Tommy Mazza: The Marathoner and the Mascot In preparing for the Boston Marathon, Tommy Mazza had a more unconventional method of cross-training—when he wasn't running, he doubled as BC's mascot Baldwin the Eagle.

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very runner knows that cross-training is one of the most integral aspects of marathon training. While most fulfill this through activities such as swimming, lifting, or cycling, Tommy Mazza, MCAS ’19, took a more unique path—one that involved profuse sweat, overheating in 16-degree weather, and 30 pounds of gear. Shortly after the completion of his third marathon, Mazza revealed his identity as one of the faces behind BC’s beloved mascot Baldwin the Eagle.

Mazza grew up in sunny Los Angeles, Calif., the youngest of three. While many younger siblings tend to follow in the footsteps of their big brothers and sisters, Mazza is the only runner in his family. He initially picked up the sport in eighth grade and joined Loyola High School’s track and cross country teams in the subsequent year.

As a varsity athlete on a nationally ranked team, the ball was rolling for Mazza to join the Division I ranks in college. Toward the end of his senior year at Loyola, however, Mazza sustained a Freiberg infraction in his right foot. This meant that the tissue in one of his metatarsals became necrotic, and he was rendered unable to participate in any physical activity—aside from riding a stationary bike—for eight months.

“The bones of my feet started collapsing on themselves,” he said. “So after that, it kind of, you know, really ruined [my progress]. … I was getting pretty decent at running. Maybe, easily could have ran in college, whether or not it would’ve been here is … I don’t know.”

The following summer, before Mazza arrived at BC, he stuck to a strict but limited running regimen—“Twice a week, 30 minutes in the morning. Slow,” he said. When he arrived at the University, Mazza discovered WeRunBC, now Boston College Club Running. The recreational running group had been established that very same year, in 2015. As the running club takes in a combination of competitive and recreational runners, it provided the perfect platform to ease Mazza back into the sport.

“I was like, ‘Oh, this is cool. This club’s brand new. They seem like nice people,’” Mazza said. “And I started running with them, and definitely got back into it. I remembered how much I loved running, especially competitive running.”

Mazza spent his freshman and sophomore years gradually increasing his strength and endurance with WeRunBC until he felt that he had rebounded from his injury to the point where he could conquer a feat of 26.2 miles via the Los Angeles Marathon (LA Marathon). Instead of spending his sophomore Spring Break on vacation, Mazza flew home to complete his first-ever marathon.

“[I] loved the race up until mile 20,” he said. “Took it out a little too fast—first 13 1/2 I went a little faster than I was in shape for, and I paid for it. The last 6 miles, the last 10K, was … in the running world, we call it a death march. You’re in a lot of pain, you’re struggling to finish. So, it was a bad experience. I told myself, ‘Never again will I run one.’”

This decision would soon change when Mazza chose to join a more rigorous running club a few months later. Rather than simply running for recreation, Mazza hoped to return to an aspect of his high school running career he missed immensely: competition.

So, in 2017, at the end of his sophomore year, Mazza tried out for the Greater Boston Track Club (GBTC), a USA Track & Field (USATF) Elite Development Club that was founded in 1973. The GBTC is a competitive running team with around 200 members, all dedicated collegiate and post-collegiate athletes with many 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials hopefuls. The club competes in several competitions throughout the year—these are mainly for distance running, but track events are also sprinkled into the annual schedule.

Mazza made the cut and began his junior year training with GBTC at the team’s weekly practices, held on Tuesdays at 6:45 p.m. After convening at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center in Roxbury, Mass., the group will either run to Franklin Park—located 2.7 miles away from the center—or stay and do track workouts on the “Reggie’s” indoor track.

“You need to be in good shape to be in this club,” Mazza said. “What’s great about the BC running club is that you could have no running experience and join. This is not one of those clubs, you know—it’s a serious club for very serious runners. The first year I was part of it, it kicked my butt. … And, you know, they built me back, and [now] I’m stronger than ever.”

One of the perks of being a member of the GBTC is that each year, the club is given around 30 waved entries to the Boston Marathon. So, in his first year with GBTC, Mazza was offered one of the spots on its 2018 Boston Marathon team. He accepted the invitation and finished last year’s marathon with a time of 2:59:26—just 34 seconds under the qualification mark to gain automatic re-entry into this year’s marathon.

“What it is about running, it’s, you get out what you put in—it’s always having a reward. It’s knowing that, hey, here’s this crazy idea I have, I’m going to go run from Hopkinton to Boston 26.2 miles, and I’m going to try and do it in under three hours." Tommy Mazza

At the close of Mazza’s first semester of senior year, he had every intention of running the 2019 Boston Marathon faster than before. While most BC students spent the weekend before finals cramming for their upcoming exams, Mazza was sponsored by the GBTC to compete in the National Club Cross Country Championships (Club Nationals) hosted by USATF in Spokane, Wash., on Dec. 8.

“My first impression of Tommy was that he’s young,” GBTC Head Coach Tom Derderian said. “He was our youngest guy, because our club is mostly post-collegiate, and he was in the midst of it. … He’s certainly fun to be around, and he shows up and does the workouts and goes to the races, and puts a lot of thought into the sport, the club, and the whole organization of the sport.”

In what he considered to be his peak physical condition, Mazza raced a 33:45 cross country 10K as part of a 6.5 mile course, along with 600 other runners—including a few Olympians—to compete as part of the GBTC team, which finished 32nd in the country out of 42 teams racing.

“So we’re towing the line and we’re looking down, and we see Ben Blankenship—he’s an Olympian,” Mazza said. “And then there’s the four, five, six of us just in our pretty much mismatching uniforms just out here to have fun, but it’s great.”

Coming off the adrenaline rush of running in Club Nationals, Mazza’s teammates predicted that he would run a time of 2:41 in the 2019 marathon, when he got another stress fracture in his foot. Mazza took 10 weeks off to recover and resumed running just six weeks prior to the Boston Marathon.

“The goal in this marathon, like, I really thought this was going to be the year I hit 2:45 or faster, but it’s looking like I’m just going to have fun with it,” he said.

Mazza completed the 2019 Boston Marathon in three hours, two minutes, and 35 seconds. The day prior, Mazza awoke at 6:20 a.m. jittery with the realization that the next day he would be running the 26.2 miles. He collected his uniform, shorts, and hat—along with all of the other belongings he would be bringing with him to Hopkinton the next day, and laid them out neatly on his 2150 Commonwealth Ave. common room table.

After tossing and turning all night, Mazza rose at 5:00 a.m., then met his teammates at Arlington T stop, from where they bused over to the start line.

“I was excited,” Mazza said. “You know, you don’t get to one of these things and just not be excited. … Nothing really compares to the starting line of the Boston Marathon.”

Standing at the starting line, Mazza also felt uncertain about how he was going to race. His recent injury still loomed in the back of his mind, and while he had no doubts about his ability to finish the race, he feared that his body would start bonking too early. Bonking is a term used by endurance athletes to describe the sensation when their bodies suddenly run out of energy.

Mazza began the marathon at a pace of 6:40 per mile but began to bonk around mile 20. As he was approaching the Newton Hills, Mazza spotted two-time Boston Marathon winner and Olympic medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson, now 61 years old. She was running at a pace of about 7:05 per mile, but Mazza needed to be under seven minutes consistently if he wanted to break three hours to qualify for next year’s race.

“On paper, the time was frustrating. But in context, it was satisfying. It was another Boston Marathon, you know, good or bad—it does not matter, it’s the Boston Marathon. It’s a 26.2-mile parade.” Tommy Mazza

As he reached Coolidge Corner around the 23-mile mark, he began running 7:15 and 7:30 minute miles—“The wheels started falling off,” Mazza said. As he reached mile 24, he started to feel the cramps in his legs. At that point, Mazza knew his time wouldn’t make the cut, so he shifted his focus to crossing the finish line.

“Nothing compares to Boylston as a finish line,” Mazza said. “There’s flags of every country lining it, there’s six or seven people deep all screaming at you. I don’t want to say [I] crawled to the finish line, but there had to be a couple of times I had to stop [and] work out the cramps in my quads.”

Mazza felt conflicted about whether his 3:02:35 race time was something to be proud of or disappointed by. But given his injury, Mazza knew he had pushed his body to its limit and had finished the race shaken, but strong—ultimately, he was happy how he’d performed.

“On paper, the time was frustrating,” he said. “But in context, it was satisfying. It was another Boston Marathon, you know, good or bad—it does not matter, it’s the Boston Marathon. It’s a 26.2-mile parade.”

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xactly one week after Mazza completed his third marathon, he decided to reveal a second defining aspect of his college career, one he had kept secret—save for a few close friends—despite describing it as the most rewarding part of his time at BC.

In an Instagram post on April 22, Mazza revealed that he had been one of the faces behind the mask of Baldwin the Eagle for the past three years. He wrote, “People always said I had two personalities! … To these experiences I owe my college career!”

Though the identities of Baldwin are meant to be kept under wraps, Mazza’s reveal coincided with his retirement from representing BC’s beloved mascot. Mazza was admitted to the Baldwin team, made up of around five individuals, the second semester of his sophomore year—shortly before also being accepted to the GBTC. He opted to try out for the team after receiving an email from Boston College Athletics, which notified its Listserv of the upcoming tryouts. Mazza’s decision was based purely on whim—as he described it, he felt an “urge” to try his hand at auditioning for a spot on the team.

“I always like to kind of think I’m a little bit weird, but definitely sort of, just, I have no real sense of shame,” Mazza said. “I’d be like, ‘Okay, yeah, I’ll go do that.’ I’m always that guy who when someone’s like ‘Hey, I’ll bet you $5,’ I’ll be like, ‘Alright fine, it’s an easy five bucks.’”

With this aspect of his personality in mind, Mazza thought he’d be a perfect fit for the role. Shortly after his audition, Mazza was accepted to be the newest recruit and had to learn the nuances of the role largely through hands-on experience. The first event Mazza performed as Baldwin was a BC baseball game—which he accidentally showed up to without pants on. No one had taught him how to put on the suit, and he didn’t realize he needed to put shorts on over it.

“Eventually a cop pulled me aside, and said, like, ‘Hey Baldwin, you don’t have pants on.’ I was like, ‘Uh… .’”

After starting on the bottom tier, he worked his way up to become the team captain within two months, once the other members either quit, graduated, or went abroad.

Suddenly, he was the one with the most experience, making sure that events and sports games were staffed—for football games, two to three team members will split the halves, unless they’re understaffed for away games, in which case it’s a “beating.” Though he was often faced with the difficult task of planning his marathon training around the scheduled games and events, the time he spent in the suit far from hindered his progress.

“It’s tough,” Mazza said. “It’s 30 pounds worth of gear, especially for football when we’re running the flag, or running back and forth or jumping up and down. It is actually a very good workout, and I noticed it functioned a lot like a cross-train for me. I don’t lift, I don’t swim … my arms are like spaghetti noodles. It worked enough different muscle groups in the legs, the back, the chest, that it actually provided a lot of good cross-training.”

During his time as Baldwin, Mazza’s taken part in big-ticket items like College GameDay and a SportsCenter commercial back home in Los Angeles. He’s also had less exciting experiences like being pushed off the wall at Alumni Stadium by a disgruntled Florida State fan and traveling to Dallas, Texas, for the canceled SERVPRO First Responder Bowl. From every Campus School visit to Red Bandana game, Mazza wouldn’t trade any of it.

“It was definitely the best decision I’ve made of college, arguably, of my life,” Mazza said. “But my life’s been pretty short so far.”

Mazza’s future remains promising, yet uncertain as he nears graduation. Mazza’s history and economics double major has opened doors for him in term of jobs—with interviews set up in Boston and a couple back home in California, Mazza doesn’t know which coast he’ll be living on next year. One thing he does know, though, is that he wants running to remain a part of his life for as long as possible.

“What it is about running, it’s, you get out what you put in—it’s always having a reward,” Mazza said. “It’s knowing that, hey, here’s this crazy idea I have, I’m going to go run from Hopkinton to Boston 26.2 miles, and I’m going to try and do it in under three hours. And then when you hit that mark, it really is the encapsulation of everything you put into it. … To see it all kind of come together at the end like that is really beautiful.”

Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Staff

Image by Jake Evans / Heights Staff

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About Brooke Kaiserman