For many, the thought of becoming a professional in the Track and Field sphere starts and ends with "Professional Athlete." In a new monthly series, MileSplit NY will be shining light on the broad spectrum of possibilities our sport provides, outside of competing as an athlete. We'll be meeting New Yorkers who have made their way in the sport, utilizing their own unique strengths, to bring the sport to the high level it sits at in the Empire State.
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Pat Leone knew where he was headed as he was running the trails and cross-country courses that are scattered across upstate and western New York, aware that his finish line was a bit further down the road than those against whom he was competing.
While Leone, 39, had a competitive career at Cicero-North Syracuse High School and Canisius College, the finish line for which he consistently aimed would take years to reach, not minutes. Leone's race to achieve his goals still isn't over but it is one in which he continues to be successful, making a name for himself in New York State track/cross country circles as he enjoys a career that many people wouldn't even consider.
Leone is the founder and owner of Leone Timing (http://leonetiming.com/), a Syracuse-based company that times cross country meets, road races, track and field events, marathons and much more. The company's genesis can be traced back to Leone's high school career and while it had humble beginnings it now has a national footprint, serving as the official timer at events from New York to Texas to California.
"I knew as a high schooler that I wanted to do something with timing and putting on events," Leone said. "I actually started learning how to be a timer and the basics about it literally in high school. And then as soon as I graduated I got involved with road races. My freshman year at Canisius I taught myself some more and helped out with a few of the races that I wasn't running in.
"So I got started early on there. We started the company in the fall of my junior year of college. It started like everything else in your parent's garage or basement. The roots of this is very much the case here. We just had to figure out how to keep expenses low and make it work. At the time I had some good mentors in Don Mitchell and David Katz [pioneers in the industry]. They were very supportive."
That kind of support, along with some help from his father, Pat Leone, Jr., and a great deal of hard work has made Leone Timing one of the premier companies of its kind. He has as many as eight full-time employees and when you throw in part-timers [depending on the season] he could have as many as 20 people on staff.
Leone Timing has worked on scores of prominent events including the 5th Ave. Mile, The Wineglass Race Series, the Penn Relays and the New York City Marathon. His client and partner profile is impressive and extensive and includes the Buffalo Bills, the Buffalo Sabres, The Ivy League, The New York Road Runners, The Atlanta Track Club and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association [NYSPHSAA] and The United States Military Academy at West Point.
"At the time, I didn't think this is where I would end up," said Leone, who majored in environmental science and communication studies at Canisius. "At the time, I thought I'd be taking over my dad's business [Certified Environmental Sciences Laboratory]. I had been doing that since I was a kid and had my plans set on that until all the timing stuff started. So I had a decision to make after I graduated [college].
"I could have my day job and just be a weekend warrior and be limited in what I did or I could take on more and do this as a fulltime job. My dad wasn't upset; he was very supportive. He started his own business and I looked up to him. He started his own thing and I kind of followed that. My grandfather started his own plumbing company, too."
Leone's wife, Laurel Burdick Leone, was a New York State Federation and Cross Country champion in addition to winning the NYS 3000M outdoor title in high school. She was Foot Locker National Finalist three times and went on to have a stellar career at Boston College, where she was earned first-team All-American and All-ACC honors.
While she has continued her running career, participating in local and regional races in the Syracuse area, Leone has not. His days as a distance runner seem like a distant memory because of work etc. He said he doesn't necessarily miss running but does miss being in the shape he was as a teen/collegiate runner.
"I do miss being in that kind of shape," he said. "You take it for granted being as fit as you are when you are a young runner."
Leone's race, figuratively speaking, isn't over just yet though. The finish line is nowhere in sight and while he may not be able to get out and do a quick 3200 meters like he once did, the race he's running is proving to be more competitive and challenging than any he ever did on the road.