By: Ron Rubin
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Thanks to Fred Lebow, founder of the New York City Marathon, some 500,000 Americans will run in marathons this year. In my book Anything for a T-Shirt: Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon, the World’s Greatest Footrace (Syracuse University Press, 2004), I show how Lebow, a Holocaust survivor, changed the notion of this 26.2 mile race, which this year will be held on Sunday, Nov. 5, from a grueling, sweaty showcase for elite runners into a people’s competition.

Though the book was well received by the running community, I wanted to use it as a learning tool. As a political scientist at an urban community college, I asked some 150 students to analyze how this race director dealt with power – the main conceptual standard in my field – in transforming the marathon race. How did Lebow use power to wrest the keys of the city, to entice race sponsors, to manipulate the media, and to recruit top athletes?

My students – multiethnic and heavily foreign born – found Lebow’s story appealing. Born Fishl Lebowitz in 1932, he arrived in the United States after surviving the Holocaust as a boy and gravitated to New York’s garment industry where his entrepreneurial nature took him from an entry level position on the knitting machines to owner of his own knockoff design company.

He was introduced to running as a way of improving his tennis game. Although he was never good at it – he came in next to last in the first marathon he ran – running gave him a feeling he wanted the world to share.

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