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Dr. Norbert Sander, FCRH ’64

Norbert Sander, M.D., is a 1964 alumnus of Fordham College at Rose Hill.

Dr. Norbert Sander is a traditionalist, but he’s also the architect of a modern initiative that brought running back to life at Manhattan’s 168th Street Armory, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2010.

For much of the 20th century, the armory hosted indoor track and field events. In the mid-1980s, however, the building was closed to sports and fell into disrepair. It was used primarily as a homeless shelter, one that became increasingly overcrowded, unsanitary and unsafe. Sander alone saw through the chaos and decay and began assembling a team to restore the armory to its former glory, for both athletes and the Washington Heights neighborhood.

Working with a group of friends, including Fred Lebow, then president of the New York Road Runners, Sander lobbied city officials and, ultimately, spearheaded the building’s rehabilitation. He points to his own experiences running on the armory’s old wooden track—beginning in 1956, when he was a freshman at Fordham Preparatory School, and continuing through the early 1960s, when he was an All-American track star at Fordham University—as the foundation for the endeavor.

Today the New Balance Track and Field Center thrives in the building Sander reclaimed. It is home to a six-lane Olympic-caliber track; the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, which was moved from Indianapolis to New York in 2004; and a learning center that provides educational and job-training programs for members of the community. Adults, student-athletes and coaches have flocked to the armory since track was reintroduced in 1993.

“This is running central,” said Sander, the president and executive director of the Armory Foundation, and a physician who practices on City Island. “We’re day to day to day, seven days a week; that’s our claim to fame.”

Athletes invigorate the armory, from neighborhood kids to members of the staff. Sander, who was born in Yonkers, N.Y., won the New York City Marathon in 1974. And Derrick Adkins, the director of track and field at the armory, was the 1996 Olympic champion in the 400-meter hurdles. He also manages the armory’s College Preparation Program.

What matters most to Sander is that kids and adults are running, learning and thriving at the facility he helped bring to life.

“I see this place as a continuum—for elementary to college to masters runners—creating a lifelong connection to the sport,” Sander said. “Running is for everybody.”

   

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