Crystal Lake teacher helps students achieve more than fitness

Like any physical education teacher, Fred Kaiser’s purpose at Lundahl Middle School is to keep kids fit and make them realize the importance of health.

But Kaiser stands out among his peers. There’s no other way to explain why 400 students a year would volunteer for a 24-hour challenge run in which many of them end up running the equivalent of a marathon.

Or why they would line up to take another 26.2-mile challenge of running, biking and canoeing that requires participants to perform community service before they even get to the starting line.

Kaiser has spent all but the first four years of his 25 years in education at Lundahl. The two signature events that now have become annual traditions – the 24-Hour Challenge Run and the Fitness Challenge Marathon – show that Kaiser is interested in more than raising students’ standing and active heart rates.

Raising expectations and raising risks raises the rewards, and raises what students will be capable of when they become adults.

“The run is an event designed to test the kids, physically and mentally, to go beyond what they would normally do. The goal on my part, and the rest of the staff, is to give them the skills to have success. It’s not just about the training, but the willingness to [take] risk,” Kaiser said.

The Challenge Run takes place every Memorial Day weekend. Teams of 12 or 13 students take turns running on the school track for a total of 24 hours. About every two hours, a student gets his or her turn to run at least a mile. Students average at least 12 to 16 miles during the event, and quite a few of them get up to the marathon distance of 26.2 miles, Kaiser said.

Slightly more than 100 students volunteered for the first run 16 years ago. Today, more than 400 kids – or more than 40 percent of Lundahl’s student body – participate, as do a growing number of parents.

“This run is a tool to show them how to be successful in whatever they do,” Kaiser said. “They learn that being in shape is good, they learn to set goals. It’s fun to see what else the kids learn from this.”

The Fitness Challenge Marathon, held each October, is more grueling. First of all, it is in fact a marathon: 12 miles on foot, 7.4 miles biking, 2.2 miles canoeing, 4 miles in-line skating, with some orienteering and team-building exercises along the way. Students are put into four-member teams that have to stick together, so the team can only move as fast as its slowest participant.

It’s even a challenge to get through the selection process. There are only 48 slots, for a total of 12 four-person teams. Eleven of the teams are selected, and the 12th team is drawn from the remaining applicants. Every year, students are turned away.

Once students make the cut, they must perform at least 10 hours of community service. Kaiser credits the District 47 community for helping out with the race, from logistics to the community service requirement.

“It’s nice to know other people appreciate what we’re doing with the kids,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser was nominated as an Everyday Hero by Carolyn Schofield, a parent and McHenry County Board member. Her oldest son, Griffin, has participated in the 24-Hour Challenge Run all three years at Lundahl, and last October he was chosen to go through the Fitness Challenge Marathon. She, like other parents, had volunteered for the challenge run when she saw what it does for the kids.

“Mr. Kaiser has received recognition in the past for these events. However, he is an Everyday Hero because he continues to quietly devote countless hours every year to these events while giving the students their glory,” Schofield said.