There was hardly a single person who thought that Henri Charles Renaud would win the 13th running of the Boston Marathon in 1909. He was just 19 years old, a son of French Canadian immigrants who worked in the Nashua mills. And is his great grandson, Brett Misenor says he had only started running seven months earlier.
His father urged him to run only about 2 weeks before the race. Henri had begun running the September before and won the first race he ever ran and he entered the Boston Marathon and ended up out running some of the world’s best Olympic runners.
The morning of April 19th 1909, Henri joined one hundred and sixty three other runners at the starting line. By the noontime start, reports say, the temperature had reached 97 degrees. Half would drop out of that race, twenty six were hospitalized. But Misenor says that it was his great grandfather’s time as a weaver in the oppressively hot Nashua mills that helped him tough out the conditions:
Local newspapers at the time said that in Framingham he was in 53rd place, moved up 28th place halfway through the race, and was in 3rd place by mile 24 and from there took the lead.
He ended up winning in two hours, fifty three minutes and thirty six seconds, four minutes faster than 2nd place.
He said that when he saw his father at the finish line his heart was full of joy and he ran as hard as he could and felt that he could run 10 more miles. I believe that Henri won the race because he knew that he could never give up. I think that the encouragement of his father and from his teammates gave him a strong belief in himself.
Renaud came back as the pride of Nashua and became a local celebrity. He excelled in other sports and even stared in a silent film called the “A Romance of Nashua”.
John Renaud, the grandson of Henri, flips through a scrapbook that shows article after article of his grandfather’s athletic accomplishments.
But after a while you see the celebrity fades, Renaud served in World War One and when he returned two years later, John Renaud says, he was a changed man:
The war took its toll on him. Physically he wasn’t the strapping young man that he was when he won the Boston Marathon. He was frail and never really quite got his health back. He always looked older than what he was his face was deeply wrinkled.
After the war, a traveling sports exhibition borrowed his 1909 winner’s wreath and cup. His prizes were never seen again. He had a family, worked in real estate and ran for alderman in Nashua. Then in 1957, Henri Renaud was struck and killed by a drunk driver.
Today, family members have been working to find a way to have Henri Renaud remembered.
Nothing was ever done, I mean you just would have thought that maybe they’d name a ball field after him or a track at one of the schools. It kind of makes me sad, really. You know if I had some money to spend, I always thought that I would have a statue of Pepe made, like where he’s crossing the finish line and offer it to the City of Nashua if they’d put it somewhere, but that’s a lot of money and money I don’t have.
But in 2009, the Gate City Striders, a Nashua running club established the Henri Renaud Memorial New Hampshire Marathon Awards given to the top Granite State male and female finishers of the Boston Marathon. It’s a good start, says Kathy Misenor, wife of great grandson Brett, but the family still hopes for something bigger down the road, like a statue or a local track named after their famous patriarch who over one hundred years ago became the dark horse who put New Hampshire on the running map.
Its somebody that everybody can relate to, the underdog that won the Boston Marathon in 97 degree heat. A Franco American kid teased and taunted by folks who didn’t like Franco Americans. I think it’s a good story all the way around, something that everyone from any race, color, creed or age can be proud of.