Posted On November 1, 2009 By In Interviews And 1362 Views

Kurt Cimino: A Tale Of Two People

This is really a story about two people: one before January 2008, and one after. Believe it not, KURT CIMINO (pronounced SIM-in-o), is the same person in both photos, before and after.

Kurt did his first run ever on September 6, 2008, at the DRC five mile Breakfast Bash, directed by FRANCES and SCOTT MCKISSICK. DAVE MATLACK won that race in a time of 27:44 (a 5:28 average pace per mile). But, way down the list was Kurt, finishing in 44:27 (an 8:53 average pace per mile), 10th in the Clydesdale Division, and weighing 212 lbs, down from the 301 lbs he weighed nine months earlier in January 2008.

“Before the race, I talked with people from the DRC marathon training class, as we got in a few miles before the start, and said that I wanted to finish with a pace below 9:00 per mile. I had no concept of pacing. During the middle I had to slow to nearly a walk because I had basically been sprinting for the first mile and a half. In the end I did cross the finish line before 45 minutes. I was just glad I did that.”

Being a DRC member, the race was part of his marathon training group. So he doesn’t count it. “I’d have to say that the first race I really tried to race was the 2008 Tour des Fleur 20K. I started too fast and ended up walking more than half of the last 3 miles.”

He had started running and exercising for weight loss. “I’ve always preferred riding a bike, and actually hated running. But during the winter in Illinois it’s often too cold to enjoy riding a bike, and difficult to find the time when you are a full time student, other than weekends. Running was something convenient that I could do daily in the neighborhood, around my apartment, or at the school’s indoor track if the weather was bad.”

But when he started, he said he couldn’t run two miles without stopping and walking. “It was like trying to ride an old rusty bicycle up a steep hill in too high of a gear.” He learned to slow down his pace to complete his runs. “There’s a point I reach now in my long runs where I feel like a well-oiled machine. My breathing, heart, arms, legs, and feet are all working perfectly together. I get the feeling that my body is doing exactly what it evolved to do. I feel a connection between myself and the environment I’m running through. I guess that’s what everyone calls a runner’s high.” Through running he says he’s found an appreciation for his body he never knew before.

The transformation has been remarkable.

Kurt did the Freedom 5K on Sept 11, 2008, and finished just under an 8:20 pace for a time of 25:51. Progress was being made, though he had no aspirations of winning, because the race or struggle was entirely against himself. He did the Tour des Fleur 20K (12.4 miles) on September 20, 2008.

Then, in December of 2008, Kurt finished the Dallas White Rock Marathon in 4:34:54, a 10:30 average pace per mile, and placed 142nd in his age group division, no longer in the Clydesdale weight class division. It remains one of his favorite running memories. “Finishing DWR Marathon was very special. If you’ve never run a marathon, you don’t know the relief, excitement, and pride that can be generated by seeing the single word ‘FINISH’ printed on a banner above the road.”

One of his roommates from college, “Sayya,” flew in to see Kurt’s achievement. Sayya had seen Kurt over their many years together. “Because Sayya had lived with me for so long, he had seen some of my more depressed periods during school, so it was particularly special to me to complete a marathon with him watching. Sayya grasped how much of a change this represented for me.” Just one year before, Christmas of 2007, Kurt had made great changes in his life. He decided to leave grad school and lose weight. “In many different ways the past year had been a success, and to have the culmination of those successes end with the completion of a marathon, and to be able to share that with close friends, was a moment I will probably never forget.”

But he didn’t stop there. He bought a bike. His first multi-sport race was the Texas Motor Speedway Duathlon on February 22, 2009. “That was where I got hooked,” he said. A week later, on February 28, he completed the Cowtown Half Marathon, in 1:41:59, for an unbelievable 7:49 pace. Kurt did his first triathlon less than a year after his first race, at the May 17, 2009 Texas Man Triathlon Sprint Distance race. He was 23rd of 209 overall, less than 10 minutes behind the male winner, SCOTT DECKER, and less than seven minutes behind the female winner, DELLA IRBY. No doubt, these other people had no clue Kurt was behind them, or the great strides he was making towards a new life.

This past summer he was inspired to do the Chicago Triathlon, one of the largest in the world. It was a race he has wanted to do for many years. His schedule is below:

Monday: easy run, strength training (pull-, push-, and sit-ups)
Tuesday: shorter bike ride (<20 miles) and running speed work
Wednesday: AM, bike hills or intervals; PM, tempo run
Thursday: pool swim, and easy run or strength training
Friday: off
Saturday: Long run (9-10 miles) and long bike (40-50 miles)
Sunday: open water swim and long bike ride

Kurt was on a roll dieting, hitting the races, doing the runs and track workouts at TNT-Tuesday Night Track, and losing weight. Lately, he says, “I’ve been around 180lbs. for the past couple of months.” That’s a loss of 121 lbs.

He said losing the weight was easy once he made his mind up. “To lose the bulk of the weight I did calorie counting and a mixture of light jogging and walking.” This is what every dietitian encourages. (A registered dietitian has a science based degree and is trained to promote lifestyle change, not a “diet” or unnecessary supplements.)

Kurt took total charge of his amazing transformation, using logic, and his critical thinking skills. This is not for everyone, particularly people who are not disciplined.

“When I first started, I recorded everything I ate, my exercise, and my weight for eight weeks. I used all this data to experimentally calculate my metabolic rate. After this experiment, I saw I really could lose as much weight as I wanted to by either eating fewer calories or exercising more. Although that seems obvious, it’s one thing to know it in a casual sense, but another thing to have the concrete data in front of you. I continued to record my food intake for about a year, by which point I had started to eat healthy foods by default.

While I was losing weight I went through several different phases where I would try to alter my diet and see what effect certain parameters had on how I felt and how much weight I might lose. When I started out, I only had a target calorie level that I realize now was far too low and resulted in my losing nearly four pounds a week. As time went on, I became more active and kept increasing my calorie intake until my weight loss leveled off. At different times some of these parameters included a target calorie level, a target calorie from fat percentage, a target protein intake, fiber intake, total carb calories, and complex carb calories.
I no longer count calories, but I try to eat very healthy foods and get most of my calories from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  I’m currently experimenting with a vegetarian diet.”

To start a new job, Kurt moved to Dallas from central Illinois in the middle of his plan. “Nearly all the friends I made after I moved here I made through running, cycling, and triathlon. So nearly all of my social outlets have centered around exercise. This has made exercising fun and easy to get motivated to do. I’ve found it easier to set goals, including those that are non-exercise related.”

Something he didn’t expect: “I’ve also found that I don’t run the air conditioner as much in my apartment. On the other side of that, I have to keep a sweatshirt at work because I get cold sitting at my desk.” He is using exercise, and running in particular, as a stress reliever.

Kurt was born March 18, 1982, Urbana, IL. He has one sister, who is four years older. His mother was a 4th grade public schoolteacher, now retired. Together, they grew up in sister city, Champaign, IL, afraid of tornadoes and public speaking. In school, he played the alto sax. But by himself, he spent most of his time reading and cycling, he says. After graduating from Centennial High School in Champaign, he received a BS degree in electrical engineering in 2004 from the Univ. of IL, then a Master’s degree in the same field in 2007.

Admittedly, he’s quiet and reserved. But, once he warms up, he laughs heartily and enjoys making others laugh as well. He enjoys computers, electronics, cooking, food (“Cafe Brazil and their free refill coffee.”), reading, and cycling, especially “flying down Lake Shore Drive on my bike towards downtown Chicago.”

“By my apartment there’s a Half Price Books and a Cafe Brazil in the same shopping center, and between those two places I can completely waste the second half of a Sunday. I’m currently going through a classic crime novel phase. I just finished reading ‘The Big Sleep’ by Raymond Chandler.” He also enjoys dancing (“I taught THE Lindy Hop while I was in college. The Lindy Hop is a swing dance with an emphasis on improvisation. I’m actually not too bad of a dancer.”), and music, too – rock, blues, jazz, and swing music.

Kurt has learned wisdom beyond his years. “There are plenty of people who are faster than me,” he says humbly, knowingly.

“Generally, I admire anyone who willingly steps outside of their comfort zone.  It’s one thing to do something you’re good at, and it’s another thing to find joy in challenging yourself and risk failure without fear. I admire my mother for raising my sister and me. I didn’t really think about it as a child. The older I get the more I’m impressed by all that she managed to do by herself.”

Kurt hasn’t done many races, but enough to know the Dallas White Rock Marathon is his favorite. Especially last year’s edition. It was his first marathon. Two friends from Chicago flew in to watch him do it. “I had never even seen a marathon before, and it was the first time I had ever experienced the energy that surrounds a race of that magnitude. It was like running through a perpetual block party. At different times throughout the race, random people, in front of their own houses or just standing on the street, offered me Gatorade, oranges slices, bananas, doughnuts, and beer. I didn’t meet the time goal I wanted, but I still had a great time and was thrilled to finish.”

He believes the Dallas community is doing a great job maintaining running areas and is tolerant of runners. “In the neighborhoods around White Rock Lake, people are generally tolerable of all the runners. Even in the Park cities, where we’re not supposed to run on the street, the police will usually just tell you to move onto the side walk and then leave you alone.”

“I had always wanted to do a triathlon. The thought of running a marathon never entered my mind when I started running. When I moved to the Dallas area it was the friendliness and inclusiveness of the Dallas running community, and the Dallas Running Club specifically, that took me from being someone who jogged after work to being a runner. I feel that I have to thank ANGELA TURNAGE, SCOTT BERTRAND, NIKKI DAVIS, NOVLE ROGERS, MARCIE ADAME, LUCY SILVAS, MARK OLATEJU, and MICHALE HENRY for this change.”

The most Kurt has run is going over 40 miles in a week once while training for the 2008 DWRM. He has to watch his left knee. He had an ACL reconstruction in 2007. The injury was not running related.

He thinks about work on the short runs, and on the long runs he likes talking. But if the pace is too hard, “I think about the PR I’m working towards.” Getting out the door is not his problem. “I seem to do it without needing much inspiration, and I look forward to running everyday.” Aside from the sense of well being he gets, Kurt says he’s driven to do his best. “I find setting PRs very rewarding.”

He runs with the DRC and TNT-Tuesday Night Track groups when he can. All of his open water swimming is with Dallas Athletes in Coppell. Outside of that, he says, he trains with “Lucy and the Nerd Brigade,” LUCY SILVAS, KEN CHIGANI, and ANIL DEVEGOWDA.

“The very first time I met Kurt,” Lucy Silvas says, “was at one of the DRC social runs almost two years ago. I remember thinking, ‘Who is this guy trying to run faster than me? Who does he think he is?’ Little did I know, that guy was about to become an amazing athlete and one of my closest friends!”

Chigani has known Kurt for over a year. They met while running with a DRC training group. “He caught up with us and asked if this was the Dallas Running Club group. Before that, I don’t think he ever ran more than four miles at once,” but he went on to run the full White Rock Marathon that season.

Kurt and Ken began cycling together. “I’m lucky to have met him, because I’ve learned a lot from him, not just about bikes, but from his approach to training. He approaches a lot of things as an experiment. For example, changing around his bike setup, re-engineering his daily routine to become a morning person, or switching to a vegetable-heavy diet.

It’s also been encouraging to see how much he’s grown over the past year. It’s interesting to see just how training can transform a person, especially to another engineer like me.”

“Kurt has shared a lot of his knowledge with me,” Silvas adds. “In fact, my first time cycling around White Rock Lake was with him. He scolds me from time to time about still being scared of the bike and swimming in open water, but he always says it with an underlying tone of encouragement that I appreciate and use as motivation. His encouragement and friendship both stem from a good heart, and he’s never afraid to share his kindness.”

He says his running is a habit, now. “If I miss too many days in a row, I get anxious and have a hard time relaxing.” Now that he did the Chicago triathlon, Kurt would like to work on his running speed, specifically, his half marathon time, before doing another marathon. His PR at the half is 1:38:21 (7:30 pace) run at the University of Illinois.

“I’m also looking forward to some touring-style cycling this fall, and possibly getting some proper swim training.”

Silvas continues.

“When you talk about Kurt, you have to talk about his strength, both mental and physical. He always gives it his all and thinks nothing is too difficult. One day, Matt Gore, Ken Chigani, Kurt and I were doing hill repeats at Flagpole Hill. I said, ‘I can’t believe we just did 18!’ He responded, ‘Nothing surprises me anymore. If I can do 18, I can do 20, 22…’ Impressed by his attitude, determination and progress, I thought to myself, ‘He’s become a machine!’ ”

He’s been an electrical engineer who works on the design of high frequency circuits for over a year, now. His career goals are to contribute and learn his field. “I’ve only been out of school for a year, so I’m mainly concerned with making a good contribution to my design team at work and learning as much as I can from experienced engineers.

He’s proud he didn’t get his PhD, he says. “My primary accomplishment outside of running was deciding to leave graduate school before I finished my PhD and start a job. This may not sound like an accomplishment, but it was a very difficult decision, and I’m proud of myself for making an aggressive change in my life. I credit this decision with giving me the positive mental outlook I needed to diet and exercise on a regular basis.”

Asked about being fashion conscious, Kurt responded, “Ha! Uh…no. I will say that after the Austin to Shiner 100 Mile bike ride, my cycling tan lines were a point of humor for my running friends who don’t cycle. I purchased a sleeveless cycling jersey. I really don’t like shopping for clothes.” You can normally find him wearing Brooks Adrenaline shoes.

Silvas: “If you were to ask others about Kurt, some people might say he’s a bit shy and quiet. But, anyone who really knows him knows how that is far from the truth! Put him on a dance floor, and he will bust a move! Start talking about triathlons, and he won’t shut up! Kurt is interesting, kind, intelligent, fun, encouraging, motivating, and he plays such a happy part in my life. He is a great training buddy, but from the bottom of my heart, I am most thankful to have him as my friend, one of my dearest friends, my BFF!”

The other Kurt, the one before January 2008 when he took his first steps toward self-improvement, sat silently, never offering a quote or opinion. That Kurt is slowly fading away, while the new Kurt is moving on from the past, though acknowledging from whence he came. It is a new day, and the road stretches on forever, full of possibilities.

Chris Phelan has written, laid out, photographed, and published The Phast Times News since 2001. He’s crisscrossed Texas on his bike three times, swam 5 miles across Lake Ray Hubbard three times, completed three Ironman triathlons, and has represented the US in completion three times, and run with the Olympic Torch. He maintained All-American status for five years and has also biked across the country, 3600 miles in 30 days. The running/triathlon coach has PR’s of 2:27 marathon, 15:40 5K, 3:55 at the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred, and 10:00:52 Ironman. Chris is the only person to have won overall and Master’s at Dallas’ Crosson Dannis road racing series, DRC road racing series, and the USAT/SMW duathlon series. In 1988 he began Dallas’ oldest track workout, 1998 started north Texas’ first treadmill class, and 2003 he founded the world-wide Ride Of Silence. He’s been twice nominated Master’s Road Runner of the Year, highlighted in a variety of magazines and is frequently asked to speak at camps and organizations about fitness. Outside of swimming, biking, and running, Chris has summited several mountains including Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro.