Manhattanite traces Nikola Tesla’s life 74 miles to Shoreham

Manhattanite traces Nikola Tesla’s life 74 miles to Shoreham

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Todd Aydelotte, a Manhattan native and ultrarunner, was more than winded as he crossed through the threshold of the Shoreham Wardenclyffe property Jan. 10. He was frozen solid from running 74 miles in subfreezing temperatures and whipping winds, and he was visibly exhausted by near-constant running across the length of Long Island over two days.

But once he arrived at the site of famous inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla’s last living laboratory, he still had the strength to embrace his wife and lay his hand on the century-old building’s facade.

“Tesla said energy was everywhere around us — it was all over the Earth, and we, as people, could actually harness that energy,” Aydelotte said to the small crowd gathered to welcome him at the Tesla Science Center. “I started seeing myself capturing that energy.”

‘I started seeing myself capturing that energy.’

— Todd Aydelotte

The Manhattanite is an ultrarunner, a person who commits to a form of long-distance running that goes far beyond something like a marathon. Whereas a typical marathon is 26.2 miles, an ultrarunner can run for 50, 70 or even more than 100 miles. Often these extreme athletes take treks through natural preserves such as the Grand Canyon, but for close to two years Aydelotte has taken a different approach, instead using his passion for history as the driving force for him to take these long-distance treks. 

“If you look at some of the world’s great ultrarunners … one tool they use is they’re mostly trail runners, when they get into it they lose themselves in the beauty all around them,” the runner said. “Being in Manhattan I don’t have that luxury, but I’m super into history. I started going off on these long runs after studying up on history, so it could be in my head, something that could carry me the long miles.”

Those working in the Tesla Science Center, which plans on turning the Shoreham Wardenclyffe site into a science museum and science startup incubator, learned of Aydelotte’s plan around two weeks before the run and were ecstatic to see him arrive.

“We’ve been waiting on you with bated breath,” the center’s board president, Jane Alcorn, said to the newly arrived runner.

Aydelotte’s route started at around 11 a.m. Jan. 9 and took him all over Manhattan, taking breaks in between running to visit and take pictures of sites such as the Waldorf Astoria in Midtown where Tesla lived for many years at the height of the Gilded Age, and the Gerlach Hotel on 27th Street where Tesla once resided and tested his transmission equipment on the roof. 

The runner’s route also took him to Chambers Street in Manhattan, a site made famous when a Western Union lineman John Feeks was electrocuted to death in 1889 while working on the electrical lines above the street. This occurred just as the famous “current wars,” a feud between the well-known Thomas Edison and Tesla over whether Edison’s direct current would propagate better than Tesla’s superior alternating current. Edison would use this event as well as other displays, such as when he publicly executed a living elephant in 1903 with alternating current, as a way to discredit Tesla and show how his form of electrical current was harmful or even dangerous.

Aydelotte’s wife, Tess Ghilaga, a yoga instructor in Manhattan, said her husband is training every single week, running two to three times a week and practicing yoga under her careful attention four to five times a week. She’s helped him through his constant training, and said she enjoys getting to be a part of learning of pieces of history like the Tesla Science Center.

‘People identify with someone who works very hard to achieve a goal without being recognized for it.’

— Jane Alcorn

“Depending on what hurts his body, I’ll help him with knee work, hip work, back core, the changes that happen when you run so far so often,” Ghilaga said. “I grew up in Garden City, so I know the East End, but I didn’t know anything about the science center until he read a book. It’s so cool that it’s being resurrected.”

This is the third, and longest, ultrarun Aydelotte has accomplished. Previous runs have taken him 49 miles from New York City to Long Island looking at the history of Teddy Roosevelt while another 64.5-mile run took him from the city through Connecticut tracing the history of famous American showman P.T .Barnum. While the ultrarunner said he felt accomplished to complete his longest run so far at 74 miles, this race held a raw, emotional tie to his person since he saw something of Tesla in himself, a sort of drive that pushes a person past the point of exhaustion and doubt.

“He was relentless in his work ethic, in his values,’ Aydelotte said. “He was a good man, a great man. There are so many reports of him working day upon day upon day upon day, not giving up on a vision.”

Alcorn could only nod at the notion that Tesla continues to inspire people 76 years after his death Jan. 7, 1943.

“People identify with someone who works very hard to achieve a goal without being recognized for it,” said the board president. “It’s what we try to do here, to put some focus on him and what he tried to do.”