Jack Heat sitting on bench


Alumnus Jack Heath is the author of the book Browning Ross: Father of American Distance Running, an ode to his mentor Browning Ross, Pan American Games gold medalist, two-time Olympian, and founder of the Road Runners Club of America.

John O'Boyle

Years ago, Jack Heath told his mentor Browning Ross—Pan American Games gold medalist, two-time Olympian, and founder of the Road Runners Club of America—that he should write a book about his life as a champion long-distance runner and tireless promoter of the sport. Ross deflected the suggestion with a characteristically self-deprecating joke. “He said, ‘Nah, the only one that would buy it would be my wife,’ ” says Heath SBC’90.

Now, 19 years after his friend’s death  at age 74, Heath has written and self- published the book Ross refused to write. Browning Ross: Father of American Distance Running (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017) draws on interviews, family scrapbooks, and the hundreds of letters Ross wrote home during his World War II service to paint a picture of the South Jersey native who helped launch the mid- to late-20th-century running craze.

In the 1950s, Ross created the first national running magazine, Long Distance Log, and, through the Road Runners Club, helped popularize and democratize a sport that had been largely off-limits to women, children, and older athletes. Along the way, Ross founded the cross-country team at Rutgers University–Camden during a brief hiatus in a career largely spent coaching high school students.

“He’s kind of like the George Washington of the sport,” says Heath, an information technology professional who met Ross as a teenager when he joined the track team Ross coached at Gloucester Catholic High School. “He was a great athlete, but his contributions didn’t stop when his athletic career ended.”

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