A tribute to an athlete from Cape Breton who made a major impact on running in Pictou County now adorns the halls of the Pictou County YMCA.
Johnny Miles has been honoured with a framed jersey showing the number 15 that references the top 15 athletes recognized in a poll last year by the Nova Scotia Sports Heritage Hall of Fame.
Miles entered the local sphere of running in 1975 when the late Dr. John Williston, who was named after Miles, invited him to the inaugural Johnny Miles Marathon to help mark the centennial of New Glasgow’s incorporation as a town. The two had met years earlier and kept in touch, but Williston saw this as an opportunity to conjoin local distance running with his relationship with Miles and his marathon exploits.
Miles won both the 1926 and 1929 Boston Marathons in record time and ran marathons at the 1928 Olympic marathon in Amsterdam and the 1930 British Empire Games in Hamilton, Ont., where he was then living.
“Johnny Williston had a big influence on my life and he became one of my dearest friends,” said John Lynn, who secured the sweater and had it framed for display at the Y. “He understood the importance of volunteerism more than anyone I ever met.”
Miles is listed seventh on the list of 15 athletes in the poll.
The jersey includes autographs by the athletes who are alive and names of those who are deceased.
The others from one to 15 include hockey player Sidney Crosby, curler Colleen Jones, hockey player Al MacInnis, swimmer Nancy Garapick, boxer Sam Langford, boxer George Dixon, Johnny Miles, runner Aileen Meagher, paddler Steve Giles, softball athlete Mark Smith, paddler Karen Furneaux, gymnast Ellie Black, paralympian Jamie Bone, paddler Mark de Jonge and ice dancer Rob McCall.
Miles’ legacy lies in a number of forms. One of them is the multitude of runners and walkers who take part in the Johnny Miles Running Event Weekend and related events that the operating group has embraced.
Another is the Johnny Miles Foundation that was officially relinquished to Cape Breton University.
Lynn, who was instrumental in having the framed sweater mounted at the Y, enthused about how Cape Bretoners have rallied around the legacy of Miles by growing the Foundation’s coffers. He was born in Halifax, England in 1905 but moved with his family to Cape Breton and grew up there before shocking the running world with his first marathon win in Boston. He died in 2003 at age 97.
“There is more money in that account than there was then,” he said.
Williston’s son, Royce Williston, who ran several marathons, also paid tribute to Miles.
“He had a big influence on my life,” he said. “I ran five marathons and it got me exercising. I still do it.”
He also saluted Miles’ more than 40 years with International Harvester from sweeping floors in a factory in Hamilton to heading factories in North America and Europe.
John Lynn, left, stands with Roy Williston beside the framed jersey honouring Johnny Miles in the Pictou YMCA’s main corridor. Goodwin photo)