Track in Brookdale Park dedicated to Bloomfield resident

Photo by Glen Frieson
Standing with Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, in middle at back, are Fleming’s daughter, Margot, holding the framed photo, his mother Joan Fleming, other members of the Fleming family, students from his fourth-grade class at Montclair Kimberley Academy, and elected officials.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — “The Oval” in Essex County Brookdale Park has been dedicated as the “Tom Fleming Athletic Complex” in honor of the late Tom Fleming, a professional runner, coach and elementary school teacher. A native of Bloomfield, Fleming helped make running a popular sport in the 1970s after he won the New York City Marathon twice and finished second in the Boston Marathon twice.

“Tom was recognized throughout the world as one of the greatest long distance runners from America,” said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. “But in Essex County, he was a beloved coach and elementary school teacher who unselfishly gave his time to help others on the track or in the classroom. His legacy will be the many lives he touched and people – adult runners, high school athletes and elementary school students – who he inspired.”

The complex being named in Fleming’s honor includes a state-of-the-art, quarter mile, rubberized running track and a multi-purpose football and soccer field with a synthetic grass surface. The rubber surface was installed on the running track and the synthetic grass surface was installed on the soccer/football field in 2004; both were updated again in 2014. The complex currently hosts the Essex County Special Olympics’ Spring Games and area high school athletic competitions, and provides recreational and professional runners and walkers with a place to safely train.

Elected officials from Bloomfield, Glen Ridge and Montclair remembered their most famous resident and commented that the complex dedication was a fitting way to remember Fleming.

“Seldom do we go through life and meet a person like Tom. This dedication will ensure that the children who run here know who Tom Fleming was,” Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia said.

“Because of all the time he spent here running, training and coaching, Brookdale Park truly became Tom’s office. This dedication will ensure his legacy lives on,” Glen Ridge Councilman Dan Murphy said.

Fleming’s name was placed at the top of the scoreboard. A bronze plaque outlining his career, accomplishments and contributions is located in a raised flower bed at the base of the scoreboard.

The plaque begins with Fleming’s famous quote: “Somewhere, someone in the world is training when you are not. When you race him, he will win.” It continues: “Most elite runners train twice a day – it was not unusual, however, for local track icon Tom Fleming to train three times – covering 150 miles a week. He began running at Bloomfield High School and then at William Paterson College, becoming a four-time NCAA All-American and Conference Champion. At the height of his career, Fleming won the New York City Marathon twice, in 1973 and 1975. He placed second in the Boston Marathon, in 1973 and 1975, when he achieved a 2:12:05 PR.

“Tom opened one of the first running stores in 1978 where, true to his love of the sport, he would mentor anyone seeking running advice. For the past 18 years, he taught fourth grade and coached boys and girls track at Montclair Kimberly Academy, passionate about passing on his skills, encouraging each student to strive for their personal best. A charismatic storyteller, generous with his time and talent, he taught everyone that the only way to succeed was to work hard.”

Fleming died suddenly on Wednesday, April 19 while coaching the Montclair Kimberley Academy’s track and field team at a meet in Verona. He had been working at MKA as a fourth-grade teacher and varsity track and field and cross country coach since 2000.

Fleming was born in Long Branch, raised in Bloomfield and attended Bloomfield High School, where he began his career as a competitive runner.