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25792"Legends" By Arpan DeAngelo

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  • inspiration_letters
    Apr 21, 2013

      When we think of a legend we may think of a historical story which may be either of known or unknown origins and may even have some embellishment added. Usually the protagonist or main character of a story or of some other important events can be referred to as a legend as well. Regardless of how we describe what or who a legend is, a legend usually is intended to inspire us, motivate us or uplift us in some way, shape or form.

      Of the many great people which I have met through Sri Chinmoy, who himself is a great legend in many fields of endeavor, the ones that inspire me the most are some of the legendary runners. Since I have been a regular runner for four decades and have focused on long distance racing for almost as long, I always took advantage of the valuable motivation offered by some of the running legends of our time, some of whom are still alive as well as some who have unfortunately passed away.

      The traditional 26.2 mile or 42 km Marathon is a race which has inspired millions around the world for over half a century. In the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany in 1972, an American runner by the name of Frank Shorter won the gold medal in the Marathon. This single event inspired many runners of that era to train for and run marathons. Since then hundreds of marathons have been administered in the U.S. and in the world in general with millions of runners of all standards to attempt this long distance feat of strength, speed and determination.

      But even before the `marathon fever' began with legends such as Frank Shorter, one of the greatest long distance running legends of all time was Ted Corbitt. This quiet spoken and humble runner from South Carolina who later made his home in New York City started running marathons well before most people even knew what this distance was.

      Although the Marathon officially started in the late 19th century in the modern Olympic Games instituted in Greece and was an annual tradition in Boston, Mass., U.S.A. since 1896, it was not widely accepted by long distance runners until the televised Olympics in the 70's helped to popularize it.

      In 1952, in the Helsinki Olympics, Ted Corbitt ran for the U.S. Olympic Team in the Marathon along with another running legend, Emil Zatopek. The latter made legendary history by winning gold in the 5 km, 10km and Marathon races all in this one Olympics. He had never run a marathon race before this one but still had the strength and speed to win it after winning the other two races days before.

      Although Ted Corbitt did not have a good race in this 1952 Olympics marathon he still managed to place 44th. Nevertheless, he went on to run and win many marathons since then. In January 1954, he won the Philadelphia Marathon, the first of his four wins there. In May 1954, he won the Yonkers Marathon, becoming the U.S. National Marathon Champion. At various times, Ted held the U.S. track records for distances of 25 miles, the marathon, 40 miles, 50 miles and 100 miles and 24 hours. He remained a nationally competitive runner well into his fifties.

      For many years, Ted ran more than 20 miles a day from his home in Bronx, heading north to Yonkers, a New York City suburb, and then south to his office in downtown Manhattan. On some days, he also ran home. Sometimes Ted would run up to 200 miles a week, far more than almost any other distance runner. One workout he often ran involved 17 miles on the track, followed by 13 miles on roads.

      One week in 1964, Ted ran 300 miles for training. He repeated this weekly distance three more times that year. During the 1960's Ted would travel to England to compete in the 52.5 mile London to Brighton road race, finishing second three times and fourth and fifth in other years.

      In 1998, Ted Corbitt was among the first five runners to be inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame. Ted was also inducted into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame, on its inauguration in April 2006.

      In 2001 at the age of 82 Ted walked 302 miles in 6 days at the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence Six-Day Race, over 50 miles a day! In 2003, at 84, Ted completed a 24-hour race by walking 68 miles, finishing 17th in a field of 35. Some runners were awed by his presence; others had no idea who he was. I was fortunate to be in this race as well and spent some time walking with Ted as he told me some of his helpful and inspiring `secrets'.

      At 87, he was still volunteering at ultramarathon races in New York and sometimes even competing. He was still working out at age 88 and continued to treat physiotherapy patients. Ted also had embarked on a project to walk all the streets of Manhattan just before falling ill in 2007.

      Having met Ted in 1978 and having the honor and privilege of running and walking with him in various races since then I could truly say, just as every other runner who ever knew him may agree, that he was a legend of legends in the running (and walking) world.

      Still others knew him as a legendary physical therapist who understood firsthand all the possible injuries and pains, especially those of runners, and consequently how to successfully treat them. Yet his legendary status did not stem just from his tremendous outer accomplishments but also from his humble, kind and unassuming personality.

      Perhaps the words of Sri Chinmoy in this song dedicated to Ted Corbitt best personify the true legendary status of this great soul.

      "Ted Corbitt, Ted Corbitt, Ted!
      Runner-world revolution-head.
      O softness-runner-saint,
      Measureless miles your legs did paint.
      A brave champion is found
      In Heavenly Silence-Sound."

      I must say from a strictly personal point of view that among all of the running legends of our era that I was fortunate enough to meet and spend time with, as well as all those who I never got to meet but was nevertheless deeply inspired by, Ted Corbitt stands out as the most legendary of all time. If one wanted to best define what or who a legend truly is, I must say that Ted Corbitt is a name synonymous with the definition of `Legend'.

      Arpan DeAngelo