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Black History Month: A Look At Ted Corbitt, The Father Of Distance Running

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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 through obstacles and thousands of miles so others could follow; CBS2's Otis Livingston reports.

Video Transcript

MAURICE DUBOIS: Tonight, for Black History Month, we take a look back at a true pioneer in sports.

KRISTINE JOHNSON: Ted Corbitt is known as the father of distance running, taking on a not-so-popular sport and paving the way through obstacles and thousands of miles so others could follow. CBS 2's Otis Livingston has his story.

TED METELLUS: It is an inspiration. It's a spark. It's a light. It is opening up a door. It is being a trailblazer. Those are all the things that Ted Corbitt was and is still.

OTIS LIVINGSTON: The grandson of slaves, Ted Corbitt 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. Ted Metellus is the first Black race director of any of the world marathon majors, and he knows how much he owes to Ted Corbitt.

TED METELLUS: He is history. He is legacy. He is Black excellence in its purest sense.

OTIS LIVINGSTON: Some of you may have never heard of Ted 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 right here 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 popular or inclusive as it is today.

GARY CORBITT: He had faced various issues, discrimination issues, Jim-Crow-type issues.

OTIS LIVINGSTON: In 1952, he became the first African American to represent the US in the Olympic marathon. He completed 223 marathons and ultra-marathons, winning the very first Philadelphia Marathon in 1954. But his biggest obstacles weren't on the racing course.

TED METELLUS: You look at it from a sense of perspective of what we get to do now as a runner. 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. He had to deal with that.

And actually participate 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 being able to say, OK, I can go home now, without a problem. There's stories of Ted having to run extra distances to get home that was safe. We've come a long way.

OTIS LIVINGSTON: His training regimens were legendary. On four occasions, Corbitt completed 300-mile-plus training weeks. That's an average of almost 43 miles a day. A marathon is 26.2 miles. In fact, while most of us drive or take mass transportation to work, Ted ran from Riverdale in the Bronx to lower Manhattan.

GARY CORBITT: He would do 200-mile weeks regularly, and that included running 20 miles to work and sometimes running 20 miles home.

OTIS LIVINGSTON: 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. He helped bring the New York City Marathon to all five boroughs and invented the methods and guidelines for accurate measurements of courses. A pioneer, a trailblazer, but most of all, Ted Corbitt served as an inspiration.

TED METELLUS: He was out there when no one else was and said, you can do this, as well. There's been many times where I was the only African American out at an event site working. I know folks looked and said, oh, wow, you know, there may be an opportunity for me to be out there doing this. No different than you, Otis. You know, someone's looking at home right now, watching this, saying, I could do this, as well. He looks just like me.

OTIS LIVINGSTON: And, of course, that's something that I do not take lightly. Thanks a lot, Ted. You can also celebrate Corbitt by taking part in the New York Road Runners Virtual Black History Month 5K. Go to CBSNewYork.com for more details. And KJ, 200 miles a week, 43 a day--

KRISTINE JOHNSON: No!

MAURICE DUBOIS: Running to work?

OTIS LIVINGSTON: Can you imagine?

MAURICE DUBOIS: And run home sometimes?

OTIS LIVINGSTON: I don't even want to drive that far. Come on.

MAURICE DUBOIS: Come on is right. Wow.

KRISTINE JOHNSON: Wow.

MAURICE DUBOIS: Legends never die. You got it right.

OTIS LIVINGSTON: That's right, a true inspiration.

MAURICE DUBOIS: Well said.

KRISTINE JOHNSON: Endurance--

OTIS LIVINGSTON: Yeah.

KRISTINE JOHNSON: --to the nth degree. Thank you, Otis. And as Black History Month continues, you will see a series of stories here on CBS 2 News. You can also find more reports on CBSNewYork.com.