"I'd have only a week to 10 days to get in shape for all the running and jumping you do in basketball," Conley says. "Jock would run me four or five miles, setting the pace himself. Then he'd give my legs a whirlpool treatment, and after that he'd rub me down and let me sleep for a few hours. And then he'd have me up for another four or five miles of running. I'd be three weeks behind the others in training, but in a week or so Jock would have me in pretty good shape."
Jock's miniclinic provides him and his wife Betty (a lass who came from Alva in Clackmannanshire) with no more than a meager living, and it would be even slimmer were it not that he works seven days a week and occasionally resorts to his Scotsman's instincts. "I once sent three players to him," says Red Auerbach. "He sent me a bill, but then he had second thoughts and sent me a laundry bill for three sheets that the players had dirtied. I said, 'Hell, why didn't you put in a bill for the heat and water while you were at it?' " On the other hand, hundreds of injured high school athletes have passed through Jock's skillful hands without charge, and he loses cash customers every time he chauffeurs his Boston AA team to a meet. The late Walter Brown, who was president of Boston Garden, long ago imparted to Jock a tenet that guides him: "We can't be pros every minute of our lives."
For Jock, money is only a means by which to live, but the Boston Marathon is his life. "To me, it's sacred," he says. "I know what it is t' train for it 'n' suffer. I can't stand for them weirdies to make a joke out of it." On Marathon Day, Jock arises at 6 a.m. and drives to Prudential Center, carrying a trunkload of checkpoint signs in his car. He distributes the signs to aides heading out to post them, and soon he starts herding the army of marathon runners into buses for the trip to the starting pen in Hopkinton. Tramping through the buses, he seizes stowaways—spectators hitching a ride to the starting line—and bellows, "Out, y' bum! Out! Out! Out!" Following the runners to Hopkinton, he crashes into the pen, screaming at the milling sheep, as he calls them. He herds the top 25 runners to the front, ahead of "the morning glories who want to flash out and get in the newsreel." And he pauses at the sight of a flabby Harvard boy and snarls, "Y' couldn't get across the street wi'out help."
Serenaded by such niceties, the noonday sun—or noonday rain—descends on Hopkinton. At 12 o'clock the gun sounds. Jock hops into the press bus, where Will Cloney greets him with a lecture. "Now take it easy, Jock. Be quiet. Don't get excited." The lecture makes an impression for perhaps three or four miles, by which time Jock has had his fill of jokers running in straw hats and assorted costumes. With a shriek, he clambers down from the bus and bounds after them. "He hurls not only his body at them," Cloney says, "but also a rather choice array of epithets, which fortunately are made indistinguishable by his burr."
Jock's method of attack is apt to vary, as on the day a few years ago when he trotted alongside a contestant who wore an Uncle Sam suit, complete with high hat, and carried an ad for storm windows on his back. Jock, lugging a tray in one hand, matched him stride for stride, dashing his face with cups of water.
Alas, Jock's sorties have not always been successful. One rainy day, as the 1957 marathon proceeded through Framingham—the 6.5-mile mark—Jock made a flying tackle at a runner wearing webbed snorkeler's shoes and a grotesque mask. He missed and splashed face down in a gutter. To make matters worse, meet officials were barely able to dissuade the Framingham police from arresting him for attempted assault on the runner.
"The thing that made me so damned mad," Jock explains, "was that the guy was runnin' with the good runners."
In the 1961 marathon one of Jock's own Boston AA runners, Johnny Kelley, was dueling neck and neck for the lead with Englishman Fred Norris and a Finnish detective named Eino Oksanen, when a black mongrel that had been nipping at Kelley's heels ruined his chances by tripping him. Enraged, Jock flew at the dog and lashed out with a swift kick. He missed. The dog went off happily, while Jock repaired to the press bus and begged reporters not to mention the incident lest they bring the SPCA down on his head. "So John Gillooly put in his column," Jock sighs, "that 'Jock Semple was asked what kind of dog it was that he tried to kick, and Jock said it was a son of a bitch.' "
All right, put down Jock Semple as a trifle infra dig, if you will, but be aware that without the likes of him road races up and down the Eastern Seaboard would be in trouble. For it is not only his own marathon that he nurses. Whether it be the New England 25-Kilometer Championship or the Yonkers Marathon or a five-mile race through a Maine village, Jock is there, shouting, grinding his teeth, arguing with traffic cops, chasing off small boys on bicycles and all the while seeing to it that the race gets run. Bob McVeigh, controller of a Boston department store and a member of the Boston AA team, puts his finger on the problem that bedevils these races. "A lot of the officials are well-meaning, but they may be directing their first race," McVeigh says. "Jock is the guy who gets things straightened out." At the Yonkers Marathon, for example, he darts ahead of the runners in his car, blasting away on his horn, demanding a clear road. Stop the world, he seems to cry, there's a race coming through! "If a President's funeral were coming from the opposite direction," says another of his runners, John Linscott, "Jock would make it back off."
This year Jock expected some 300 weirdies to show up for the race, but at least K. Switzer was staying home. She is engaged to Tom Miller, the hammer thrower who blasted Jock off the course last year, and Miller, who aspires to make the U.S. Olympic team, does not care to anger the AAU. He therefore asked his fianc�e to please stay away from Boston. Roberta Gibb, meanwhile, is living in California and at last word was not headed East. Jock himself, still smarting from last year's notoriety, vowed to stay put in the press bus this time. His friends hoped that he meant it. "Why he hasn't been killed in the marathon," says Edward J. (Eddie) Powers, president of the Boston Garden, "I just don't know."