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Black History Is Our History: New York City Marathon Director Remembers Trailblazing Long-Distance Runner Ted Corbitt

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- As Black History Month continues, we take a look back at a true pioneer in sports.

Ted Corbitt is known as "the father of distance running," taking a not-so-popular sport and paving the way around so many obstacles and thousands of miles so many could follow.

"It is an inspiration. It's a spark. It's a light. It is an opening of a door. It is being a trailblazer. Those are all the things that Ted Corbitt was and is, still," said Ted Metellus, vice president of the New York Road Runners and director of the New York City Marathon.

Corbitt, the grandson of slaves, was born on a cotton farm in South Carolina. He passed away in 2007. But as the saying goes, "heroes get remembered, but legends never die."

Metellus is the first Black race director of any of the World Marathon Majors and he knows how much he owes to Corbitt.

"He is history. He is legacy. He is Black excellence in its purest sense," said Metellus.

Some may have never heard of Corbitt, but it would be hard to find a serious runner who hasn't. Every December, avid runners even participate in the annual Ted Corbitt 15K held in his honor in Central Park.

Somebody once said, "For distance running, he was like Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig and Bill Russell."

Those men played popular sports at the time. Corbitt took on long distance running way before it was as popular or inclusive as it is today.

"He had faced various issues. Discrimination issues, Jim Crow type issues," said Gary Corbitt, Ted Corbitt's son.

In 1952, Corbitt became the first African American to represent the U.S. in the Olympic Marathon. He completed 223 marathons and ultra-marathons, winning the first Philadelphia Marathon in 1954.

But his biggest obstacles were not on the racing course.

"You look at it from a sense of perspective of what we get to do now as runners. I have the ability to travel to a race and not have to be in a white only or a Black only kind of environment," said Metellus. "He had to deal with that."

"Actually participating in an event without having any fear or concern of verbal abuse or physical abuse while you're out there running. Completing an event and saying, 'I can go home now without a problem.' There's stories of Ted having to run extra distances to get home or needing a transport to get home or to find transport home that was safe," Metellus continued. "So we've come a long way."

Corbitt's training regimes were legendary. On four occasions, he completed 300 mile plus training weeks. That's an average of almost 43 miles a day. One marathon is 26.2 miles.

In fact, while most of us drive or take mass transit to work, Corbitt ran from Riverdale in the Bronx to lower Manhattan.

"He would do 200 mile weeks regularly, and that included running 20 miles to work and sometimes running 20 miles home. So he was experimenting with the goal of winning these races," said Gary Corbitt.

Ted Corbitt was better known for his actions than his words. But because of the paths he cleared, he became the first president of the New York Road Runners club in 1958.

Corbitt helped bring the New York City Marathon to all five boroughs and invented the methods and guidelines for accurate measurement of courses.

He was a pioneer, a trailblazer, and an inspiration.

"He was out there when no one else was and said, 'You can do this as well.' And there's been many times where I was the only African American out at an event site working, and I know folks looked and said, 'Wow, there's maybe an opportunity for me to do this,'" said Metellus.

"No different than you, Otis," Metellus told Livingston. "Somebody's looking at home, watching this saying, 'I can do this as well, he looks just like me.'"

You can also celebrate Corbitt by taking part in the New York Road Runners Virtual Black History Month 5K. For more information about that, CLICK HERE.


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