Track star credits his Island coach

JON KILB PHOTO | Tyler Cardillo about to break away in the anchor leg of Florida State Championship 4X800 meter relay in May. The team ran 7:40.4, a new state record, ranking it fourth in the nation. His time was 1:51.9 for his leg.

Tyler Cardillo, a Shelter Island summer resident, excelled in soccer when he first took up sports seriously in eighth grade at Catholic school in Florida. But he took part in a Catholic middle schools track and field event just for fun and liked it so much -— maybe because he won the state championship, with no training, soon after inhaling a Cuban sandwich — he started thinking about taking up track and field when he moved on to Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda.

His father Gary has summered at Westmoreland since 1960, and Card’s Cabins before that, and lived on the Island full-time for a while after college. He knew just what to do about his son’s new interest: call his old friend Cliff Clark on Shelter Island for advice.

Mr. Clark, well known on the Island for his high school track coaching and his younger days as an Olympic candidate for the Air Force, took Tyler into his small training group that summer four years ago. “It was clear he was talented,” Mr. Clark recalled.

He would go on to become Tyler’s virtual coach through high school, having hundreds of phone and email exchanges with Tyler’s real coach in Florida, Chris George, and always in person before and during the state meet each year.

Tyler would go on to become a track star who will run Friday at the New Balance Outdoor National Track and Field Championship at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. It’s the reason why Mr. Clark will be out of town and missing the Shelter Island 10K race this Saturday for the first time in 13 years. Mr. Clark is a co-founder of the annual event.

Tyler, who is graduating this year with a 4.10 GPA and starting the University of Florida in Gainesville next week with track and academic scholarships, is the Florida State 3A champion in the mile with a time of 4:11.1. According to Mr. Clark, he is “incredibly fast,” running the 5,000-meter event in 15:10 and the 800 meter relay in 151. He was third in the nation at the New Balance Indoor Championship in February at the New York Armory, for which he was named to the high school All-American team.

COURTESY CLIFF CLARK | From left, Tyler Cardillo’s father Gary, mother Gail, coach Cliff Clark; Tyler’s girlfriend Sarah Spahn, the 2010 Florida State Cross Country Champion; and Tyler Cardillo at the 2011 Florida state championships in Winter Park on May 6.

“He’s just an amazing kid,” Mr. Clark said, crediting Tyler with helping to create a strong track and field program at Charlotte High School. Mr. Clark credited Tyler’s coach for his willingness to let him take part in Tyler’s training. “I couldn’t do it and wouldn’t do it without a coach’s complete support,” he said. “Chris George has been just fantastic.”

For Tyler, Cliff Clark has been an inspiration. “He has been a tremendous help to me,” he said Monday of Mr. Clark. “I wouldn’t be anywhere if it weren’t for Coach’s training mentally, physically and spiritually. He definitely brought me to a place I couldn’t be without him.”

Tyler, who was on the Island this week with the Clarks ahead of his big meet in North Carolina, grew up in Florida, where Gary and his wife Gail are experienced and successful realtors. He said he had worked out four times at the East Hampton High School track, “just some light stuff, strides and miles.”

His father thought it was just like Mr. Clark to credit Tyler with building the track and field program at Charlotte. He said Mr. Clark had a lot to do with it himself. The first year Tyler ran there, he was the only athlete to make it to the regionals and the states. But “the coach met with Cliff and came away with two-and-a-half pages of notes,” Mr. Cardillo said in a phone interview, brimming with plans and ideas for workouts and training regimes. Charlotte is now the two-time defending state champion.

Mr. Cardillo, like his son, said Mr. Clark’s coaching was about more than athleticism and strength. “The life lessons he has taught along the way go way beyond running,” he explained. “He trains psychologically as well as physically.”