REPRINTS


Joe McCluskey, "Manchester's Greatest Runner"
Compiled by webmaster Susan Barlow

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Running legend Joseph Paul McCluskey was born in Manchester, Connecticut, on June 2, 1911, one of six children of John and Catherine (née McStea) McCluskey, who had both been born in Ireland. Joe grew up in Manchester and attended public schools. He died August 31, 2002 at the age of 91. He had been elected to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame as well as the halls of fame of the New York Athletic Club, Fordham University, and Road Runners Club of America. He was inducted into the very first group of athletes of the Manchester Sports Hall of Fame, founded in 1980, which confers a Joe McCluskey award to "runners and race support staff who have made significant contributions to the successful organization and running of the Manchester Road Race."

Manchester Road Race historian Rick Dyer said that the Road Race committee will honor Joe with the creation of a steeplechase jump at Manchester High School; proposed wording for a plaque at the high school, on or near the jump: "In honor of Joe McCluskey, Manchester High School Class of 1929, Olympic bronze medalist in the steeplechase, winner of 27 national titles, and four-time Manchester Road Race Champion." Rick continued, "Joe was unquestionably Manchester's greatest runner, and quite possibly the town's greatest athlete. He competed as a master well into his 80s and coached the New York Athletic Club track team for many years. In addition to winning the bronze medal at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games, he competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, and was selected to participate in the 1940 Olympic Games, which were canceled due to World War II. He won All-American honors multiple times at Fordham University. He was a Navy veteran of that war, having served aboard a ship in the Pacific. In 1947, after military service, at the age of 36, and 15 years after his last Manchester Road Race win, McCluskey won the Thanksgiving Race for the fourth and final time. He is still the oldest runner ever to win the Race. In my opinion, McCluskey was very instrumental in sustaining the popularity of the Road Race from 1930-32 (when he won three consecutive times) and he immeasurably helped to rekindle interest in the Race after its revival in 1945 with his appearance in 1946 and victory 1947."

At his 1996 induction into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame (formerly known as the Amateur Athletic Union or AAU), USATF listed his accomplishments:

Fordham graduate Joseph "Joe" McCluskey ranks near the top of U.S. distance runners. During his remarkable career, he won 27 national titles in various distance events. He captured the steeplechase title a record nine times between 1930 and 1943. He also won U.S. outdoor titles in the 5000 (1935-1937) and 10,000 meters (1942). Indoors, he was the two-mile winner in 1940. He was also the 1932 national cross country champion and won the U.S. 15 km road title in 1941 and 1942. At Fordham, he won five IC4A 2-mile titles, two indoors, three outdoors. At the 1932 Olympics, McCluskey won the bronze medal in the steeplechase but was deprived of a silver medal because one of the officials failed to hold up the number of laps remaining in the race, prompting the athletes to run an extra lap. McCluskey was second at the end of the regular race but dropped back to third during the extra lap. During World War II, McCluskey served as a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander. He later spent almost 30 years as a New York City stockbroker. He coached the New York Athletic Club track team for 14 years and ran in Masters competition until he was 85.

The Road Runners Club of America said, at Joe's 1975 induction into the RRCA Hall of Fame, "After his 40th birthday, McCluskey began to compete in a variety of events, including throws, in the increasingly popular Masters, or veterans, age group competitions. In 1984, aged 73, McCluskey competed in 13 events in a 12-hour period." Joe is quoted as saying at that time, "I was tired for a week afterwards, but I enjoyed it."

Additional quotes:

  • McCluskey attributed his success to desire to win as much as to talent. "I don't think I had as much ability as some others but I put more into it," he said. "When you can't stand at the end of a race, you know you've given everything. I ran a lot of races when I couldn't stand at the end."

  • Runner Ed Grant said, "An era ended with the death of Joe McCluskey…one of the great gentlemen of the sport and his competitive career lasted well into his 80s. He even had a pole vault pit built in his backyard, so he could practice that event for Masters competitions. He was also the first track coach at my alma mater, St. Peter's College, doing it as a favor to the dean of the school Father Robert Gannon, who later became president of Joe's alma mater, Fordham. As an amateur, he received no pay for his services."

  • The Sports Reference website says that when Joe won his Olympic bronze medal, he was six feet tall and weighed 157 pounds. His niece Marcia Krafjak says he had a "big booming voice and hearty laugh. He was six feet tall and always thin."

  • According to Joe's son Bob, the nickname "Shufflin' Joe" came from Joe's unusual style – "running almost with a shuffle, his knees never getting high, and at times grabbing a hurdle to clear it." Bob went on to say, "My father had a deep fondness for the Manchester Road Race. He'd always meet his old friends at the race and have a super time. Several of his friends were Earl Yost, a sportswriter, and Bob Dougan, another runner of the race from the early days. We'd always be told of that first race – 1927 – his brother, Dr. John McCluskey, had run the race, and my father rode his bicycle alongside him the entire race. I spoke to my cousin Marcia Krafjack last night and she said my father would have run in the race, but was one year shy of the age requirement that year. My father and his brother were very close. My father probably began his running career as a young boy delivering newspapers in Manchester. He'd run, not walk. I imagine he got some steeplechase experience jumping shrubs as he ran from house to house. Whenever he wanted one of us boys to do something, he'd always refer back to one of his 'Manchester experiences' to try and motivate us. He was not fond of laziness in his children."

  • His son Joe, Jr., said, "He often said he wasn't any better a runner than many he competed against and maybe even not as good as some of those he beat, but that he won his races because of his Drive, Drive, Drive. Whenever I had a challenge I didn't feel up to, his advice to me was always the same: Drive, Drive, Drive. I must have heard it a thousand times. It summarizes him at his core. DRIVE, DRIVE, DRIVE conveys the incredible willpower that made him a champion. So many times he would tell me how he was behind near the finish line with his legs about to give out, but how badly he wanted to win and would drive himself to do it. Drive is the key difference between a good athlete and the winner. The mind pushes the body beyond its limits. And that is the real story of Joe McCluskey."

  • His niece Marcia Krafjack said, "My recollection from conversations with my mother and from visiting my Uncle Joe when he worked at the Manchester YMCA in the North End are that when he was discharged from the Navy in 1946, he returned to Manchester. He became the director of the YMCA and moved in with his mother who rented the bottom floor of a two family home on Chestnut Street. [Runner] Bob and Mildred Dougan lived on the second floor and owned the house. Bob Dougan was a great friend of Uncle Joe and of course very well known in town for working on the Thanksgiving Day Race. My Uncle had a few trophies displayed on the mantle in the living room. Later, Joe moved into the Y while working there. And later on, he moved to New York City and eventually became a stock broker for Bache Company."

  • Joe himself said, "I'd probably be a wealthy man today if I had never run, but I enjoyed it, even on the days when I didn't feel good or when something was going wrong. I'd just sit down and put on my track shoes and run in the open air, and it would invigorate me and make me feel happy."

  • Sports columnist and editor Earl Yost praised, "native son Joe McCluskey's feat of coming back in 1947, 15 years after the last of his three consecutive victories in 1930-31-32, to show his heels to the pack. At the age of 36, he was the oldest man ever to win. McCluskey valued the win as much as his 25 [Track & Field hall of fame says 27] national championships and three selections on the United States Olympic team."

  • Town historian Vivian Ferguson grew up on Foster Street, near the McCluskey house. In 2007, she reminisced: "Joe was very handsome, and he was always smiling. After the 1932 Olympics, we got a phone call from the McCluskeys. Joe had sent something home for the children in our family. I went to their house to get it. It was a mesh bag with chocolates that looked like coins. They were wrapped in gold foil with the Olympic seal. I had never seen anything like them. I don't know if I ever ate them, because I was so fascinated by them."

Joe’s obituary:

Joseph McClusky - A Connecticut Running Legend

Joseph P. McCluskey, Sr. died at his home in Madison on Saturday, (August 31, 2002) at the age of 91. Joe was born in Manchester on June 2, 1911, one of six children of John and Catherine McCluskey. He married Anne Conger in January 1954, and had eight children. He is survived by his wife, Anne (Conger) McCluskey; and his eight children, formerly of Rego Park, Queens, NY. His five sons are Joseph P. McCluskey, Jr. of New York City, James E. McCluskey, Robert J. McCluskey and Richard M. McCluskey of Ridgewood, Queens, NY, and Marlin V.B. McCluskey of London, England. His three daughters are Mary E. Cotard of Paris, France, Kathleen M. McElroy of Liverpool, NY, and Susan M. Jaeger of Garden City, NY. Joe has 11 grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother, John E. McCluskey of Duxbury, MA; and his sister, Sister Mary Edwina of Mercyknoll Home in Hartford. Joe began an illustrious track and field career as a student at Manchester High School from which he graduated in 1929. He went on to Fordham University, where he competed in intercollegiate track meets, and graduated with a Bachelors degree in Accounting in 1933. Joe McCluskey competed in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, CA while a Junior at Fordham and won a Bronze medal in the steeplechase event. He also competed in the 1936 Olympics, and although he qualified for the 1940 U.S. Track and Field team, the games were cancelled due to World War II. Joe served as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, both overseas and at naval bases in the U.S. Joe went on to earn a Masters degree in education from Hillyer College in Hartford. Joe made his career in New York City as a stock broker for Prudential Bache Securities, and was affiliated with the New York Athletic Club as a track coach for 13 years. He retired from the stock market in 1983, and moved to Madison. He continued to compete in Masters events until 1996 at the age of 85. He collected over 100 trophies and 500 medals, and still holds the record for national championships.


                       

MORE: click 1937 for copies of various newspaper articles on Joe McCluskey from 1937,
click 1973 for an article on Joe in the Manchester Herald in June 1973, and
click 2017 for a 5/19/2017 speech by Rick Dyer, archivist of the Manchester Road Race Committee.