Friday, July 22, 2016

V.1 #37 Ted Corbitt - The Father of American Distance Running (Part 2)

As mentioned earlier, limiting this blog simply to his endurance feats would be inadequate. Like an onion, there are many layers to this multidimensional individual. A plethora of contributions are directly attributed to him.  Bill Schnier had the opportunity to be with Corbitt three times.  Bill found the man to be very quiet and the most humble person that he had ever met. Schnier says that, “Very frankly, I was in awe of Ted, not for his running but for everything else.”  Bill recognized that he had met someone unique.

Their second time together was at a UC track and cross-country team reunion downtown at the Netherland Plaza. Ted was invited as a special guest so he traveled from New York to attend the banquet and also to see his sister.  Bill asked him to speak, which he did, but he spoke so quietly few people heard him.  Nevertheless, the audience was totally quiet, trying to absorb what they could. However, since Bill anticipated that Ted would not boast about his many achievements he conducted considerable research on Ted.  Bill’s introduction, summing up Ted’s running and working life, was only half completed before the audience gave Ted a standing ovation. This reaction by the audience is something Schnier had never witnessed before or since.  In Bill’s estimation, Corbitt was not the best athlete inducted into the UC Athletic Hall of Fame, certainly that would be Oscar Robertson, but because of his devotion to running, his assistance to others, and the way he lived his life he could be considered the greatest of all the Bearcats.

Ted was born on his father’s cotton farm in Dunbarton, South Carolina on January 31, 1919.  His grandparents were slaves.  The family, as part of the Great Migration from the rural South, moved to Cincinnati when he was young. Schnier tells how Ted was happy to share stories about his life in Cincinnati. He quietly talked about running as a boy at a time when no one ran on the streets of any city.  Ted attended and competed for Woodward High School, which occupied the old downtown School for the Creative Arts building on Sycamore Avenue. He graduated from Woodward in 1938 and entered UC that fall.

The Corbitts lived in the West End and to save streetcar fare he walked or ran, which included a steep hill, to UC each day for four years.  It was about a 50-minute journey each direction. Running to a destination was something he continued doing throughout his life. He augmented his official training with natural running, much like the Kenyans do, on a daily basis. 

Ted received a B.S. in Education upon graduating with honors in 1942 from the University of Cincinnati. He was planning to continue his studies in order to become a chemist but the Pearl Harbor attack changed priorities. He joined the Army after leaving UC. During his time in the Army, he spent six months on Okinawa and another six months on Guam. He attempted to stay in shape, but running through the jungles was too dangerous, so he built a gym inside his compound.
Corbitt was being trained for the invasion of Japan. In August 1945, he was on a troop ship in the Caroline Islands when the Atomic bomb ended the war.  Ted feels he probably would have been killed during that upcoming battle.

He married shortly after the war and he and Ruth remained together until she died in 1985.  Corbitt moved to New York City, where, as a night student, he earned, in 1950, a master’s degree in physical therapy at New York University.  Along with his studies he joined the New York Pioneer Club in 1947 after being turned down by the NYAC on account of his race. This was just about the only running club in town where blacks and Jews were welcome to join.
Ted the Physical Therapist
As a physical therapist, he was revered.  Many people knew Ted as a runner, but he was just as well known in physical therapy circles as a therapist. He wrote three books and hundreds of articles on this topic. He would treat people at the hospital, then answer written questions with long, hand-written, and detailed letters. 

Steve Price, who attended Miami, told me how he had some type of injury in the mid 60's and wrote for advice from Ted. Ted replied promptly with a rather lengthy letter which Steve said that he always treasured. This was another example of Ted's compassion, even though he and Steve had never met before Steve's request.

Upon retirement he would ride the subway to continue treating patients at their homes.  He invented several methods of treating people not previously found in books.
Ted’s attitude was to keep an open mind, keep learning, and improve upon what you know.  He was motivated by scientific curiosity to redefine what was considered humanly possible.  He felt that the important thing in books was how you used the information found there to change people’s lives.

Ted the Humanitarian
He was a very giving individual. During his lunchtime outings, Ted often stopped on his runs, gave food to the homeless, and ministered to their medical needs. Ted was still seeing clients, often without payment, until two months before he died on December 12, 2007 in Houston, Texas at the age of 88.  His death, at a hospital, was caused by respiratory complications. 
A friend of Corbitt called Ted the consummate gentleman and an example of how one ought to live his or her life. Even when confronted with bigotry, Ted remained calm. We read earlier about some of the difficulties that he encountered due to segregation when running for UC.  Later in life, he was stopped more than 200 times by the police while running through the streets of New York City. His reaction? He turned the other cheek and said, “They were just doing their jobs.”

Another story that I read about Corbitt told how years after he ran in the Helsinki Olympics a man roughly the same age as Ted came over and gave him a hug. Ted didn’t recognize him, but the man introduced himself and mentioned that they had both competed in the 1952 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. The man then became somber. He said that he wanted to make a long-overdue apology. It seems that at the Trials, this individual and a few others decided that a black man shouldn’t be allowed to represent the United States at the Olympics. They made a secret pact to prevent Ted from making the team. “We boxed you in, we kicked you, we tried to trip you, we did everything we could to take you down, but you managed to get away and win that spot. I’ve regretted my behavior for years, and I just wanted to say that I am sorry for what I did.” Ted replied, “You guys gave me a great run. If it weren’t for you, I may not have run so fast.”
Ted the Doer
After Ted’s death, his son sifted through the many boxes and artifacts that his father left behind in his apartment. Although he remained silent about the years he suffered discrimination, it was never far from his thoughts. At the bottom of one of the boxes was a folder marked, “How to Get Arrested Safely.” It contained news clippings of young black men who had been arrested on false charges and a handwritten note by Ted that read, “Even Jesus Christ was arrested on false charges.” Gary, Ted’s son, explained that his dad was preparing to write a book about discrimination against black men by the New York City police during the 1980s.
He not only was a founder of the New York Runners Club, but he served as its first president and started up its newsletter.
Through this publication he developed what were known as Tedisms.  Here are two examples:
“Not tapering off your training gradually one to two weeks before a race and overtraining (not knowing when to rest between training) will decrease your potential to perform and can lead to injury. It can also make the difference between winning and not winning.”  He offered himself as an example of someone ignoring this sage advice.
Another Tedism is:
“Athletes are only as good as their last injury. We have enough medical professionals treating injuries; what we need is more injury prevention.”
He was one of the organizers and founders of the New York City Marathon. He suggested to and prodded Fred Lebow, NYC Marathon race director, to move the race out of Central Park, its original location, and encompass the five boroughs.
During the 1970s, women were discouraged from competitive sports and running in particular.  Corbitt became an advocate and championed the opportunities and inclusion of women, minorities, and older runners into the sport.  By his example Ted allowed African-Americans to realize that they too could run distance races. He also promoted running for exercise long before it became popular in the United States.
He was a pioneer in American ultrarunning.  His contributions were of such significance that the Ted Corbitt Award is presented annually by the USATF, the national governing body for running, to the leading male ultrarunner of the year.
Some people feel that his most significant contribution to the sport of road racing was his initiative to establish accurate road-race courses in America, a great concern of his.
In 1964, he proposed a program of promoting more accurate road-race courses in America. The Road Runners Club of America adopted the proposal and formed the National Amateur Athletic Union Standards Committee, which was charged with the promotion of accurate road-course measurement. His work gave rise to course measurements and a national course certification program.

Ted was its first chairman and he held that position for more than 15 years.  Early on he was the sole certifier for the distance of a particular course.  He wrote the definitive book on measuring road courses, the one which is used today to standardize these measurements.

He wrote endless articles on meet management, running in the heat, avoiding heat problems, massage, Achilles tendon problems, and muscle and bone problems.

Ted the Icon
The first running boom was at its height in the early 1980s.  Press coverage for road races was more extensive than it is today.  It was an era when road racing was dominated by a close community of men and a few women who gave their all for the sport they loved. They never earned a dime, they always ran to win, and they held down full-time jobs, and most had families. They were driven and they were passionate.
By all accounts, Ted was admired and loved by the entire running community—past, present, and those to come who will read accounts about this person.  He became a rock star at races, not because he was loud and boastful but because he was the opposite.  Everyone sought out Ted and everyone considered him to be his or her friend.  Bill Schnier considers him to be the most "other-centered" person he has ever known.
It would be difficult to find a more loved and respected person in the sport.  He inspired because he was inspired; he was motivated by his passion for running and his desire to give back.  A close friend said, “He would live the moment. Ted reached self-actualization and he did it through his running. He didn’t have a goal – that’s why he didn’t have any boundaries.” If Corbitt’s achievements earned him respect, his character brought him followers.

Ted Corbitt deservedly has earned the title of The Father Of American Distance Running.