The littlest Marine Corps marathoner is an 8-year-old who weighs 70 pounds and is still afraid of the dark. He has been running competitively for less than two years and already has set four national age group records. He has a full-time coach, a weight training program, even a corporate sponsor.
Chuckie Eisele Jr., a third-grader from Atco, N.J., has spoiled more runner highs than shin splints.
"He gets some remarks from the macho men that are getting beaten," says his father. "There is nothing like a kid running past you to kill your ego."
Yesterday morning, Eisele was picked up at the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington by a Marine Corps major and taken to CBS studios in Washington for a television taping. The blue-eyed, blond-haired, freckle-faced kid is a hot property.
This morning at 9, when he sets off from Iwo Jima Memorial in a pack of 11,000 runners, Eisele will be trying to break the national marathon record for his age group of 3 hours 54 minutes 34 seconds, set in 1972. He has run one marathon already in a time of 4:30. But that was last year, when he was just a kid.
Eisele has run five miles in 33 1/2 minutes and 10 miles in 1:20. He runs so far, so fast that some runners check under his jersey for battery wires and others wonder whether he is running or being pushed.
"You hear a lot about this little league syndrome, of dads pushing kids," says Eisele's father, who describes himself as 30 pounds overweight and incapable of running 100 yards. "In this family it's been the other way around. The kids are pushing the parents."
There are a half-dozen runners age 10 or younger competing in today's Marine Corps Marathon. A decade ago, it would have been almost unthinkable to have kids that young competing at that distance. There are many in the running community, including pediatricians and psychologists, who think it should have stayed that way.
"We do feel the musculo-skeletal system -- the bones and joints -- is relatively softer and there is more of a risk of chronic injury" to children, said Dr. Lyle Micheli, director of the division of sport medicine at Boston's Children's Hospital. "More and more kids are entering marathons. We don't know how safe it is for kids to run these distances . . . They may get injuries that may not become apparent for 20 to 30 years."
Eisele says he has investigated the dangers to his son from distance running and feels confident they are not serious. Chuckie's pediatrician is a runner. Besides, he says, there is no way to keep him from running, short of tying his shoes together.
"He was hyperactive when he was a baby," says his mother Virginia. She remembers last year after running a marathon, Chuckie came home and went right back out to play.
Eisele entered his first race when he was 6. He was supposed to be there watching his older sister compete. Fifteen minutes before the start of the 10,000 meter run, he persuaded his father to register him. He not only finished the race but won a ribbon. Now you'd need a small truck to move his medals and trophies.
Not many other 8-year-olds endorse sporting gear.
"We were talking to the people at Adidas just yesterday in Trenton," says his father. "They gave him equipment and all of that. He has hats, bags, shoes, training suits, shorts. He can't take any money. They had already told us, they talk money after college."