USATF mourns the death of legendary American masters long distance great Toshiko D'Elia. Born in Kyoto, Japan January 2, 1930, she came to the United States as a Fulbright scholar in 1951 after graduating from Tsuda College in Tokyo to pursue special education training. She died Wednesday, February 19 at her daughter’s home in Allendale, N.J.
Toshiko started running in her late 40s, completing her first marathon in 1976 at the age of 46. That race qualified her for the Boston Marathon three months later, where she was the second recorded masters female runner finishing in 3:16:56 during a near 100-degree day. Seven months later, she ran the New York City Marathon where she placed third among the women overall, finishing in 3:08:15.
Toshiko had a unique post-race ritual, taking her shoes off after crossing the finish, thanking her feet for taking great care of her and then indulging in a post-race adult beverage.
Toshiko D'Elia and her late husband Fred were founding members of the North Jersey Masters Track and Field Club in 1976.
Toshiko was the first woman over age 50 to break the 3-hour barrier for the marathon when she won the World Masters Championships in Glasgow, finishing in 2:57:25. She was also the first woman age 65 and over to break the 7:00 barrier for the mile. She has set many American and world records on the track and the roads. She is a member of the 1996 inaugural class of the Masters division of the USATF National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Toshika’s impressive list of accomplishments includes capturing 29 age-group titles at the marathon level, including six in New York, eight in Boston, five times at the Jersey Shore Marathon, and an astounding 10 at the Twin Cities Marathon.
A book about her life, “Running On” and a movie based on the book was released in Japan and translated in the United States.
She is survived by her daughter, Erica Diestel of Allendale N.J.; grandsons Ben, Tucker, and Casey Diestel; step-daughters Christina d’Elia Carlton of Amelia Island, S.C.; Andrea d’Elia Schroeder of Littleton, Colo.; and step-grandsons Heather Hearst of Camden, Mass.; Lance Carlton of Kansas City, Kan.; Melissa Donaldson of Texas; Allison Rosp of Carlisle, Pa.; and Megan Schroeder of Boulder, Colo.
A memorial run in her honor is planned for the spring, according to the USATF New Jersey Association.
Compiled from USATF New Jersey and Runner World reports