Keith Gill: From star runner to investment disruptor – With insights from The Wall Street Journal

Before he was shaking up the investment world and causing anger on Wall Street, the only number Keith Gill was interested in was his mile time. The avid runner, who attracted national attention for his athletic ability, had to give it all up when an injury put an end to his aspirations. No matter, he turned his interests to investing. Over the past week, Gill – who is also known as ‘Roaring Kitty’ on his YouTube channel – has become a millionaire after finding himself at the centre of a story that will have Wall Street shaking its head for many years to come. – Jarryd Neves

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Roaring Kitty Wanted to Break a 4-Minute Mile. He Broke Wall Street Instead

Before he became the Reddit user behind the GameStop surge, Keith Gill was a college track star. When injuries blocked him from his dreams, he traded running for investing.

Jan. 30, 2021 9:06 am ET

The man who roiled the markets and found himself at the center of a trade that might have changed Wall Street forever spent most of his life obsessed with a number other thanGameStop Corp.’s GME 67.87% stock price: his mile time.

Long before he went by “DeepF—ingValue” on Reddit and “Roaring Kitty” on YouTube, Keith Gill was known simply as one of the fastest kids in his town. Gill never aspired to be an amateur stock picker. He dreamed of being a professional runner.

He destroyed local records on the track, attracted national recognition for his college times and even found himself featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd section. He was pictured in the magazine with shaggy hair and the headband that has become his signature accessory as the internet’s most disruptive trader.

To understand how one anonymous Redditor with a profane handle can make a struggling company’s stock one of the most heavily traded in the market, it helps to remember what Gill did before he devoted himself to online trading.

“He was actually a star runner in high school and college,” said Elaine Gill, his mother. “When he puts his mind to something, he can be very focused.”

Gill’s great hope in life was the same one shared by anyone who has ever laced up a pair of track spikes: clocking a 4-minute mile. He came closer than most, breaking his college’s records and once running 4:03 indoors. But the magic number got away as his body turned on him and ended his competitive running career.

He would have to settle for becoming a paper millionaire instead.

With potential earnings in the eight figures after this manic week, Gill can suddenly afford to treat himself to the only lavish indulgence on his wish list. He wants to build an indoor track facility in Brockton, Mass.

“Now it looks like I actually could do that,” he said.

Not that Gill’s reputation among runners back home needed any bolstering.

“Keith is a legend at Brockton High School,” track coach John Fidalgo wrote in an email. “His personality as a runner was to throw the first punch if you will and never back down from any competition.”

That is the approach the former college runner brought to the extraordinary fight that sent GameStop’s price skyrocketing and stuffed his E*Trade account with tens of millions of dollars in profits.

Gill, a 34-year-old father who trades from the basement of his home in the Boston suburbs, helped sparked interest in the mall videogame outlet among throngs of retail investors who gather on the Reddit forum WallStreetBets. There they found YouTube videos of Gill diving into detailed stock analysis and celebrating his success with chicken tenders dipped in Champagne.

As it turns out, in the earliest footage of him on YouTube, he also needs a drink. In a 2009 video with only a few hundred views as of Friday, Gill runs four laps in his Stonehill College singlet for a small crowd of bored college kids on hand to witness his first mile run in six months, following an injury. They cheer him on as he pants through a 4:33 mile, losing a bet to break 4:30—and then immediately collapses on the track.

“Get this man a beer,” one friend says.

Gill liked to run the four miles from his Brockton home to his future college nearby. He still holds the Stonehill records in the 1000-meter (2:24.73) and the mile (4:03.43). He was a college All-American in track and cross country, a Division-II national indoor men’s track athlete of the year and a Stonehill sports Hall of Famer as “one of the most decorated runners in the rich history” of the school.

But his transformation into a regionally successful distance running star was about as likely as his blindsiding of Wall Street.

Gill got his first taste of competition when he showed up as a skinny 13-year-old to one of the kids races that Dave Gorman has organized in a local park for the past 40 years. He immediately blew away the competition. Gorman, who didn’t know that Gill was Roaring Kitty until a reporter told him on Friday, couldn’t fathom what he had just witnessed.

“Jeez, Keith, that was unbelievable,” he remembered telling him. “Are you going to run in high school?”

He had never really thought about it. Gill always planned to play baseball instead. But in the same way that stocks became an obsession when he could no longer run, running became his life once he failed to make the baseball team.

A decade before he would become famous on the Reddit forum WallStreetBets, he was known to runners for his posts on a defunct popular running message board called DyeStat.

“Who the heck is keith gill?” one LetsRun.com user posted in 2007.

“He is a God on Dyestat,” another responded. “Funny as hell and fast as hell. I’ll be cheering for him the rest of his career.”

Steve Underwood, a former DyeStat editor and moderator of its message boards, still remembers Gill as “Wizard,” one of the ringleaders in a rowdy forum known as The Playground. Gill was already forging a reputation online as someone worth following.

“He was mischievous, and I’m pretty sure I banned him a few times, but he was clever,” Underwood said. “He wasn’t just some dumb kid posting obscene, vulgar stuff. You could tell there was intelligence behind what he was doing.”

Gill was a good high-school runner who got better in college, but he was also trapped in a boom-and-bust cycle as he battled injuries. A nagging iliotibial band issue in high school became excruciating pain in college—both physically and mentally. “When running becomes your life and you can’t do it any longer, it’s like everything is taken away from you,” he told the Boston Herald in 2006. “It kills.”

Only after consulting with several doctors over many months was he diagnosed with mononucleosis and anemia. Gill was prescribed a multivitamin that would send his performance the way of GameStop’s stock price.

“Once we put him on iron pills,” coach Karen Boen told the Boston Globe in 2007, “he took off.”

In early 2008 he lowered his indoor mile personal best in successive weeks and blazed to a school record 4:03.43. It was the fastest time in Division II that season, but it wasn’t fast enough to win the race. A miler from an Ivy League school nipped him with a 4:02.76. There was an important lesson that day: Even when you think you’re peaking, your performance can always get better.

Or it can get worse—fast.

A case of what Gill called Achilles tendinosis brought his running hopes crashing down. His last race was in March 2008, right around the time that Bear Stearns collapsed, and he graduated in 2009 straight into the financial crisis.

But it was always Gill’s mindset that separated him from every other runner Boen encountered in nearly a quarter-century at Stonehill. “Keith had the ability to go into a place mentally and with such intense focus that I had never experienced in other athletes,” she said on Friday. His legs failed him. His mindset didn’t.

The same focus that Gill brought to the pursuit of New England track and field glory led him into the exploration of unloved stocks. He became a Chartered Financial Analyst, committed himself to stock picking, and saved the passion that he once poured into running for the audience on the YouTube channel he started last summer as he worked a marketing job for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

The bet that would become his own personal four-minute mile began when he turned bullish on GameStop and bought his first shares in June 2019. Its price was about $5. It closed on Friday afternoon at $325.

His latest “GME YOLO update” on Reddit shows a profit of more than 4,000%.

Fidalgo, of Brockton High, and Gill’s former distance coach Joe LeMar hadn’t missed the news. While texting on Friday morning, they wondered about the ways in which Gill might remember his track days now that he was fabulously wealthy. Fidalgo guessed he might even build them an indoor track. Just hours later, in a Wall Street Journal article, Gill announced that was one of his goals. To those who knew him, it was never in doubt.

“I know Keith,” LeMar texted Fidalgo. “Brockton and Stonehill are going to be all set.”

There is just one person who won’t be able to participate: still hobbled by injuries, Gill says he no longer runs.

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

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Appeared in the February 1, 2021, print edition as ‘Market Disrupter Built Up Steam as School Track Star.’