MONTCLAIR, NJ - The sudden death of 65-year-old Tom Fleming on Wednesday has rocked the Montclair Kimberley Academy community.
Fleming had been coaching at a track meet in Verona when he suddenly collapsed. Colleagues and police officers rushed to his aide to perform CPR on his unresponsive body, according to Verona Police Chief Stern. An AED (defibrillator) was also tried on him at the field. Stern added, "Verona Rescue Squad and paramedic unit arrived on the scene, provided further medical care, and then transported the victim to Mountainside Hospital."
The news of Fleming's passing spread quickly throughout the community, who took to social media to express shock and disbelief and tributes to the two-time NYC Marathon winner.
Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo released a statement saying, "A two-time winner of the New York City Marathon, Tom reached the pinnacle of being a professional runner. He was an icon in the sport that he loved, and enjoyed coaching and mentoring young athletes. He was a very dear friend who inspired generations with his accomplishments. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family."
Thursday morning MKA officials canceled classes for the middle school, where Fleming worked as a fourth grade teacher. His colleagues also issued a statement saying that Fleming died of "an apparent heart attack while coaching his team at a meet on Wednesday, April 19 in Verona."
Fleming was a fourth grade teacher and the varsity boys and girls head coach in cross-country and track and field.
A native of Bloomfield, Fleming was an American distance runner; 2-time NYC Marathon champion, his colleagues described. Notably, Fleming groomed a number of the top distance runners in New Jersey in the last two decades, including three of the best in MKA school history, schools officials proclaim.
“I’ve enjoyed coaching the kids at MKA where they are the epitome of the student-athlete, and they strive to eventually attend the finest colleges they can," Fleming once quoted as saying.
According to his bio, Fleming discovered his love of competitive distance running in his junior year of high school. After graduation, Fleming attended Paterson State College (now the William Paterson University) in Wayne, where he graduated with a double-major in Special Education and Elementary Education. While at William Paterson, he became a four-time NCAA All-American, received the Special Achievement Award from the N.J. Sports Writers Association in 1973, became a New Jersey AAU three-mile champion in 1972 and AAU six-mile champion in 1969, 1970, and 1972, named the NAIA All-American in 1970 and was Conference champion for four consecutive years, officials announce.
Then in 1973, while still a senior in college, Fleming entered the Boston Marathon, and passed the defending Boston Champion Olavi Soumalaninen of Finland, to secure the runner-up spot with a time of 2:17:03. This would become the first of Fleming's two second-place finishes at the Boston Marathon.
He was inducted to William Patterson University Athletic Hall of Fame on April 11, 1980.
The New York City Marathon was next on his list, winning twice in 1973 and 1975.
At the 1976 Olympic Marathon trials, Fleming came in fifth place and finished fourth at the famous Fukuoka Marathon in Japan in 1977 (then the unofficial World Marathon Championship). His other marathon victories include the 1978 Cleveland Marathon, the 1978 Toronto Marathon, the 1981 Los Angeles Marathon, and the Jersey Shore Marathon three times, with a course record in 1981, according to school officials.
After his running days were behind him, Fleming became a coach to many great athletes. He became a National Distance Coach with USATF from '91 - ’97, the Coach and Founder of Nike Running Room and the 3-time Women's USATF National X-C Team Champions '90, '91, '92.
Many who knew Fleming loved him dearly, as he touched many lives. He was once quoted as saying, “Somewhere, someone in the world is training when you are not. When you race him, he will win."