Nic Chiri Goes from Wrestler to Runner

By Matt Levins for The Predicament

WEST POINT — Nic Chiri is happily married. He and his wife, Tara, have two children and Nic has a job as director of maintenance for the Fort Madison School District that keeps him hopping.

But Chiri, a former wrestler for New London High School and baseball player for Southeastern Community College, was looking for a new challenge, something to push his body and mind to the limit and beyond.

So Chiri, who never liked to run — his father, New London wrestling coach Mark Chiri said, 'You're a wrestler. You're not built to be a runner' — took up running.

It started with a 10K, then a 50K, then a half-marathon, followed by a marathon.

Still not satisfied, Nic Chiri went all in. Last month, the former wrestler competed in his first ultra-marathon, running 100 miles in 28 hours, 55 seconds.

Chiri pushed his body and mind to the maximum, going 1 1/2 days without sleep while completing the Booneville Backroads Ultra near Van Meter.

While Chiri said it took his body nearly two weeks to recuperate from the grueling run, it was also one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling experiences of his life.

"It was brutal. I signed up to see what my body could do and I found out," said Chiri, who just turned 35. "I signed up for this 100-mile thing one night. They give you 36 hours to run 100 miles. It was all on gravel roads around Booneville. They guy that won it was right under 24 hours. My goal was 24 hours. After that it was like, 'Let's just finish this thing.'"

Chiri, a 2004 graduate of New London High School, grew up a wrestler, because that's what Chiris do. Nic Chiri played some football and baseball, too, but it was on the wrestling mat where he left his mark as a Tiger. He finished his career with a 167-20 record with 119 pins, both among the all-time state leaders.

Nic Chiri loved wrestling, but there was one part he did not enjoy.

"I always hated running to cut weight," He said. "After my senior year I said I would never do it again."

Chiri found out that never is a long time.

Chiri eventually married Tara Kaltefleiter, a former volleyball standout for Marquette High School. Before they knew it, the couple had two kids and had relocated to West Point, buying in a home near South Park.

Chiri, never one to sit still long, was looking for a new adventure. He never dreamed he would find it in running.

"Back in 2018, toward the end of the year, I was 33 and Tara and I have two kiddos and I was just looking for something to do," Chiri said. "In January of 2019 I was going to run a 10K. Six miles seemed like an insane amount to run."

Things escalated quickly from there.

"Kurt Lowenberg said, 'Why don't you try a half-marathon?'" Chiri said.

Chiri did just that, then completed a 50K (31 miles) and then stepped it up another notch, deciding to run a marathon (26.2 miles).

Chiri doesn't like to run, but he loves the feeling of accomplishment, of pushing his mind and body to the breaking point. It's part of the wrestler that still dwells deep within him.

"The last 50K I did it got to the point where I was walking. It was literally one foot in front of the other," Chiri said. "I still don't like running, but I love the feeling of doing a hard thing."

When Chiri decided last spring to train for an ultra-marathon, he put together a team to help him. Tara is the crew chief and is in charge of making sure the food and drinks are prepared for the tortuous run. Geoff Overton came on board to help, as did Kurt and Rhonda Lowenberg, all close friends with Nic and Tara Chiri.

While Nic Chiri did all the running, he admits he could not have done it without his team.

"You need somebody there to mentally hold you in there," Nic Chiri said. "I didn't sleep at all during the ultra-marathon. Every 10 miles or so you need an aid station to get food and water and those guys made sure I had what I needed when I needed it. They met me at every single aid station. I would change my clothes, get something to drink, eat a small meal. Some people do it without any help at all. I honestly don't know how they do it."

While training for the ultra-marathon, Chiri often found himself in some very dark places, both physically and mentally. He had to find a way to grind through, persevere, push his body through things he never imagined doing. A lot of it was mental.

"My family is always my No. 1 priority, so I would do all of my training runs at night when Tara and the kids are sleeping. I would get up at 2 a.m. and run the gravel roads around West Point just to get used to running in the dark alone," Chiri said. "There are times I would be out in the middle of nowhere and it's pitch black and I'm wondering, 'Why am I doing this? I'm 34-years old and I have a job to go to in a few hours. Is it really worth it?'"

Through it all, Tara was by his side, supporting him every step of the way. When he didn't feel like running, she made sure he stuck to his commitment. It all paid off when he completed his first 100-mile run.

"I usually go on 20- or 30-mile runs on the weekends. I get up early and go out and run," Nic Chiri said. "I couldn't do it without my wife supporting me. I always have these crazy ideas. Without her support they would just be another dream in the pan. There would be days when I was just so tired I didn't want to get up and run. She would look at me and say, 'You know, you are giving up a lot to do this. You have to go do it.'"

Since he started running in late 2018, Chiri's life, and health, have taken a 180-degree turn. When he started out, he weighed 220 pounds. After recovering from the ultra-marathon, Chiri was down to 162 pounds. And he is eating the healthiest he has in his life, even when he was wrestling back in high school.

"This is really keeping me physically fit. I am in the best shape of my life since I was a junior or senior in high school, back when I was 18," Chiri said. "I am reading two or three books a month now and I am eating a vegan diet. I am eating plant-based food only since January and I feel so much better. It's unbelievable how easy it is to maintain my weight with this diet."

Chiri is trying to inspire others to get in shape, something that has become increasingly important with the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I like to inspire people. My kids are four and six and I want them to have something to remember. I want them to know if you want to do something, you can do it," Chiri said. "I have taken advantage of 2020 and made the best of what I could out of this year. You know, if I can do this, anyone can do it. You just have to put your mind to it. It's one foot in front of the other."