Rosie M. Vivas (néeRuiz; June 21, 1953 – July 8, 2019) was a Cuban-American woman who was declared the winner in the female category for the 84th Boston Marathon in 1980, only to have her title stripped eight days after the race when it was discovered that she had not run the entire course. She is believed to have jumped onto the course about a half-mile before the finish.
She moved to New York City in the 1970s, eventually finding work with Metal Traders, a commodities firm. In 1979, she qualified for the New York City Marathon and was credited with a time of 2:56:29, the 11th woman overall—enough for her to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Ruiz's application for the NYC marathon arrived after the cut-off date for the race, but she received special dispensation from the New York Road Runners due to her claim that she was dying of brain cancer.
After the 1980 Boston Marathon (see below), New York City Marathon officials investigated Ruiz's run and concluded that she did not run the entire course, so on April 25, 1980, she was retroactively disqualified from the race.
On April 21, 1980, Ruiz appeared to win the Boston Marathon's female category with a time of 2:31:56. Her time would have been the fastest female time in Boston Marathon history as well as the third-fastest female time ever recorded in any marathon. However, suspicions mounted about Ruiz almost from the beginning. Men's winner Bill Rodgers, who had just won his third straight Boston Marathon, noticed that Ruiz could not recall many things that most runners know by heart, such as intervals and splits. Other observers noticed that Ruiz was not panting or coated in sweat, and her thighs were less lean and muscular than would be expected for a world-class runner. She later released stress-test results showing her resting heart rate as 76. Most female marathoners have a resting heart rate in the 50s or lower.
In addition, her time of 2:31:56 was an unusual improvement, more than 25 minutes ahead of her reported time in the New York City Marathon six months earlier. When asked by a reporter why she did not seem fatigued after the grueling race, she said, "I got up with a lot of energy this morning." Some female competitors thought it was odd that, when asked what she had noticed about the suburb of Wellesley while running through it, she did not mention the students of Wellesley College, who traditionally cheer loudly for the first female runners as they pass the campus. Most seriously, no other runners could recall seeing her. The eventual winner, Canadian Jacqueline Gareau, was told that she was leading the race at the 18-mile mark, while Patti Lyons was told she was second at the 17-mile mark. Ruiz could not have passed either of them without being seen. Several spotters at checkpoints throughout the course also did not remember seeing her in the first group of women. In addition, she did not appear in any pictures or video footage.
Two Harvard students, John Faulkner and Sola Mahoney, recalled seeing Ruiz burst out of a crowd of spectators on Commonwealth Avenue, half a mile from the finish. Not long after that, freelance photographer Susan Morrow reported meeting her on the subway during the New York City Marathon and accompanying her from the subway to the race. She lost touch with Ruiz after that, but came forward when the news of Ruiz's dubious Boston win broke. According to Morrow, she met Ruiz on the subway and together they walked a distance to the finishing area, where Ruiz identified herself as an injured runner. She was escorted to a first aid station and volunteers marked her down as having completed the marathon, thus qualifying her for the Boston Marathon.
New York City Marathon officials launched an investigation and could not find any sign of Ruiz near the finish line. On April 25, based on this and other evidence, the games committee of the New York City Marathon retroactively disqualified Ruiz from the 1979 race, with marathon director Fred Lebow saying she could not possibly have run the entire course. Later that week, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) disqualified Ruiz from the Boston Marathon. While New York's action seemed to have automatically disqualified Ruiz from Boston as well, Boston officials wanted to do their own investigation before taking action. Gareau was declared the female winner, with a time of 2:34:28—at the time, the fastest recorded for a woman in the Boston Marathon. Lyons was moved up to second; her time of 2:35:08 was the fastest ever recorded for an American woman in a marathon at that juncture.
During a CTV interview in July 2019, Gareau said that she felt pity for Ruiz, but had no ill feelings toward her.
Later life and death
In 1982, Ruiz was arrested for embezzling $60,000 from a real estate company where she worked. She spent one week in jail and was sentenced to five years' probation. She then moved back to South Florida, where she was arrested in 1983 for her involvement in a cocaine deal. She was sentenced to three years' probation. In April 1993, she was working in West Palm Beach as a client representative for a medical laboratory company.
As of 2000, she still maintained that she ran the entire 1980 Boston Marathon. However, an acquaintance, Steve Marek, said that she admitted to him a few months after the race that she had cheated, recalling that "she jumped out of the crowd, not knowing that the first woman hadn't gone by yet. Believe me, she was as shocked as anyone when she came in first."