My original blog post Running Disney: Is There a Link Between Disney and the New York City Marathon? can be found here on the WDW Radio Blog. Please check it out!!
Here in New York City the leaves on the trees have begun to change, the temperature has begun to slip into the high 50’s, and children are shopping for their Halloween costumes. Some boys want to be Captain America this year. Little girls walk out of the Disney Store in Times Square with Rapunzel costumes. Children look forward to the end of October and I can relate to that; however, I look forward to what comes right after All Hallows Eve here in the Big Apple…..Marathon Week.
As I walk down Broadway near Lincoln Center, I notice the advertisements for the marathon near train stations and on the sides of our buses. Banners line Central Park South. Central Park itself has begun its annual transformation, as grandstands are being assembled near Tavern on the Green, and floods of runners can be seen basically all over the place (most of them passing me as if I’m standing still). For a runner, this is a magical time to be in Manhattan. It’s as if The Fairy Godmother waved her magic wand and cast a spell over midtown, spreading the anticipation and excitement.
As I’ve mentioned in prior blog entries, I pride myself on being a bit of a Disney Geek. Well, truth be told, I’m a bit of a marathon geek as well. I read the websites and the magazines. I follow the sport the way that most people from my old neighborhood in the Bronx follow the Yankees. I study the various books out there about the history of marathoning, as well as how a person can go about improving his/her time. (I keep re-reading those chapters of the books in my small library….but for some reason none of the authors’ brilliant points actually stick with me. Concepts like “you need to cut down on chocolate or any other foods that might taste fantastic but do not offer optimal nutritional qualities” are lost on me. Oreos + pop tarts + diet coke = breakfast of champions, as far as I’m concerned). Well I am happy to say that I found a common link between my Disney Geekdom and my Marathon Nerdyness. There is a link between the New York City Marathon and the Walt Disney World Marathon…and his name was Fred Lebow.
Now there is a ton of stuff out there on the internet and in books that tell the very interesting story of Fred Lebow – but I’ll quickly give you the crib notes version. He survived World War II in Eastern Europe, came to New York from Europe, worked in Manhattan’s garment district, and began running with a group of seasoned runners near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Through leadership, creativity, and an almost Disney-like ability to see no limits to what he could achieve, Fred helped to put the New York Road Runners on the map. He turned his unique vision of a marathon that “celebrates the masses” from a small gathering of 127 runners in Central Park to the wonderful race the 45,000 runners and 2.5 million fans experience the first Sunday of each November.
So I know what you’re thinking – great little story, Joe…but where’s the connection?
In the early 1990’s, Disney began to contemplate the possibility of creating a marathon to be held in Walt Disney World. Fred Lebow, being the consummate cheerleader for the sport of distance running, thought that this was a wonderful idea. Disney representatives picked Fred’s brain for several years and, in the spring of 1993, the company green-lit the project of a marathon for January 1994. Fred flew down to WDW during the spring and summer of 1993, providing his advice and sharing his recommendations. According to the books I’ve read, he added so much value to the development of the inaugural marathon that Disney named him the honorary chairman of the 1994 event. Fred, battling cancer and in a weakened state, still toed the line alongside 8,200 of his fellow runners that January morning in 1994 and began to slowly jog with the masses that he felt so close to. He couldn’t finish the race that morning – but he helped get the marathon off to a sound start. The rest, as they say…is history.
Fred Lebow passed away from cancer in October, 1994. I pass his statue almost every morning at about 5:30am. The tall bronze statue stands at the Engineer’s Gate of Central Park, the entrance to the park that every runner of the New York City Marathon waddles through on their way to spectacular finish. He’s dressed in his typical jogging suit and painter’s cap, and he is staring at his stopwatch. A true innovator – I bet Walt would have gotten a real kick out of Fred.
On the first Sunday of November, if you have a few minutes to spare during the morning, I’d like to recommend checking out the New York City Marathon on T.V. It truly is the best day of the year to be in the city, for it shows off some of the character of the five boroughs. Thousands of volunteers and millions of spectators line the streets, yelling and screaming – doing whatever they can to help 45,000 people achieve a pretty cool goal. Families wait at the finish line for loved ones to emerge from the mass of humanity – tired, sweaty and in pain….and with medals draped around their necks. It truly is a sight to behold.
Until next time! Make sure you double-knot your shoe laces, get out there and get moving! I’ll leave you with a quote from Fred Lebow. While fighting cancer, he still managed to get out there and shuffle his feet around the park – but his friends noticed that he actually walked faster than he jogged. So someone asked him why he chose to jog, since walking would get him where he was going quicker. Fred’s response was really cool: “…my friend, jogging has a rhythm that walking doesn’t have”. Get out there and move to your own beat.
- Waitz, Lebow first class in NY road runners Hall (espn.go.com)
- Statue of Fred Lebow Arrives at Marathon’s Finish Line (nytimes.com)