In many ways, Tito Ortiz hasn’t stopped running on Garrett Mountain.
As a matter of fact, those close to him would say that if Hodgkin’s Lymphoma hadn’t claimed the life of the longtime Paterson resident last November, there’s a good chance he would have tackled the mountain per his usual routine all year to train for the New York City marathon two weeks ago.
On Saturday, Nov. 20, Ortiz will be honored on the very same Garret Mountain trails he so aptly ran throughout his life in a memorial 5K in his honor. His son, Benjamin “Benji” Ortiz is organizing the 3.6-mile trek.
“My dad’s passion was running,” said Benji, 36, himself an avid runner. “He ran all over Paterson but Garrett Mountain was his playground. I wanted to have something to hold on to and setting up a run in his honor seemed like the right thing to do. My dad made many friends through running and introduced the sport to many.”
Tito Ortiz, a Puerto Rican native who moved to Paterson when he was a teen in the mid-1960s, earned 25 New York City marathon medals throughout his lifetime. He also completed the Boston Marathon.
Ortiz worked for the Paterson housing department before forging a career as a maintenance man and boiler repairman for the Park East Terrace apartments on the city’s east side. Along with his wife, Miriam, he raised two sons in Paterson.
“My dad taught my brother, Robert, and I the meaning of life and hard work, but most of all faith,” Benji said. “He also taught us how to stay physically fit through sports. He loved softball played for as many as four teams at once. He managed a league and coached a team called Boriqueña. But what he thrived on was running.”
In 2004, Tito Ortiz was forced to take a break from his beloved pastime when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After rigorous chemotherapy, radiation treatments and a stem cell transplant, it seemed his health was in the clear. In 2007, the cancer returned aggressively and he was given just months to live.
Tito Ortiz didn’t give in so easily, his son explained.
“He was a fighter. He continued on, never once blaming anyone or giving up. He was able to celebrate his 62nd birthday with all of his family,” Benji said.
Befittingly, Ortiz was able to celebrate that birthday atop Garrett Mountain.
“This was a joyous time for everyone including my dad, who managed to play a little touch football with my brother and I and all of our cousins. He even scored a touchdown as he took off running and shocked everyone. That was my dad—always strong and always hopeful,” Benji said.
On Nov. 15, 2009, Tito Ortiz succumbed to cancer.
“He’s still with us. There’s not a day I don’t think of him, especially when I am running,” said Benji, who often goes running at Garrett Mountain along with his daughter, Alyssa
The Tito Ortiz Memorial 5K is open to all and is expected to draw close to 100 participants and friends. It will include a Fun Dash for children 13 and under and a Fitness Walk around the mountain. There is no required fee to participate but donations, which will be used for the day’s expenses, are welcome.
“By creating this event and getting awareness out I would like to have a big race next year with promotion and sponsorship to make it a charitable race,” Benji Ortiz added.
Thanks to a sponsor, those who donate to the race will be entered in a drawing for jewelry worth $100 from Jewels by Park Lane. More information will be available t at the registration table.
For more information, call Benji Ortiz at 973-668-2275.
Benji and his dad, Tito