People on the Move: Michael Chirico

Recently, Michael Chirico was getting ready to leave on yet another trip to Haiti, loaded down with 50-pound duffel bags filled with brand-new running shoes, as well as hundreds of used shoes and other footwear donated by his charitable customers. Although these trips are sort of routine for him, this time he was headed to Danitas Childrens Orphanage, a 3-hour bus ride from the airport in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. It all started just over a year ago when he met Joseph Cole, a minister at Tower Hill First Presbyterian Church, who is associated with the Aslan Youth Ministries in Red Bank. Aslan Youth Ministries is a non-profit organization serving urban youth and their families, and in 1996 Aslan established an outreach in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, West Indies. Together, Michael and Joseph visited Haiti and observed the immense poverty of this islands people. Hardest hit, Michael noted, were the children many of whom were barefoot and naked, playing in the streets, surrounded by garbage and filth. Michael is not the sort of person to just look the other way; he felt compelled to do something.     So, in February, he took a trip down to Ouanaminthe, a town of approximately 70,000 people, and about the size of Middletown. It has no sewer systems, no electricity, no infrastructure, and no law enforcement apart from the United Nations forces. Michael and Joseph brought three duffel bags of Shore Runner shoes with them; thanks to them, there were even some adults in Haiti who were now wearing shoes for the first time! But this was just the beginning for Michael; he had finally found his calling.

    Michael was born in Red Bank and grew up in Marlboro, but now he and his strikingly beautiful fiance, Christine Clifton, have settled in Long Branch; it was the running scene that brought them together. A shore runner for more than 10 years, Michael enjoys training, trail running, and road races, and has now completed nine marathons; he recently ran a personal best of 2 hours, 48 minutes in the 2008 Rock n Roll Marathon in Phoenix, Arizona. Christine, a long-distance runner and record holder herself, organizes a kids running program in Monmouth Beach. She became a professional runner in 1999, and has been actively running for more than 20 years. Christine is one of Americas top distance runners, competing in many world-class, elite running events and nationally recognized races. Training camps and races have taken her to places such as Kenya, Switzerland, Italy, Korea, and Colombia. But now it is Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, that has captured their attention.

    Michael, the fifth in a family of six

siblings, didnt try running until college. Professionally, a licensed New Jersey attorney, Michael has worked in the financial services industry for the past 10 years, most notably for KPMG, an international accounting firm. Its a job that he recently walked away from with no regrets. It was time to think with my heart, not with my head.

    Michaels heart has told him to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate, and his love of running seems to be the way to make that happen. On his last trip to Haiti Michael met with Danita Estrella. Danita had left a modeling career in California to do mission work there, won over by the desperate needs of the children. In 1999 she left the life she knew, moved to Haiti, and started an orphanage and school. Now, just 8 years later, there are 540 students enrolled in the school, and over 80 children are housed, fed, and lovingly cared for in her orphanage. She is such an inspiration to me, says Michael. You should see what she has done, and all the people she has brought together to help.

    At Michael and Christines store, Shore Runner at Pier Villages, their 13 1⁄2-year-old Weimaraner, Daisy, comes looking for pats. Daisy used to run with me actually she would do 20 milers with Chris but shes getting up there; shes not running much anymore, Michael says sadly. But the smile quickly returns to his face as he looks over at the large box next to Daisy thats filled with shoes of all sizes and colors, the contents of which were donated by customers and were heading for Haiti that night. There are just so many wonderfully generous people out there, and Michael has given them a new opportunity to make a difference with his Shoes for Haitis Kids campaign!

Favorite restaurant: Bamboo Leaf
Favorite music: folk
Favorite Movie: Tombstone
Pet peeve: dishes in the sink
Three people you would like to have dinner with: John Lennon,
Cat Stevens, and Roger Bannister (the first person who, at age 25, broke the 4-minute mile [in 1954])

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12 Sep 2016

By Teja Anderson