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Ken Corigliano: Serving his country and getting down and dirty

Former Saint Leo star Ken Corigliano is a different kind of runner

Imagine a college point guard arriving on campus without being able to dribble from one baseline to the other. Or a quarterback incapable of throwing a spiral. Or a soccer player who couldn’t hit the net from the penalty dot even if the goaltender was in the locker room.

Ken Corigliano, Saint Leo University

Now you have a sense of what former Saint Leo University cross country standout Ken Corigliano — who bailed out of his first college practice after running half of a mile — faced in his journey as a student-athlete.

“Running. I hated it with a passion. And I wasn’t good at it,” Corigliano recalled. “But I didn’t quit. I never quit.”

To understand both sides of that hate-but-don’t-quit relationship, consider that before Corigliano’s life had Saint Leo — where he was named the NCAA’s On-Campus Student-Athlete of the Year in 2003 and was named to the school’s prestigious President’s Club six times — it had Afghanistan. He joined the U.S. Air Force after high school, and an incident in which his military base was attacked had a life-changing impact. It wasn’t because he was injured, but because while running for cover with his mates, he literally ran out of breath.

Upon returning to the U.S., where he began college on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, he failed a required fitness test. With that sobering moment, as he called it, he decided to walk on to the Saint Leo cross country team.

“It was an opportunity that I needed,” said Corigliano. “I couldn’t go into a battle and expect others to do something that I couldn’t even do.”

The first challenge was to overcome his disdain for running.  Enter Lions coach Cyle Sage, whose practice runs were designed to be scenic and entertaining. Sage would have his team run through the university golf course, through orange groves and around a lake.  The coach often gave wild instructions for his runners to bring back an orange, touch a certain tree or anything else that would spice up the miles. 

Years later, those practice runs would turn into something much bigger.  But as a collegiate runner, those runs helped Corigliano turn what was a weakness into a stellar career — so much so that in early 2013, he was named to the NCAA Division II 40th anniversary tribute team.

Corigliano graduated magna cum laude with a dual major in international relations and political science and embarked on what is turning out to be a distinguished career with the Air Force. Immediately after Saint Leo, he was assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing, the home of Air Force One.

 “Their motto is ‘Perfection is Our Standard,’ and they weren’t kidding. When you’re dealing with the protection of the president, you’re not allowed to make any mistakes,” Corigliano said.

The running and career accolades have continued to pile up for the commissioned officer.  In 2007, he was named the Air Force Athlete of the Year. In 2008, he had the honor of serving as the Department of Defense liaison for the Beijing Summer Olympic Games. In 2011, he was a double gold medalist at the Armed Forces Triathlon Championships.

On the military side, he was named “Officer of the Year” for his unit in 2009. A Commendation Medal followed his combat deployments in 2009 and 2011. Finally, in 2011, he was a nominee for the Air Force’s highest leadership award, the Lance P. Sijan Award.

Today, the native Floridian is based not far from his old college home, at U.S. Central Command on Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, where he does predictive intelligence modeling. Corigliano is a pioneer in the field that uses enhanced technology to link up intelligence sources.

In a budding side career, he is also the CEO of MudQuarters International LLC, a company that stages the “mud runs” that have exploded in popularity nationwide. In such races — and even the term “race” is loose as many aren’t timed or scored — runners might scale fences, negotiate obstacles and get down and dirty in a new combination of fun and fitness.

Sage, his former coach at Saint Leo, is a partner in the company, having inspired Corigliano with those nontraditional college training runs through the orange groves that required bringing back fruit.

“This (mud runs) is bringing us back to this natural, primal, unadulterated state, even childhood-like,” said Corigliano, who said as many as 14 million people may participate in such races nationwide this year. “When we were kids, what did we do? We got out of the house and went climbing, playing in the mud. This sport is about getting in touch with our bodies and in touch with nature, movement, community.”

Once he gets to talking about getting down and dirty on the run in the mud, Corigliano almost runs out of breath. But a dozen years since he failed to complete a half-mile at Saint Leo, it’s a different kind of breathlessness.  This breathlessness is now caused by excitement about the future. And the air he is breathing now is that of success, not failure.


Ken Corigliano
Captain in the U.S. Air Force; CEO of MudQuarters International LLC, a company that stages the “mud runs.”

Hometown: Bradenton, Florida

Current city: St. Petersburg, Florida

School: Bachelor’s degree in international relations and political science, Saint Leo University, 2006

Sport: Cross country

Fun fact: In 2008, he logged two Triathlon World Championship competition finishes and received a letter of nomination to the U.S. Olympic Triathlon Team.

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