Bruce Kidd was the best middle distance runner Canada produced in the 1960s. Over his short career, he won 69 races and set numerous Canadian, North American and world records. In 1962, running in the British Empire and Commonwealth games, Kidd earned gold and bronze medals in the three and six-mile races. He competed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He was twice named Canada’s Male Athlete of the Year. Further along in his life journey, he gained a PhD in history and served for many years on faculty at the University of Toronto. I should add that he is an Officer of the Order of Canada. The selection committee noted in 2004:
He has devoted his life to eradicating sexism and racism in sporting communities around the world
Bruce and I ran around together; we moved in the same circles. So, when his hot-off-the -press memoir ‘A Runner’s Journey’ (University of Toronto Press, September, 2021) recently arrived as a gift to me from my neighbour Steve, I eagerly, and rather egocentrically, sat down and flipped pages to find my name. And there it was!
To be honest, there was only one mention; to be even more transparent, he didn’t actually refer to me by name. [Full disclosure: Bruce Kidd had no idea who I was.]
Here is what he wrote:
At the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) championships, I entered and won the ”open” two miles in June (1959 at Lake Couchiching) in a new record time of 9:25, beating runners several years older … That was me!
Actually, our paths first crossed a year earlier at the Toronto and District Intercollegiate Athletic Association (TDIAA) high school track championships held at East York Stadium. My recall is a bit fuzzy on details but two memories remain clear. Some younger guy, named Bruce, with a crew cut and funny-looking awkward stride, had soundly beaten me in the two-mile race.
Despite coming in second and with a personal best time, I moped around afterward, disconsolate over being bested by a runner four years younger than me. An unassuming, middle-aged spectator suddenly approached from the stands however and offered me an athletic scholarship to my choice of three American universities. The day was not lost after all.
(So when I say “we ran around together” and “we moved in the same circles,” I mean that we were running on the same circular track, with me literally left in his dust, lap after lap.)
Unknown to me, that middle-aged, low-key spectator was Canada’s premier fitness expert, Lloyd Percival. He only merits a single mention in Kidd’s book, but was a leading figure in promoting advanced training and fitness methods across Canada. For several years, Percival had his own CBC radio fitness program. He became my coach, trying to groom me for the 1960 Olympics. While both Bruce Kidd and I could have gone to Stanford, I chose a smaller university in Iowa, much closer to home. As a shy farm boy who had never been on a train, much less an airplane, California was too far away from my roots.
After high school, Kidd chose to stay in Canada, attending the University of Toronto.
To place his accomplishments in perspective: in 1959, Kidd ran a 4:23 mile, and a 9:25 two-mile record as a 15-year-old. I achieved those times only at age 22; that same year, 1959, he ran three miles in 14:34, with me only reaching that mark in 1961 at the U.S. National Athletic Intercollegiate Association (NAIA) National Championships, placing fourth.
[Editor’s Note: Johnston was the first University of Dubuque athlete to ever place in a National meet.]
The first section of ‘A Runner’s Journey’ focuses on Kidd’s athletic achievements. The second and third parts of the book emphasize his life-long endeavour to make sports more accessible to girls, women and minorities, both across Canada and in countries around the world. He describes how the 1920s was the “Golden Age” for women’s sports in our nation. By the 1950s, that era had long faded but he campaigned tirelessly to rectify that imbalance. Along with others, he fought for better funding for amateur sports, for better coaching and more advanced training facilities … and eventually succeeded. Many amateur athletes, male and female, in our own communities are now the beneficiaries.
‘A Runner’s Journey’ is an informative read for anyone interested in Canadian amateur sports, especially track and field which Bruce Kidd brought into the public limelight, even if I, forever will remain as just one of those anonymous “older runners.”
1959: It was the first year the University of Dubuque had a varsity cross country team and the team of seven made an impressive first impression. To start the season, the team went undefeated with perfect scores against Simpson and Luther. At the Iowa Conference Championships, they became the first team in conference history to have a perfect score (taking the first five places). Boyd paced the Spartans with a first place finish followed closely by MacFarlane (2nd Place), Ted Bockhorst (3rd Place), Hudson (4th Place), Johnston (5th Place), and Mensach (7th Place). Of the team, four were from Canada.