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Rosie Ruiz, a name synonymous with cheating in American sports, has died at 66 years old.
Her family posted an obituary with a funeral home in West Palm Beach, Florida announcing that she died on July 8 following a 10-year fight with cancer. The obituary is under the name Rosie Vivas, a name she used later in life.
Ruiz crossed Boston Marathon finish line in record time
Ruiz was the first woman to cross the finish line at the prestigious Boston Marathon in 1980 in course-record time of 2:31:56. She was fresh off of finishing the New York Marathon — her first marathon — in less than three hours. Her finish in New York qualified her for the Boston Marathon.
According to the Washington Post, New York Marathon officials disqualified her finish there after determining that she rode the subway for 16 miles of the course after she injured her ankle. That was four days after the Boston Marathon.
Shortly after the New York Marathon decision, Boston Marathon officials followed suit, stripping her of her title after they determined she had run only the final half mile of the 26.2-mile course.
Ruiz joined race in final half mile
She jumped into the final stretch of the race to finish ahead of Jacqueline Gareau, who set a course record of 2:34:28 that would not be recognized until days later when Ruiz was disqualified.
Ruiz drew suspicion when she seemed clueless about common marathon jargon in a post-race interview with race commentator Kathrine Switzer.
“Have you been doing a lot of heavy intervals?,” Switzer asked Ruiz about a marathon training technique.
“Someone else asked me that,” Ruiz responded. “I’m not sure what intervals are. What are they?”
Other runners said that they hadn’t seen her on the course, and her bib number was not recorded at numerous race checkpoints.
A pair of Harvard students later confirmed that they saw Ruiz join the race in its final stage.
Ruiz never admitted to cheating
Ruiz maintained publicly throughout her life that she ran the race in its entirety.
Ruiz later ran into legal trouble. According to the Post, she spent a week in jail for stealing cash and checks from her New York employer in 1982 and was arrested in 1983 on charges of selling cocaine to undercover narcotics agents.
Her friend Steve Marek told the Boston Globe that Ruiz had admitted her ruse to him, but that she didn’t intend to be the first woman to cross the finish line, according to the Post.
“She jumped out of the crowd, not knowing that the first woman hadn’t gone by yet,” Marek said. “Believe me, she was as shocked as anyone when she came in first. But at that point they had put the crown on her, gave her the medal and told her she’s the winner. How could she say, ‘No, I’m not’?”
Ruiz’s obituary details her personal life, including her move to the United States from Cuba as an 8-year-old.
It makes no mention of her marathon exploits.
“She would always want you to remember to celebrate life because tomorrow is never promised,” the obituary reads. “Never forget to fight no matter what life throws your way.”
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