When the late Ted Corbitt was not running tirelessly through the streets or sprinting from Marble Hill to his job as a physiotherapist on East 24th Street, he was running up and down 15 flights of stairs in the Marble Hill Houses — 15 times in a row.
Mr. Corbitt’s fervent commitment to competitive running and his dedication to the Marble Hill community were honored on Sunday when West 228th Street was co-named Ted Corbitt Way.
Ted Corbitt Way occupies a portion of Broadway in front of 5240 Broadway on 228th Street, where Mr. Corbitt, “the father of long distance running,” lived from 1955 to 1974. In 2012, Community Board 8 unanimously approved the street renaming proposals for Ted Corbitt Way.
Local residents, Mr. Corbitt’s longtime friends and sprinters from New York Road Runners (NYRR), the organization that Mr. Corbitt co-founded in 1958, all joined Mr. Corbitt’s son Gary Corbitt for the unveiling of the sign and to share anecdotes about Mr. Corbitt’s career and character. State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, Rep. Charles Rangel and former Councilman Robert Jackson were also present for the ceremony (see Campaign diary, page A4).
Part of the annual Marble Hill Family Day celebration, the street co-naming of Broadway between 225th to 228th further highlights the significance of Mr. Corbitt’s contributions to the sports world.
‘Quiet and humble’
Friends described him as quiet and humble despite his myriad accomplishments.
“For me, it was the way he handled himself,” said George Hirsch, 80, chairman of the NYRR board. “He was modest.”
According to Mr. Corbitt’s own records, during his lifetime, he participated in 199 marathons and ultramarathons, races that exceed the traditional 26.2-mile marathon. He also was the first African-American to run in an Olympic marathon, at Helsinki in 1952, according to NYRR.
He completed 300-mile training weeks while working, Gary Corbitt said.
His father, who died at age 88 in 2007, continued to work as a physical therapist into his 80s and even participated in a walking race that spanned six days and covered 240 miles. He was inducted in the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in 1998.
Mr. Corbitt experienced discrimination on the field as an African-American runner during the Jim Crow era despite his talents — but he took the high road, friends said.
“He didn’t let prejudice create animosity,” said Greg McKenzie, 48, who once interviewed Mr. Corbitt about the racism he endured in the sport. “He turned that into positivity.”
Mr. Corbitt joined the New York Pioneer Club, an integrated track and field club, in 1947 and later became the first president of his own inclusive organization, NYRR. Valerie Levy, the wife of Pioneer Club coach Edward Levy, who died in 2001 at the age of 74, said that the club had a longstanding history of producing some of the nation’s finest runners, but its runners were “gentlemen before they were athletes.”
“Its greatest legacy was the character it instilled in its members,” she said.
Mr. Corbitt’s knowledge of races and physical therapy also made him the guru of the running community in New York.
“He knew more than anyone by far,” said Mr. Hirsch. “He was a real student of the sport.”