Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Petite Runner with Big Spirit

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Petite Runner with Big Spirit

Article excerpt

Toshiko d'Elia took up running at 42, going on predawn jogs through Ridgewood with her daughter.

Within several years, she was setting world records for her age.

Mrs. d'Elia, founder of the North Jersey Masters Track & Field Club and the first woman over 50 to complete a marathon in under three hours, died Wednesday from complications of a brain tumor. She was 84.

The Japanese-born Mrs. d'Elia, a Ridgewood resident since 1961, saw running as a "wonderful companion" and a "supportive tool to get me places."

"The goal should be to enjoy running for a lifetime," she told The Record four years ago.

She practiced what she preached. Her last race, a 5K in Upper Saddle River, was on Thanksgiving.

Petite and a smidgen over 5 feet tall, Mrs. d'Elia started running to build stamina for another sport she enjoyed with her husband, Fred d'Elia.

"My parents were serious mountain climbers, and were on a mission to climb the top five peaks in North America," their daughter, Erica Diestel of Allendale, recalled Thursday.

"While on Mount Rainier, for whatever reason, my mother struggled and was ordered off the mountain. That was devastating for her," Diestel said. "So she came home, and one of her hiker friends suggested she try jogging to build a base of strength."

Mrs. d'Elia recruited Erica, then a track star at Ridgewood High School, to be her partner.

"We started running together, but only at 5 in the morning because I didn't want anyone in Ridgewood to see me running with my mother," Diestel said.

"It was hard for her at first, but she stuck with it and went from running one mile, to three miles, to five miles," Diestel added.

Mrs. d'Elia placed third in her first race, a 5K at Bergen Community College, and treasured the plastic trophy. She ran her first marathon -- the Jersey Shore Marathon -- at 46. Boston and New York soon followed; in 1979, at age 49, she cracked 3 hours in the Boston Marathon.

In 1980, at the World Veteran Marathon in Glasgow, Scotland, Mrs. d'Elia finished at 2:57:25. That was the first time a woman 50 or older broke the 3-hour mark in a marathon. …

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