The third Monday in April, Boston celebrates history with “Patriots Day,” commemorating “the shot heard ’round the world” that in 1775 launched the U.S. War for Independence.
Part of the celebration, this year on April 15, is the annual Boston Marathon. Jefferson resident Jim Schleisman has made personal running history there, completing the famous 26.2-mile race 23 times.
Schleisman’s running career started almost by accident. When he was 50, he was putting in long hours as the owner of Super Valu grocery stores in Jefferson and Rockwell City. He was overweight, exercising little and started walking to get back into shape. Then he tried to “run a block.” That left him winded, so he decided that he would run a little farther each night. At first he ran after dark, because he was embarrassed.
In 1986, about two years after he began running, his brother-in-law, a track coach, urged Schleisman to join him in running the Drake Relays Marathon in Des Moines. He agreed, but only “if I can drop out at any time.” Well, he ran, finished ahead of his brother-in-law, and ran a time that qualified him to run in the next Boston Marathon, which he said he knew almost nothing about.
Schleisman ran Boston for the first time in 1987 and said he “was not tired at all when he crossed the finish line.” All the cheering spectators had him really pumped up. “I was on Cloud Nine!” he said. And the notorious “Heartbreak Hill?” That long, uphill stretch at about mile number 23 “was a breeze.” He missed running in Boston in 1988 because of a knee injury, then ran it 22 straight years, through 2010, when he won his age division.
He typically would run five to six other marathons a year, too, including in Ohio, Nevada, Texas, Minnesota and New York. He has now run a total of 101. He had his left knee joint replaced in 2012, and has now resumed running. Will he do marathons in the future?
“We’ll just see how it goes,” he said.
Several times, Schleisman has run marathons with his son, Tim Schleisman. His wife, Mary Jo Schleisman, says it has been fun going to watch him run, but it has been “an expensive hobby.” Besides all the travel, Schleisman buys new running shoes every three months. He has seen many changes in the sport. At big races, runners now are given computer chips encased in plastic to tie into their shoestrings, with the chips activating timing devices along the course. Clothing has improved, with fabrics that wick away perspiration. And he noted that in many races now, women outnumber men.
Schleisman will be the “honorary starter” of the “Market to Market Relay/Iowa” when that new 75-mile race to Des Moines begins in downtown Jefferson on May 11.
The author of this story, Helen Eason, and her husband, Curly Eason, are members of the Greene County Historical Society. Their daughter lives in the Boston area, and they have attended three Boston Marathons, cheering on Jim Schleisman. You can write the Easons at firstname.lastname@example.org.