Infamous 1980 Boston Marathon Cheater Rosie Ruiz Dead At 66

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How Did Rosie Ruiz Die? New Details On The Death Of Infamous Boston Marathon Cheater At 66

In 1980, an unknown runner swept across the finish line of the Boston Marathon in a course record-setting time to take the victory in the legendary race. Rosie Ruiz seemed to come out of nowhere to win the race, and appeared nearly unaffected by her exertions; she was barely out of breath and wasn't sweating. She told interviewers that she had only started training 18 months prior to the race and had completed one other marathon in her career: the New York City Marathon where she finished 24th. 

If her story sounded too good to be true it's because it was. Ruiz had cheated in both marathons, cutting the course and entering the race close to the finish lines. She was disqualified from both races and her victory in Boston was vacated and awarded to Canadian Jacqueline Gareau, who had led from the start of the race. 

Now Ruiz has died at the age of 66 in Florida. How did Rosie Ruiz die and what happened at the Boston Marathon?

1. Boston Marathon finish

On the day of the Boston Marathon in 1980, Jacqueline Gareau and Patti Lyons thought they were running first and second among the women's field. As she approached mile marker 22, Gareau spotted Katherine Switzer, the first woman ever to complete the Boston Marathon, who raised one finger, indicating that Gareau was running in first place. But something changed between mile 22 and the finish line at mile 26.2. Another runner emerged and beat the apparent leaders by two whole minutes. According to Time magazine, Rosie Ruiz breezed through the finish line tape like it was nothing, barely sweating and hardly out of breath. Her time was clocked at 2:31:56, an astonishing 25 minutes faster than her only previous marathon time and a course record. 

2. Immediate suspicions about the result

Switzer was covering the race for television that day and interviewed Ruiz after her blazing finish. She noted Ruiz's unruffled appearance and also noticed that she seemed unfamiliar with basic running terms. She asked the apparent winner what her interval time had been — the time for each mile on the race and Ruiz replied: "What are intervals?" Race officials were also concerned with the situation, partly because of her appearance at the finish and partly because no one had seen her on the course between the starting line and mile 25, according to Runner's World

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3. Investigation into Ruiz's record

Once an investigation began over Ruiz's Boston finish, organizers of the New York Marathon started looking into her performance there. Ruiz had finished 24th in the race, which was what qualified her for Boston in the first place. But an examination of photos and video of the New York race showed that Ruiz was absent from most of the course. Runner's World reports that witnesses later recounted seeing her during the race — not running, but on the subway. When onlookers on the train asked about her wearing a marathon number, she claimed she had hurt her ankle near the start of the race and was riding to go see the finish.  Officials moved to disqualify her from the New York Marathon. Eight days after her Boston finish, she was disqualified from that race and Gareau was named the true winner. 

5. "Doing a Rosie"

After Ruiz's cheating became public, runners and Boston marathon fans turned her name into a joke. Runner's World says that “Doing a Rosie” is still popular slang for course cutting in races. A Boston bar located one mile from the finish on Boston Marathon Day annually displays a sign, “Rosie Ruiz started here.” And for some years after the infamous 1980 race, T-shirts emblazoned with a subway token and “Rosie Ruiz Track Club” were popular. 

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6. Ruiz's later years

Ruiz never admitted to cheating and refused to give up her medal, even after being disqualified. She didn't run into more trouble with running but in later life, she did run afoul of the law. Runner's World notes that a few years after the race she was charged with writing bad checks, and after that she was sentenced to probation for grand larceny, forgery and cocaine dealing. Eventually, she moved to Florida and seemed to live a quiet, contented life free of controversy. She died of cancer at the age of 66 on July 8, 2019, according to an online obituary.

7. Reaction to her death

The runner who actually won the Boston Marathon that year, Jacqueline Gareau, spoke to the National Post about the death of the woman who tried to cheat her out of victory. Gareau noted that Ruiz had played a major role in her own life and she forgave her for what she did. "(Ruiz) was part of my life," Gareau said when asked about her Facebook post commemorating Ruiz. "I didn’t talk about what she did in Boston. It was mostly about her life: She studied music. She had a family. She took care of a kid — I don’t know if it was her kid or her husband’s kid. But she had lots of love. She was a great person in some aspects of her life. Everybody makes mistakes. Why she never apologized — that belongs to her. Maybe she was not completely right in her mind. I’m just hoping that she’s forgiven herself. Hoping that, in some kind of way, that she was okay. I forgave her completely. It’s not a big thing for me."

Gareau remembers Ruiz.

Rosie leaves behind her domestic partner Margarita Alvarez, her three sons Francisco, Reynaldo, Gilberto and their families. 

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.