After Chance Meeting at Gym, Barrington High School Athlete Kevin Kelly Became Walter Payton’s Training Partner on ‘the Hill’ in Arlington Heights

On a steep hill on a landfill in Arlington Heights, Kevin Kelly learned a lesson from Walter Payton about the value of hard work (Video includes famous Daily Herald photo with Payton leading a sprint up the hill.

On a Friday night about midnight in 1982, Barrington High School student Kevin Kelly was arriving for a workout at a 24-hour gym inside Charlie Club & Fit Inn in unincorporated Cook County when he noticed Walter Payton working out alone in the gym. The gym was the only 24-hour fitness center in the area, long before several more 24-hour gyms were built in the area during the following decades.

Walter Payton and his young family lived on Pinetree Drive in Arlington Heights, just north of Palatine Road and just east of the intersection of Palatine Road and Rand Road. Payton had two local areas that he used in the off-season to train — a hill on a landfill that is now known as Nickol Knoll golf course in Arlington Heights, and the Charlie Club’s 24-hour gym that was later converted to a World’s Gym and then Palatine Fitness next to a Holiday Inn Express. The location was incorporated into the Palatine village limits, but now the Holiday Inn Express and the gym are closed.

In 1982 the facility was a popular place with a hotel, a bar and a 24-hour gym. At midnight the gym was a quiet place, and when 17-year-old Kevin Kelly saw Walter Payton working out there at midnight, he figured the football star wanted to be left alone. And when Payton walked toward him, Kelly was prepared to leave, figuring Payton wanted the place to himself.

“I could feel him walking toward me. I figured I was bothering him or something, so I started gathering my stuff up, and he was like, ‘hey, where are you going?’

— Kevin Kelly

Payton actually wanted to train with Kelly, and the two began working out together at the gym and at the landfill –including training with sprints up a brutal incline up the side of the landfill.

Today Payton is memorialized with a plaque at “Payton Hill” near the location of the steep running trail that over looks the Chicago skyline, and Kevin Kelly hasn’t forgotten his friend.

WGN’s Mike Lowe visited Kevin Kelly at the site, see more at How a teen athlete became Walter Payton’s training partner on ‘The Hill’ (WGN News).

See also …

Sweetness and the Scout (Sports Illustrated)

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