Patti grew up in Quincy, MA, the eldest of nine children. Her father was second-generation Irish from Dorchester and an all-Navy boxer. Her mother, a Micmac Indian. As a young adult, she worked as a nurse's aid at Quincy City Hospital, filling her non-working hours with beer and kitty whist. Unhappy, overweight, and smoking two packs of Lucky Strikes a day, Patti was stuck. It didn't take her long to realize that at twenty three years old, she was stuck in a pit. She found a book by Dr. Ken Cooper called Aerobics. In this book, Cooper said that there were 3500 calories in a pound, and jogging burned 700 calories an hour. Doing some fast math in her kitchen, Patti deduced that by the end of the week, she would lose twenty pounds. This, she decided, would be the fastest way to be happy. She ran seven laps around the Quincy Cemetery, which was nearly a seven mile run. And she didn't lose twenty pounds by the end of the week—in fact, she could barely walk for two weeks afterwards. But as soon as she could run, she went out and did it again. This led to an astonishing career in athletics that helped pioneer women's marathoning. With no background in highschool track or college running, she went on to set a world record in the 5 mile (25:48). She set the American record for the 10k four times, ending with a 32:08. Patti was the first American woman to go under 33 minutes in the 10k, and the first American woman to break 50 minutes in the 15k (49:42). She set a world record in the 20k, 30k, and half marathon, and won the Newport marathon 5 times, setting a course record each time. She also won the Honolulu marathon 4 times, also setting a course record each time. Patti placed 2nd in the Boston marathon three times, and also placed 2nd in the NYC marathon. She was one of the first American women to sign a pro-contract with Nike. In 52 weeks, she ran 48 races, winning 44 of them.