Saturday Spotlight- Michael Oliveri

Warrior of the Week Saturday Spotlight
Michael Oliveri
Married for 34 years to my wonderful wife Barbara
Two children Michael and Michele
And let’s not forget Marty the mini-schnauzer
First, I’ve had the greatest career and work experiences imaginable. Growing up if anyone had told me that I’d travel around the world, be a million mile member of two airlines, be financially secure, be trained at the Wharton School, Stanford and UNC, and be Vice President of 5 Corporations I would have thought they were crazy. But that’s exactly what happened.
When I was in high school I hadn’t a clue as to what I wanted to do with my life and never really had good grades so college wasn’t in my plans. While I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for my career I had three goals:
– I wanted an above average income
– I wanted to travel
– I wanted to make a difference in a corporation
After high school I worked full time in a supermarket and went to a trade school for computer technology and electronics at night. I ended up getting hired as a shipping and receiving clerk for a billion dollar electronics company and was able to work myself up into a sales position and ultimately to Vice President. At this point, I had no college degree and decided that if I was going to get into a senior level position I needed one, so I attended NYIT at night. It was here that I honed my time management skills. I was working full time, traveling about 25% of the time, raising two kids and going to school at night. I didn’t have a minute to spare.
My first big decision came in 1994. I was offered the job as Vice President Sales and Marketing of the company I was working for, but the job would require relocation to Portland, Oregon. Now the company wasn’t doing well, the stock had languished at $21 for years and the last 5 Vice Presidents were all fired, none of them lasted in the position longer than a year. All the “experts” told me it would be the worst decision of my life and not to accept the job. Now you know these people, they are the naysayers, the fear of failure type, and the “glass half empty” crowd. These are the people that are as much afraid of their own success as they are of yours. These are the same people that when I started running at 56 years old told me I would never be able to do it, my legs are too short, I started too late in life, I would get injured, etc.
I decided to accept the position and relocated my family to Portland. The CEO thought I was crazy when I told him I wanted less salary and more stock. I figured if I was successful the stock would go up and if I wasn’t a little extra salary wasn’t going to matter I’d be gone anyway. We made a lot of bold changes, the business grew and the stock ran to $86 (I wonder what the experts were thinking now). I remember the day I sold most of my stock. I was in my late 40’s but already I was thinking about an early retirement. I was in the position for 10 years when one of my co-workers became CEO of a company here in NY. He recruited me and the process started all over again.
In his book, “Success is a Choice” Rick Pitino states, “…no matter what profession you are in be the best that you can be and don’t chase the money. If you are really good at what you do the money will chase you”. That’s exactly what happened to me and in the last 10 years of my career I was Vice President and General Manager of three high tech corporations. I got a reputation in the industry as the guy you called when your business was in trouble, your product wasn’t selling and you needed big changes fast. For someone that didn’t go to college right away, barely made it through high school and had little focus I felt very lucky to have companies bidding over me.
I tell this piece of my life here because there is a huge lesson here, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do anything. Don’t listen to the “experts”, have confidence in yourself and don’t be afraid of failing. I often wonder how my career would have shaped up if I had listened to all the people who told me I couldn’t do something.
As my career blossomed, so did my weight. I was traveling around the world, eating at the best restaurants, living out of airports and hotels and drinking way more than I should have been. It seemed like I would no sooner buy a suit then I would have to have it let out or buy a new one. This went on for years. During this time I lost both my parents to heart disease and figured it was time to get a check up and stress test. As you could imagine the results weren’t good. I was over 200 pounds, elevated blood pressure and my cholesterol numbers were off the chart. I knew something had to change.

It was around this time that I adopted a dog. Now those of you that have pets know they can change your life and I wonder if I hadn’t adopted the dog if I would have gotten into running. After I adopted the dog I started walking him at a park by my home. I was walking him around the same time every day and ended up making friends with some people and we would all walk together each morning. One of the guys was pretty heavy but I noticed that every time I walked with him he was losing weight. I asked him about it and he told me he had started running. He also mentioned to me that he had signed up for a 5K Entenmanns Run ( I had no clue what a 5K was. Couldn’t they just use mileage? ) and also encouraged me to sign up for it. Now I’m 56 years old, never ran a race in my life, I was 52 pounds heaver than I am now and in horrible shape. But I figured if it could work for him, it could work for me.
So I go out and buy running shoes, a stopwatch and running shorts. I’m ready!! I went to the Bay Shore track, warmed up and started the stopwatch. I made it half way around the track….1/8 of a mile and I was toast. A 5K might as well have been an ultra-marathon. I wasn’t going to be deterred but I realized this running stuff was way more difficult then I thought. I kept after it and at some point made it around the track once.
For weeks I was going to the track and I was making progress. I was able to make a mile, then two then three. I was thinking wow I might actually be able to do this. A funny thing started happening. I was exercising more so I had more energy and with that I started dropping weight. Now I’m carrying around less weight so my running is getting better, I’m eating better so I feel better and I begin losing more weight. A nice pattern was taking place.
In Oct of 2010 at 56 years old, I run my first race ever. I finished the Entenmanns 5K run in 31:59 minutes and I couldn’t have been more proud. I was hooked. I started running more 5K’s and eventually worked my way up to a 10K. This went on for months and I ended up meeting two women at the dog park who told me they were about to start running and they had signed up for a class at Walk to Run Fitness called “Couch to 5K”. I looked at the Website and noticed they had another class “How to run a faster 5K”. I signed up for it and it was here I met our own Kiersten Burns Bartolotta. I took Kiersten’s class and learned all about equipment, pacing, stretching, and injury prevention. After this class I gained more confidence and I started to feel like a runner.
Two years after my first run ever and at the Entenmanns run again I ran my first half marathon. Surprisingly, at the end of the half marathon I decided that, with the proper training and dedication I could run a full marathon. So a few months after the Entenmanns half I downloaded full marathon training program and began marathon training. I had no clue where or what marathon but I wanted to start training so I did. I got turned down for the NY marathon but found an inaugural marathon in Goshen, NY in Oct 2013. So three years after my first run ever I ran a marathon (I’ve now run 4 total). By this time I had lost 52 pounds, my blood pressure was normal, my cholesterol was within limits and I was feeling great.
At this point I had never even heard of the Selden Hills but I do remember seeing the shirts at some of my runs. Now once again here is where the dog comes into play. I had noticed that on Tuesdays when I walked the dog at Gardner Park there was a group of runners. They tended to be older but were there every Tuesday. I had some running shirt on one day and one of them said “hey why don’t you start running with us”. I thought why not? They are right by my house, they are there every week and it beats running alone. So I did. About the third week I was running with them I met Kristine Densing. Kristine and I started running together as our paces were pretty close and a week or so later I met her then finance Steve Lutz. The three of us would run together and one day they told me about the Selden Hills.
We made plans to run the Selden Hills and I had no idea what I was in for. So Steve Lutz, Kristine and myself agree to meet at the Selden Hills and run the course. I remember running the day before and I’m thinking hell its only a 10K how bad can it be? We met Nicole Ryann Ellis there that day and someone else whose name escapes me and I ran the Selden hills for the first time. I think my time was like 1:04 but it was a struggle and I thank Steve and Kristine for circling back and making sure I didn’t get lost.
I was now a member of the Selden Hills!! I was admitted to the Website and I even got a sticker to prove I ran the hills! Maybe a week or so later I saw a post from Michele Rizzo Berg asking if anyone wanted to run the hills……the timing looked good for me and I told her yes, but I hoped she knew the course because I was sure I didn’t. Together we ran the hills and a great friendship was born. We started running the hills 2-3 times a week and were joined by Nancy Walker Anderson. We were like the three musketeers running the hills and envisioned the day we would break 1 hour. We came close, one day running it in 1:00 27 seconds and we vowed we would break one hour the next time we ran it. We accomplished that goal and all three of us were getting stronger as runners.
To me running is like wine, good food or anything that brings people together with a common interest. Running brings people together from all walks of life; it brings people together from different backgrounds, ethnicity etc. A great example of this is one of my running partners Ginger Geniuss. I was training for the Portland, Oregon marathon and wanted to get some long runs in when I saw a post from Ginger asking if anyone wanted to run long that week. I messaged her and we agreed to meet and get a long run in. Now on the surface I don’t think you can find two runners that are more incompatible. We live over 25 miles from one another, I’m more than twice her age, she’s way faster than me, she graduated Cornell, I had to look up how to spell Cornell, she’s really beautiful and I’m……….ok we do have some things in common . We ran 12 miles that day and have been running 1-2 times a week together ever since. I’ll estimate we’ve run over 400 miles together all over Long Island. This is a real tribute to the Selden Hills group, bringing people together and helping make complete strangers friends.
There you go Lou ….maybe that should be our motto!

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