While many people strive to run a single marathon, Belmont's Martin Duffy ran 40 BAA Boston Marathons … consecutively.
His 40th in 2009 was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Two month before the race, Duffy was diagnosed with HPV-engendered tongue cancer.
But Duffy lined up in Hopkinton on the third Monday in April last year, in the middle of his radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment, as he did for the past five decades; despite injures, pain and, finally, the betrayal of his own body.
Duffy completed the course in what would be for him a fairly pedestrian time of five and a half hours. But he did finish.
Unable to run in 2010, the Cambridge Sports Union, the club that Duffy and his wife, Rusty Stieff – a 2 hour, 50 minute marathoner who qualified for the first US Women's Olympic Marathon Trials in 1984 – were members, fielded a relay team named in his honor.
And while running taught him how to battle pass, at times, seemingly insurmountable physical barriers, Duffy finally could not fight through the illness that broke his streak.
Martin E. Duffy of Belmont passed away peacefully at home Monday, Nov 29, 2010. Duffy was 70.
While running and the Boston ironman mark may have defined him to the larger world, there was more to Duffy then an April road race.
"Martin's inclusive nature and his ability to interact with people in many circles on a wide range of topics allowed him to touch the lives of many. He was a friend, mentor, confidante, coach, teacher and role model all rolled into one," wrote his wife and daughter, Katie.
Duffy was an economist and consultant. After earning an MBA from Wharton, he worked at Data Resources Inc. before founding his own firm, The Perseus Group. He was a specialist in forensic analyses regarding economic losses affecting individuals and organizations. He has an expert witness in arbitration hearings, in state and federal courts and testifying on Capital Hill on economic issues.
He also published scholar papers on the U.S. economy, its households and labor markets.
Duffy was a teacher, instructing undergraduates and graduate students in economics at Suffolk University and Emmanuel College.
He was a vet, serving during the Vietnam conflict as a U.S. Navy officer with the Seabee.
And for the past decade, you could see Duffy coaching girl's soccer on Belmont's playgrounds – knowing and mentoring members of this year's Sectional winning girl's high school team – attending Town Meeting as a concerned, involved resident and, of course, trudging along local roads, trails and running tracks.
A lifelong runner, Martin began serious running at Durfee High in Fall River where he was captain of the track team.
At Tufts University, because he carried six courses on a full scholarship, he had to temporarily put his track career aside.
But only temporarily.
Years later, Martin completed 40 consecutive Boston Marathons, the longest streak by a Massachusetts resident and the third longest for all runners when it ended in 2010.
He also competed in the Philadelphia and New York marathons and completed a personal best of 2 hours, 37 minutes and 11 seconds in the Ocean State Marathon in Rhode Island, finishing second in the Master's Division.
While running is a lonely venture, Duffy was only too glad to partake his wisdom and friendship via coaching runners, no matter their age or ability.
"I have run several Boston marathons as a charity for (Massachusetts General Hospital) and Martin was always happy to get involved with my training, check in with my times, training schedule, distance work, and those tough 'speed-up' workouts," said Dr. Philip Amrein, who first met Duffy sharing coaching duties for a team of nine-year-olds, where Amrein "provided some boring strategy and fundamental work while Martin was the spirit of the team."
"The day before he passed away, he was outlining some practice runs and training schedules for me," said Amrein.
Dr. David Harmon remembered the first time he got the "Martin treatment."
"Thinking that I would have to be the one to get a conversation going, I said, 'So, Martin, Phil (Amrein) tells me you have been giving him all sorts of tips about marathon running. I am a latecomer to this game. I could use a little help catching up to him.'"
"His eyes fixed on mine, and thereafter would not allow my attention to stray, as his mouth grinned, and quickly and softly formed words of expert advice, gained by an inquiring mind from decades of experience. The delivery was confident, passionate, maybe fanatical, but certainly sincere. I took every word to heart, though I had known him for just minutes, I instantly became a better runner. After that, whenever I saw Martin and Rusty running along Concord Avenue or around Fresh Pond, he would add another tidbit; 'Relax your jaw,' 'Let your arms loosen up.' Whenever Phil gave me running tips, I knew their source," wrote Harmon.
Long-time family friend Karen Donelan recalls an email Duffy – as coach of the Belmont U18 Girls Soccer team – wrote to parents in May that seemingly spoke of his own outlook to his life and illness.
Explaining the four paths to a peaceful and spiritual life he hoped the girls he coached had embraced, Duffy wrote the final principle was to "let go of any expectations about outcomes. Be accepting and unruffled about what life brings back to you despite your best efforts."
"(It) is a difficult lesson to master, particularly in the context of the various calls today which seemed increasingly to go the other way," Duffy explained, but as always, ending with an upbeat call for his team to show the visiting team how good they really were.
"As one friend wrote, 'His friendship was genuine and his smile was a reflection of his heart.' His contributions, substantive character and life-loving spirit will be remembered and missed. He brought out the best in many of us," wrote his wife and daughter this week.
At the conclusion of an essay written by Nicole Nazzaro – one of so many runners taught and influenced by Duffy – in the April edition of Runner's World, "Martin Duffy The End of an Unintended 40-Year Boston Streak,"Nazzaro quoted lines from Byron on the end of the 40-year narrative that also reflected on a life lived.
"For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause for breath,
And love itself have rest."
Duffy was the beloved husband of Rusty Stieff, loving father of Brianna Duffy and Katie Duffy, father-in-law of Randy Morin, and grandfather of Evie and Liam Morin. He is survived by his siblings; Janice Kirkman, Arthur Duffy, Tom Duffy and Anne Kenney.
Visiting hours in the Brown & Hickey Funeral Home 36 Trapelo Rd., in Belmont on Friday Dec 10, 2010 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. A memorial service will be held at Plymouth Congregational Church 582 Pleasant St., Belmont on Saturday Dec 11, 2010 at 11 a.m. Interment is private.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made in his memory to:
Foundation for Belmont Education
P. O. Box 518
Belmont, MA. 02478
Holy Union Sisters
c/o Sister Barbara Kirkman
P.O. Box 410
Milton, MA 02186