Everyday Champions: Incredible running streak powers Midland man

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Photo: Eric Cilli with running partner Crystal

While we love to cover the professional and high-level athletes that represent our region, we at City of Champions would also like to celebrate the sports heroes who walk among us on a day-to-day basis. In the interest of equal time, we present our Everyday Champions series.

Our first subject in the series is Eric Cilli of Midland, Pa. The 37-year-old sports fanatic has run every day dating back more than four years, an incredible streak made even more unlikely by the fact Cilli used to avoid any form of aerobic conditioning outside of playing basketball.

Clearly, Cilli’s perspective has changed since starting his tireless regimen. I exchanged emails with the fitness instructor, who wanted me to emphasize that “you don’t have to be a trainer to do it. Anybody can start a fitness streak of their own.” With that message setting the tone, let’s get to the Q&A session.

Matt Gajtka: What made you decide to start running every day?

Eric Cilli: When I was younger I loved sports, but disliked the conditioning we had to do in preparation for the sport I was playing. I liked to believe I was naturally gifted enough not to work hard and still be better than most. What can I say? I was young, brash and dumb.

Once I hit my 30s I realized that in order for me to keep up with the 18-to-25-year-olds on the basketball court I needed to implement a conditioning program for myself. At the same time I got a 7-month-old puppy named Crystal. Now Crystal loved to run and run and run some more. She also liked to wander and explore off my property for hours on end. She would be gone so long that I began to worry she would never come home.

I soon realized that I would have to keep her tied up on a dog run when she was outside so she wouldn’t wander off. This is about the time I had the idea. I knew Crystal wasn’t really happy about being stuck to a 60-foot leash 24-7. I also knew I had to start running to improve my “wind” while on the court. So, if my dog wants to run I will run with her. We can wander and explore together!

MG: When did running become something you strove to do long term?

Credit: Eric Cilli

EC: On January 29, 2009, I purchased a calendar, a red Sharpie marker and a black Sharpie marker. I said to myself that on the days we would run three miles I would put a black mark on the calendar. On days we didn’t run three miles, I would use the red Sharpie and put a big fat ‘0’ on the calendar. That day, I put the first mark on that calendar with the black marker.

Two weeks went by without using the red marker. I remember saying to myself that it would be neat if we could go the entire month of February without using the red marker. And we did it! One month led into two. Then six months came and went. I noticed Crystal was looking forward to our run every day and I noticed I could easily keep up with the kids on the basketball court better than I had for a couple years! That’s when I decided to strive for one straight year. I had a certain person that said it was impossible. That person will remain anonymous.

MG: What’s been the closest you’ve come to ending the streak?

EC:  In our four-plus years of running we have had numerous close calls. There are two that stand out in my mind. The Pittsburgh area had 21 inches of snow in February of 2010. We were lucky enough to get our run in on Feb. 5 before it started to snow. I believe the temperature was around 35 on that day. It started to snow in bunches later that day and night.

On Feb. 6 it was 28 degrees and there was 20-plus inches of snow everywhere. I figured we would just get it done anyway. A simple three miles and that would be it. Well, we did it. It was the most physically challenging test of my life. Every single step was almost impossible. The dog, however, absolutely loved it!

In 2011 I had broke my wrist and it was placed in a cast. On a Friday our area was having torrential downpours. Now, I really enjoy running in the rain. We especially like it in the summer because it helps regulate the body’s temperature.

As per the doctors orders I was not permitted to get my cast wet. So, I wrapped my wrist up in a couple Hefty trash bags and went out in the rain anyway. I looked hilarious and my wrist hurt me. We did it anyway. We run when we are ill. It might not be smart but we do it anyway. I have ran with the flu. Its not a pretty sight but I do not want to let Crystal down.

I also am not ready to use that red Sharpie marker. This won’t last forever and someday I will have to use it. But not today.

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