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Doctor keeps grinding after 23 years

Dr. Tim Osberg remembers June 4, 1985 vividly. It was when he started running every single day.

"I had been talking to a colleague who had a mentor who had a six-year running streak," Osberg said. "My record was 11 days in a row at the time. I figured I'd try it and take it one month at a time."

Osberg, of Grand Island, hasn't stopped yet, more than 23 years later. The 53-year-old Niagara University professor usually goes 2 miles, although sometimes he does a longer distance.

That's the 74th longest active streak in the nation, according to the United States Running Streak Association, which keeps track of such matters through the honor system. No. 1 on the list is a California man who is at 40 years and counting.

The No. 1 question for Osberg goes something like this: "Do you even run through blizzards?"

"My streak has not necessarily been outside every day," Osberg said. "The whole idea behind the association is that you're fine as long as you run a mile under your own power every day, inside and out. I have a nice, big basement with a treadmill, but I prefer to haul it outside. I do hate those rainy, 33-degree days in November, though."

This is not a case of someone who was a top runner while growing up and stayed with it as an adult. Osberg is a latecomer to running.

"It's a funny thing. My memories of running go back to high school, when the gym teacher would make us do laps around the gym. I dreaded it," he said. "If you had told me that someday I'd be doing it every day, I would have told you that you were crazy.

"I first starting running in my early 20s. I think I did my first mile at the age of 21 or 22 in the mid-'70s. Basically once I got interested, I started running 2, 3, 4, 5 miles a day, two or three times a week.

Osberg started running 2 miles a day because it was convenient -- a mile to a corner, a mile back.

"I'll do more than that now," he said. "I'm not a long-distance runner. I know guys who can do marathons, and I'm awestruck by them. I still think their accomplishment is much greater than mine."

After a while, Osberg's family came to expect that his run will be a part of the day, no matter what.

"The one question they'll ask me is, 'Did you run today?' They'll look at me and see if I was sweating or not," he said. "They are up with it. When we go on trips, they know I have to work my run in."

As you might expect, the streak has had a couple of close calls.

"I tore cartilage in my right knee. I couldn't even stand on it. I was thinking, 'My streak is done.' My wife, a pharmacist, said for me to take Motrin and see how it felt. I remember the day clearly -- it was 1999, when Wayne Gretzky was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. I hobbled my way through 2 miles.

"The next day I went to the doctor's office, and he scheduled surgery for about 30 days later. I kept progressing, and soon I was running full speed. I told the doctor about my running streak. He said, 'It looks like it's going to end.' But I ran the day after the surgery. I hobbled until I could go all out; it usually takes two to three weeks before most people are back to full strength after arthroscopic surgery."

Osberg also spent most of a day watching the birth of his son.

"The day my son was born was June 3, 1991," he said. "We were first-time parents. The baby decided to come just after midnight, but it took my wife until 7:08 p.m. to deliver. I thought, if this doesn't happen soon, my streak is done. After the birth, I was told to get out of the delivery room. So I went down Maple Road in Amherst in scrubs, and did my minimum mile."

Osberg has run through downpours, slipped on ice, and come up face-to-face with deer. He's run along the Thames in London, the Seine in France, and by a fiord in Oslo. But every day, he's run somewhere.

"People I tell about this say, 'You have to be crazy, you must have an obsessive-compulsive gene,' " he said. "Yeah, there's a bit of an obsessive-compulsive streak. But even though it's difficult and a pain in the rear end, it far outweighs the feeling that I'd have if I had to miss a day."

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Race calendar

*Dash for the Dome, 5K, 2655 South Park Ave., 10 a.m. Saturday, buffalogardens.com.

*Alden Black Water Baths 5K, 13190 Park St., Alden, 10:30 a.m. Saturday, aldenwinterfest.com.

*Lockport Y-10, 10 & 5 miles, 19 East Ave., Lockport, 11 a.m. Saturday, score-this.com.

*Polar Bear 5K, 1691 Lockport Olcott Road, Olcott, 11 a.m. Feb. 22, 434-8887.

*Canisius Chilly Challenge, 5K, 1180 Delaware Ave., noon Feb. 22, 675-9403.

e-mail: bbailey@buffnews.com

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