Assistant cross country coach Chris Curto ’03 found an interesting way to travel to the team’s regional meet in Oneonta, New York: a Cessna 172.
Curto, who earned his pilot’s license in 2006, had been telling Head Coach Phil Jennings for years that he was going to fly to one of the team’s meets. With perfect weather forecast for the day of the Atlantic Regional Championships on November 13, Curto decided to make good on his statement.
He took off early that morning from Trenton–Mercer Airport for the 135-nautical-mile flight to Oneonta. Along the way, Curto touched down at Andover Airport to pick up a friend, former Lions’ runner Brandon Rodkewitz ’10. (Rodkewitz’s tweet captured the moment perfectly: “Nothing like rolling up to a deserted airfield & having your assistant coach pick u up in a Cessna to fly to regionals. Good Luck TCNJ!”). When the two landed in Oneonta Municipal Airport, a team member was there to give them a ride to the course. Total one-way travel time for Curto that morning: 90 minutes.
“It took the team bus about four and a half hours to make the trip the day before,” Curto said with a laugh.
Curto said he’s been fascinated with planes since childhood, and promised himself early on that he’d take flying lessons if he could ever afford them. After saving enough money from his job teaching 8th grade social studies at Reynolds Middle School, he enrolled in Royal Karina’s flight school at Trenton–Mercer airport. He completed much of the written course work on his own, relying on the school’s instructors to help him log enough time in the air to earn a private pilot’s license, which enables him to fly single-engine land planes under visual flight rules.
When asked if he was nervous the first time he flew solo, Curto explained, “When you describe the experience to someone who hasn’t done it before, it seems like it would be nerve-wracking, but when you actually do it, it’s more of a challenge than anything else.”
Staring down challenges is a part of what makes Curto tick, and when he’s not overcoming them in the air he enjoys doing so on the ground. After getting his pilot’s license, the former high school and college distance runner set his sights on tackling another personal goal: running a marathon.
“I always had it in the back of my mind that someday I’d run one,” he said. His first marathon was New York’s in 2007, where he finished in 2:47. “Competing in New York was such a cool experience, but I knew I could run faster,” he said. “So I set a goal for myself [that] I wanted to run another marathon to see if I could [finish] faster.”
Curto’s time in New York had qualified him for the Boston Marathon, which he said is “a Mecca for marathon runners.” Unlike New York, where anyone can enter a lottery to win a spot in the race, “You have to qualify to get into Boston, so everyone competing there has already finished a marathon,” Curto said. Boston’s hilly terrain also presents a far more challenging course than New York. Despite this, Curto posted a better time in Boston (2:39) than he did two years earlier in New York.
“It was a personal record, so I was pretty excited,” Curto said. But he was still determined to run faster, and entered last fall’s Chicago Marathon with the goal of finishing in 2:30. He said he ran 70 to 80 miles a week over the summer to train, and although he missed the mark he set for himself—“I was on pace, but sort of fell apart at the end,” he explained—he finished with a personal best time of 2:35.
Jennings, who ran Chicago with Curto, offered this assessment of his assistant coach’s drive and athleticism: “People would say to me, ‘Oh you’re running with Chris in the Chicago marathon.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, I’m running a marathon, but Chris is racing a marathon.’” Curto brings that same spirit to his coaching duties with TCNJ’s cross country and track teams, Jennings said.
“As a recent graduate, Chris brings a great enthusiasm and pride for the program. He knows what the program has done in the past, and wants to see it continue,” Jennings said. Curto’s teaching background also makes him a great addition to the coaching staff, Jennings added. “Chris comes at things in a very methodical way,” Jennings said, citing Curto’s work with the Lions’ steeplechase runners as one example. “He was 10th in the country in steeplechase during his senior year, and he works with TCNJ’s group on all of the extra things they need to learn to go from being distance runners to running over hurdles on a track. His expertise and enthusiasm in that respect are a great help.”
Though he is unsure when his next marathon will be, Curto already has his sights set on his next challenge. “My ultimate goal is to become a flight instructor,” he said, a process that will require him to get his instrument rating and pass several more tests.
“I love teaching and I love flying. Being certified as a flight instructor would be a great way to make money doing something I really enjoy.”
Photos this page (c) Brandon Rodkewitz ’10