NAVY PIER — Sue Kessler's epic running streak begin on Jan. 1, 2000, on a Mediterranean Sea beach in Nice, France.
Kessler hasn't missed a day of running since. Through Sunday, that's 5,126 straight days.
She's completed at least a mile run daily in faraway places like Amsterdam, Bermuda, British Columbia, Newfoundland, and those much closer to home in Chicago.
"She is so dedicated to [the streak] that she rarely talks about it — like a true fundamentalist without the need to sermonize," said longtime friend Patrick Zielinski, of Lincoln Square. "Once you know Sue, that thought of [her not running today] doesn't even occur to you. Of course she is running today."
Last week's frigid temperatures didn't stop Kessler, who turned 44 on Wednesday, from hitting trails in Lincoln Park and streets in River North.
In fact, the conditions that kept most of Chicago indoors were just another minor challenge for Kessler, who takes great pride in the streak and her ability to keep it going.
"I feel the streak will end when it's supposed to," said Kessler, who is special events creative coordinator at Navy Pier and a cocktail waitress at Gibsons Bar and Steakhouse. "Knock on wood, I've been unscathed so far."
"Sue is a huge goal-setter and always sticks to established goals," said her older brother, Mike. "She focused on her health years ago and made a commitment to herself that she would run daily — no matter what circumstances and weather were present."
Kessler had been a consistent runner starting in the mid-1990s, but became truly serious about the sport on New Year's Day 2000. She traveled to France with her boyfriend at the time and decided to run a few miles on the beach to begin the new millennium. The next day, she jogged in the nearby mountains, the following days in small villages.
By the end of her vacation, she hadn't missed a day of running and decided to continue when returning to Chicago.
"It doesn't take long before you recognize it's a momentum thing," said Kessler, who now lives in Evanston. "After a while, it's harder to not run than to run."
There have been close calls for the streak's demise. One time, Kessler said she was "super drunk" at a bar with friends in Little Italy but was able to slip into running gear for a late-night jaunt. On a trip to Athens, she had a multihour layover in Amsterdam, where she got in a short run.
When a man she was dating in 2006 had knee-replacement surgery, Kessler was going to stay with him at Evanston Hospital for the entire day until he pleaded with her to continue the streak.
"We were about to break up anyway, and he said he didn't want to be the cause for the [streak's] end," she said.
Kessler's running exploits have taken her around the world. She's completed 70 marathons, including one in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. She's also ventured to four Canadian provinces and Bermuda for 26.2-mile events.
"For Sue, running is a part of her life — not like lunch or bathing but more like breathing," Zielinski said.
Her favorite location and time to run is on Michigan Avenue during the early morning, after her Gibsons shifts end. And she prefers wintertime to warm, humid summer conditions.
Her friend since high school, Betsy Pancik, said Kessler considers the Chicago Marathon her "national holiday," even when she's not a participant. Pancik noted Kessler never runs with music, and doesn't buy any running gadgets or brag about her accomplishments.
"For Sue, running is just about running," said Pancik, of Roscoe Village. "I think running is her constant — the one thing she knows she will do every day."
Kessler doesn't advocate others following her lead to run every single day.
But she does hope her efforts help provide inspiration for some to get off the couch.
"I hope people read this and get moving," she said.