Lebow dead of cancer at age 62


October 10, 1994|By New York Times News Service Sun staff writer Michael Reeb contributed to this article.

NEW YORK -- Fred Lebow, the president of the New York Road Runners Club and the driving force behind the New York City Marathon, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan's Upper East Side. He was 62.

The cause of death was brain cancer. He was admitted to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on Feb. 17 after a magnetic resonance imaging revealed a recurrence of lymphoma the brain, which first was diagnosed in 1990. He also underwent surgery in 1991 to have a malignant tumor removed from his thyroid gland.

Because of his failing health, he was inducted into the National Track Hall of Fame on Aug. 23 in a special ceremony in Manhattan, more than three months before other inductees would be so honored in St. Louis.

"I'm flattered and honored, and I don't deserve it," he said in a whisper at the ceremony in Central Park. "I'm just a peon. I'm awed and embarrassed."

While his cancer was in remission, Lebow decided in 1992 to run in his own marathon for the first time since it expanded into all five boroughs in 1976.

His doctors tried to tell him that it was not necessary for him to finish the race, but he completed the 26 miles, 385 yards in 5 hours, 32 minutes, 34 seconds.

At the finish line in Central Park, he and Grete Waitz of Norway, the nine-time women's winner of the event and his running partner every step of the way, fell into a tearful embrace.

After keeping a promise to kiss the finish line, he captured the spirit of the race by saying, "I never believed so many people would watch a miserable runner two hours behind."

This year's race, on Nov. 6, will mark the 25th New York City Marathon.

Les Kinion, the first president of the Baltimore Road Runners Club and chairman of the now-defunct Maryland Marathon, remembers meeting Lebow when a group of Baltimore marathoners went to Massachusetts in 1970 for the Boston Marathon.

"I met him the first year we went to Boston," Kinion said. "He was so ticked off the way the Boston people treated the runners, the way they herded them into a bus early in the morning. I remember his saying that if we ever get a good New York Marathon going, we'll never treat the runners that way."

Lebow founded the New York City Marathon that year.

The first race, a four-loop circuit around Central Park, attracted only 127 runners.

Within six years of the marathon's inaugural, the New York course was changed to include all five boroughs, and by 1989, the race set records for the number of starters (24,996), finishers (24,314) and percentage of finishers (.973), even though recently the number of runners has been slightly reduced to unclog the start.

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