Celebrating Black History in Physical Therapy

Celebrating Black History in Physical Therapy

by Leython Williams, PT, DPT, CMTPT8 Comments

Black History Month is important to me because it provides an opportunity to recognize, remember, and celebrate the accomplishments of individuals with African and African American descent that have pushed boundaries, broken down barriers and influenced the development of our nation. Often overlooked in American history are the integral contributions from Black Americans that have evolved healthcare, including the field of physical therapy.

Celebrating Black History in Physical Therapy

Photo courtesy of TedCorbitt.com

In honor of Black History Month, I’d like to shine a light on the accomplishments of Theodore “Ted” Corbitt, PT, MPT. Ted was an Olympian, army veteran, professor and clinician for 44 years at the International Center for the Disabled in New York City. After returning from World War II, Corbitt earned an MA in Physical Therapy from New York University. In 1952, Ted became the first African American Olympic marathon runner to represent the United States (when marathon running was far from integrated). As the “father of American distance running”, Ted founded the measurement and course certification system which allows millions of runners today to know the courses that they run.

As a professor at Columbia University for 20 years, Ted was one of the very first physical therapists to teach connective tissue massage, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, progressive resistance exercise and applied kinesiology. At the age of 82, Corbitt wasn’t done setting records— he walked 303 miles in a single 6-day race.

Theodore “Ted” Corbitt was the grandson of slaves and born on a cotton farm in South Carolina. He overcame racial discrimination in his personal and professional life to become one of the most impactful physical therapists in our nation’s history. Both inside and outside of the clinic, Ted was committed to finishing the race that was set before him. He ran it well and has passed the baton off to men and women of color that continue to overcome societal constraints, creating a healthcare construct that is reflective of the multicultural population that we treat.

Corbitt was a beloved human being; he passed away in 2007, but his impact on our nation as an Olympian, veteran, professor and clinician lives on.

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. “Theodore Corbitt An American Pioneer.” Ted Corbitt Archives, tedcorbitt.com/.

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Leython Williams was a physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy at the time of this blog.

Read more health resources related to these topics:

Physical Therapy CareersBlack History MonthTed Corbitt


  1. Imani Coles

    Thank you for taking the time to share this information. As a proud black student physical therapist, it is empowering to read about those that came before me. Ted’s story is inspiring, and I look forward to hopefully reading about many others!

  2. P. Cotton

    Awesome article, thanks for sharing this information. Its always amazing to learn more about our African American Decedents.

  3. Margaret Hill

    Thank you for sharing, It’s a great things to shine light on the accomplishments of our past history. We stand on the accomplishments of our forefathers.

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