By Matt Loughlin
“Somewhere, someone in the world is training when you are not. When you race him, he will win.” –Tom Fleming
Tom Fleming, a towering figure in New Jersey track and field history, died yesterday from a heart attack while coaching at a meet in Verona. He was 65 years old and was a long-time coach at Montclair Kimberley Academy.
A two-time winner of the New York City Marathon and twice a runner up at the Boston Marathon, Fleming was inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in 2014.
The Garden State has long produced great track and field performers. From Mel Sheppard, who won four gold medals at the 1908 and 1912 Olympics, to Carl Lewis, who won nine gold medals over four consecutive Olympics from 1984 to 1996, to English Gardner, who took home gold in the 2016 Rio Olympics in the women’s 4 X 100 meter relay, New Jersey has always been well represented on the international stage.
While Fleming never won an Olympic medal, his impact in the sport was incredible. Whether he was running, coaching or operating “Tom Fleming’s Running Room” in Bloomfield for more than two decades, Fleming provided inspiration for countless runners.
It wasn’t until his senior year at Bloomfield High that Fleming became enamored with competitive running. In fact, he was talked into coming out for the cross country team that year by a friend. From there he took off, literally and figuratively, becoming a four-time All-American at William Paterson. The rest is history.
When I first got into the business at a station called “TV-3” in East Orange, Fleming’s name was invoked with a sense of awe. He was a local kid who made good and stayed local, living in Bloomfield despite his growing national reputation. I can’t say I knew him. But I do know that his place in New Jersey track and field history is secure. And that says an awful lot about who Tom Fleming was.