Eye on the Ball: Running for a (personal) record

COURTESY PHOTO Tyler Cardillo, number 2, on his way to a 4:11 mile and a Florida State championship.
COURTESY PHOTO Tyler Cardillo, number 2, on his way to a 4:11 mile and a Florida State championship.

Growing up in the 1950s, I’d occasionally see a young man running along the streets of the city, but I don’t recall ever seeing a woman running.

Today, regardless of age or gender, it seems all the streets should have a separate lane just to accommodate the multitude
of runners.

In 1954, 25-year-old Roger Bannister became the first man to break the four-minute mile. I remember pictures of him all over our high school for his tremendous accomplishment.

I’m telling you this because here on Shelter Island we have a relatively unknown young man, two years younger than Bannister was at the time he broke the barrier, who is knocking on the door of repeating this remarkable feat.

His name is Tyler Cardillo, son of Gary and Gail Cardillo. Although his permanent home is in Punta Gorda, Florida, his family has summered here since the 1950s. Tyler’s grandparents, Ario and Jeanne Cardillo, had the foresight to know what Shelter Island had to offer and saved to purchase the Westmoreland house that the Cardillos consider their real home.

It was an accident that 14-year-old Tyler started running. He was playing multiple sports when his gym teacher asked if he wanted to run cross country. When Tyler mentioned this to his family, they thought he had enough on his plate. Even after Tyler told his parents that he was the fastest runner in the school, they still counseled him that he had enough to do.

Without telling Tyler’s folks, the coach of his small, Catholic middle school entered the untrained Tyler and a few other classmates into a highly competitive Catholic middle school state championship held in Miami.

Tyler didn’t even have the proper shoes, so he had to borrow his father’s shoes, which were two sizes too small. It was a two-mile mile race and he had a zero strategy for running.

The track was a half-mile oval so they had to circle it four times. As his dad, Gary, told me, after the first lap Tyler was up among the leaders. After the second lap, he was leading the pack, with mom and dad figuring their boy wasn’t pacing himself and would burn out. But Tyler kept increasing his lead and beat his nearest competitor by 75 yards. Tyler ran that two miles in 11:59, becoming a champion in his division.

Not knowing what to make of this, Gary sought the advice, of an old friend, the Island’s Cliff Clark, a national champion runner.

When Gary told Cliff the story of his son’s championship race, Cliff realized the boy was running “faster than me and I was training.” He asked if Tyler could come up that summer so he could judge if he was the real deal. That was the beginning of a solid bond that has continued.

Tyler entered Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda with only that one race under his belt. As a freshman he was competing against seniors, but became the team’s top runner. Later in the season, he was the only team member to qualify for the Florida State Championship.

The coaches at Charlotte said they’d never had anyone run like this before and were seeking guidance to maximize Tyler’s potential. Gary suggested they meet with Cliff, who completely overhauled the team training schedule, contributing to back-to-back state championships.

Tyler attended the University of Florida for its record of academic excellence, but it was not an ideal school for middle distance runners. Sprint coaches were handling Tyler’s training and his times were slipping. Cliff felt that in order for Tyler to grow, he had to attend a school with a first-rate middle distance program.

Tyler finished freshman year as one of the top runners in the South Eastern Conference, but stopped running for the Gators and gave up his scholarship to focus his attention on his studies.

After he graduated last year, with one year of college eligibility left, Tyler called Cliff and asked if he would help him attain his goal of breaking a four-minute mile.

Last summer, Tyler could be seen running all over the Island. Following Cliff’s suggestions, he took long runs through Mashomack and up and down the steep slopes of Goat Hill, swiftly returning to his earlier form.

Cliff was instrumental in Tyler’s recruitment by Harding University — Cliff’s alma mater — for indoor and outdoor track. At Harding, in Searcy, Arkansas, Tyler is doing more than running; he’s completing his MBA in hospital administration with plans for medical school.

Cliff said Tyler’s unusual combination of speed, endurance and quick recovery race-to-race is what make him such a strong runner. He’s a state champion in the 1,600 meters and the anchor for the two-time state champion 4×800 relay team.

Although his fastest mile is 4:08, running a sub-four-minute mile is still his goal.

Although I have never heard his parents bragging about their son, I’ll take care of that. Good luck Tyler!