The man who roamed the markets and came to be at the center of a case that could change Wall Street forever was obsessed with numbers other than

GameStop Corporation.

GME 67.87%.

The stock price: his time in kilometers.

Long before he picked up “DeepF-ingValue” on Reddit and “Roaring Kitty” on YouTube, Keith Gill was simply known as one of the fastest kids in his town. Gill never wanted to be an amateur cattle picker. He dreamed of becoming a professional runner.

He shattered local records, gained national recognition while in college and even landed in the “Crowd” section of Sports Illustrated’s “Faces” magazine. The magazine portrayed him, with tousled hair and a headband that became his signature, as the most disruptive marcher on the Internet.

To understand how an anonymous redditor with an ordinary pen can turn the shares of a rival company into one of the most actively traded on the market, it is useful to remember what Gill did before he turned to online trading.

“He was actually an excellent runner in high school and college,” says Elaine Gill, his mother. “When he’s planning something, he can be very focused. ”

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“Faces in the Crowd,” a film about Keith and Kevin Gill published in Sports Illustrated on April 7, 2008.

Jill’s greatest hope in life was shared by everyone who put a pair of cleats on the track: the 4-minute mile. He came closest, breaking college records and once running 4:03 in. But the magic number disappeared when his body turned against him, and his running career was over.

He would have to settle for being a paper millionaire.

With potential earnings in the high eight figures after this crazy week, Jill can suddenly afford the only generous indulgence on her wish list. He wants to build an indoor athletics center in Brockton, Massachusetts.

“Now it looks like I could really make it,” he said.

Not that Jill’s reputation among home runners needs any more support.

“Keith is a legend at Brockton High,” track coach John Fidalgo wrote in an email. “His personality was to strike the first blow and never flinch in a match.”

It was this approach that led the former college runner to an incredible catch-up effort that propelled GameStop’s stock price upward and filled his E*Trade account with tens of millions of dollars in profits.

Gill, a 34-year-old stay-at-home dad who trades from the basement of his home in the Boston suburbs, helped spark the interest of a group of retail investors on a Reddit WallStreetBets forum in a video game store. They found a YouTube video of Gilles diving into detailed stock analysis and celebrating his success with champagne-soaked chicken tenders.

As the first images of him on YouTube show, he also needs a drink. In a 2009 video that has been viewed several hundred times since Friday, Jill runs four laps in her single room at Stonehill College in front of a small crowd of bored students watching her first 1.5-mile race in six months after an injury. They cheered her on as he ran a 4.33 mile, broke through in 4.30 and then promptly collapsed on the track.

“Give him a beer,” said a friend.

Gill enjoyed running from her home in Brockton to a future college nearby. He still holds Stonehill’s records for the 1,000 meters (2:24.73) and the mile (4:03.43). He was named a “College All-American” in track and cross country, Division II Indoor Man Athlete of the Year and a member of Stonehill’s Track and Field Hall of Fame as “one of the most decorated runners in the school’s rich history.”

But his transformation into a regional long-distance runner was as likely as turning a blind eye to Wall Street.

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Keith Gill operates from the basement of his home in the suburbs of Boston.

Photo:

Kayana Szymczak for the Wall Street Journal.

Gill first tasted competition when, at the age of 13, he entered one of the children’s competitions Dave Gorman has held at a local park for 40 years. He immediately understood the competition. Gorman, who didn’t know Jill Royal Kitty until a reporter told him Friday, couldn’t imagine what he had just experienced.

“My God, Keith, that was amazing,” he remembers saying to her. “Are you going to run for high school?”

He never really thought about it. Gill always intended to play baseball. But just as action became an obsession when he couldn’t walk, running became his life when he couldn’t get on the baseball team.

A decade before he became famous on the Reddit WallStreetBets forum, he was known for posting on a nonexistent popular forum called DyeStat.

“Who the hell is Kate Gill?” posted a user of LetsRun.com in 2007.

“He’s God on Diestat,” the other replied. “Funny as hell and fast as hell. I’ll be cheering him on for the rest of his career.”

Steve Underwood, former DyeStat editor and forum moderator, remembers Jill as “Wizard,” one of the leaders of the noisy forum known as “Playground.” Jill has already made a name for herself online as a person to keep an eye on.

“He was mischievous, and I’m sure I banned him several times, but he was smart,” Mr. Underwood said. “He wasn’t just a silly boy who said obscene and vulgar things. You could tell there was information behind what he was doing.”

Gill was a good runner in high school who began running in college, but he was also caught in a cycle of ups and downs as he struggled with injuries. A persistent iliopsoas problem in high school became an excruciating pain in college – both physically and mentally. “When running becomes your life and you can’t do it anymore, it’s like everything is taken away from you,” he told the Boston Herald in 2006. “It’s deadly.”

It was not until he consulted several doctors for months that he was diagnosed with mononucleosis and anemia. Gilles was prescribed a multivitamin that brought his performance to the GameStop course.

“As soon as we gave him the iron pills,” coach Karen Boen told the Boston Globe in 2007, “he was gone.

In early 2008, he lowered his personal best indoor mile in several consecutive weeks, setting his school record at 4:03.43. It was the fastest time in Division II that season, but he was not fast enough to win the race. He was shot down by a fan from the Ivy League school in 4:02.76. There was an important lesson that day: even when you think you’ve reached the top, you can always improve your performance.

Or it could be worse.

A case of what Gill calls Achilles tendinitis dashed her hopes. His last race was in March 2008, around the time Bear Stearns collapsed, and he ended 2009 in the middle of the financial crisis.

But it is Gill’s mentality that has always set him apart from all the other riders Boen has met in nearly a quarter century at Stonehill. “Keith had the opportunity to go to a place with an attitude and focus that I’ve never seen in any other athlete,” she said Friday. His legs let him down. His state of mind didn’t let him down.

Using the same trick Gill used to pursue the glory of athletics in New England, he sought out the unloved stocks. He became a graduate financial analyst, devoted himself to stock picking and retained the passion he once had for running for an audience on a YouTube channel he launched last summer while working as a salesman for the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

The bet, which became his personal four-minute mile, began when he became bullish on GameStop and bought his first share in June 2019. It was worth about $5 and closed at $325 on Friday afternoon.

His latest “GME YOLO Update” on Reddit shows a yield of over 4,000%.

Fidalgo, of Brockton High School, and John LeMar, Jill’s former distance coach, did not miss the news. In their Friday morning correspondence, they wondered how Jill could now remember being fabulously wealthy. Fidalgo even suspected he could build them an indoor track. A few hours later, Gill announced in an article in the Wall Street Journal that this was one of his goals. For those who knew him, there was never any doubt about it.

“I know Keith,” Lemar wrote to Fidalgo. “Brockton and Stonehill will be ready.”

There’s only one person who can’t be there: still exhausted from his injuries, Jill says he’s not running anymore.

Write to Joshua Robinson at [email protected], Ben Cohen at [email protected], Julia-Ambre Verlaine at [email protected] and Gunjan Banerjee at [email protected]

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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