Perhaps the best way to honor the memory of New York City Road Runners founding president Ted Corbitt, known as the “father of American distance running,” is to lace up a pair of sneakers and hit the streets.
It’s fitting, then, that Corbitt—an ultramarathon pioneer known to log upwards of 200 miles per week, according to the New York Times—now has a stretch of NYC pavement named in his honor.
The city has officially renamed West 228th Street in the Bronx, where Corbitt lived in the Marble Hill Houses from 1955 to 1974, “Ted Corbitt Way.” It was during his Marble Hill years that Corbitt co-founded NYRR, as well as the Road Runners Club of America. He served as the first president of both organizations.
Corbitt lived a remarkable life that began in Dunbarton, SC, in 1919. The grandson of African American slaves, he grew up on a farm and ran to school daily. He attended high school and college in Cincinnati, where he became a competitive runner, despite persistent racism. After a stint in the U.S. Army, he settled in New York City.
In 1950, he earned a master’s in physical therapy from New York University, and the following year, he traveled to Boston to run his first marathon.
Corbitt would go on to run another 198—a number that includes ultramarathons, a class of races he helped to popularize. He won 30 of these contests, according to the Times, and at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, he represented the United States in the marathon, placing 44th.
In later years, Corbitt worked as a physical therapist and taught at NYU and Columbia. He also wrote about athletics and worked as a race official, and he’s credited with developing techniques for accurately measuring courses. Through it all, he maintained his rigorous training schedule, logging hundreds of miles of a week in various New York City parks and neighborhoods. Corbitt died of cancer in 2007 at the age of 88,
“Ted was a gentle giant in the sport of running,” Mary Wittenberg, the current president of the New York Road Runners, told the New York Daily News. “He was legendary for his quiet manner, but huge impact.”