quite popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and the Bunion Derby rode the zeitgeist of the time.

With a huge first place prize of $25,000 (about $280,000 today), the race drew runners from all over, and 199 toed the line in LA, including Eddie Gardner, one of only five African-American in the race. Run in stages, like the Tour de France, the race took 88 days to complete and after the final stage into New York, a 19 year Cherokee from Oklahoma named Andy Payne took home the victory.

Eddie Gardner, sloughing off angry mobs and adoring fans alike much of the way, came in eighth, taking home $1,000 or $2,500, depending on accounts. Later the same year, he went on to set a 50 mile national record in Seattle. For more on the Bunion Derby and Eddie Gardner, check out these links:

Seattle-PI (link)
PBS Documentary (link)
Running Times (link)

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