MONTCLAIR, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A two-time winner of the New York City Marathon has died while coaching a New Jersey middle school team at a track meet.
Tom Fleming was 65.
Fleming died of an apparent heart attack at a track meet in Verona on Wednesday afternoon, the Montclair Kimberley Academy said.
As CBS2’s Steve Overmyer reported, Fleming was known worldwide as a champion runner. But he was much more than that in Montclair.
“Fleming was a beloved teacher, coach, mentor and friend to many,” the school said. “Coach Fleming’s love for his sport, love for his athletes and love for teaching the next generation of runners was truly remarkable. ”
The halls were filled with grieving hearts at Montclair Kimberley Academy, where he was a varsity cross country coach and fourth grade teacher for the last 18 years.
“He was everything to so many people; to so many kids; to so many athletes,” said sixth grade teacher Jessica Bishop.
“A very dear friend,” Dave Flocco, Head of Upper School at Montclair Kimberley Academy, said. “All three of my kids had him as a teacher — my youngest is in third grade and is very upset that she won’t have the opportunity to have him. So he’s personally touched my life.”
Colleague Laura Lamaire would start each day peeking into Fleming’s classroom for a quick hello.
“When I walked by his empty classroom today, I was devastated,” Lamaire said. “Everybody came to his classroom this morning. There were 20 of us in there, all hanging out, sharing tales about him, and hugging and crying.”
Students at the school were honoring their teacher and coach on Thursday.
“When I came down to talk to you guys first, I saw a couple kids just literally running around,” added school athletic director Todd Smith. “Obviously the track is a little further down. I think they just came out here to just run, because that’s all that Tom did.”
It is with an incredibly heavy heart that I share the news that MKA Cross Country and Track and Field Coach Tom Fleming (65) passed away this afternoon after a massive heart attack at our SEC Track and Field meet at the Verona Track. Coach Fleming was a beloved teacher, coach, mentor and friend to many and this will be gut wrenching news for the MKA community and for the running and track community as a whole…throughout Essex County, New Jersey and the entire country. Coach Fleming’s love for his sport, love for his athletes and love for teaching the next generation of runners was truly remarkable. He truly had a gift! Most importantly, Coach Fleming loved the MKA 4th graders he got to spend every day with and truly was an inspiration. He simply was a great teacher, a great coach, a great man and a great friend to all. Coach Tom Fleming may be gone but he will never be forgotten. #RIP #CHAMPION #LEGEND
Newark Central coach Bruce Berry tells NJ.com that Fleming collapsed after getting out of his car. He said Fleming was given CPR for more than 20 minutes and had a pulse when he was taken to a hospital.
Fleming made national headlines winning the New York City Marathon in 1973, and he won it a second time in 1975.
The New York Road Runners, who put on the city’s 26.2-mile event, called Fleming “an iconic figure” in the race’s history.
“Tom was as strong and tough a runner as I’ve ever known,” NYRR chairman George Hirsch told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell. “He loved getting the best out of people.”
Fleming finished second twice at the Boston Marathon and also won marathons in Cleveland, Washington D.C., Toronto and Los Angeles.
The Bloomfield, New Jersey, resident began his competitive distance running career in his junior year at the town’s high school and he continued at Paterson State College, where he graduated in 1973 with a double major in special education and elementary education.
He was inducted into the Road Runners Club of America Distance Running Hall of Fame in 2013 and the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, New York, in 2014.
Fleming was the USA Track and Field national distance coach from 1991 to 1997.
Overmyer asked Smith what he thought Fleming’s reaction would be to see so many kids running and walking in his honor.
“I think he’d love it,” Smith said. “I think they’re just out here running and walking for him. That’s a daily release that Tom would’ve wanted these kids to have — just to get out and love life. To see kids out here on their own doing that, Tom would’ve loved it.”
Fourth graders also released balloons Friday to honor Fleming. For others, Thursday was about remembering the gifts Fleming gave.
“Mostly, you just knew him as a friend; as a father figure; as the person who you laughed with in the lunchroom. He’d track you down to tell you a story whether you had time to hear it or not,” Bishop said. “For us, he will always and forever be just Tom.”
The Montclair Kimberley Academy will be open on Friday with grief counselors on hand for students. Funeral arrangements for Fleming have not yet been announced.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)