Secret Lives of Teachers: Running for their lives

Steve Yurek, Michelle Koehler, Larry Forberg

Top to Bottom:
Michelle Koehler
Steve Yurek
Larry Forberg

Art Illustration: Charlie Connelly

Top to Bottom: Michelle Koehler Steve Yurek Larry Forberg Art Illustration: Charlie Connelly

Charlie Connelly, Staff Reporter

Here at RB there is absolutely no shortage of interesting hobbies and activities that students are involved with during their personal time. Sports, clubs, work; you name it and essentially every student at RB could tell you something fascinating about what they do exactly in leisure. With that being said, what RB’s staff pursues outside of school hours undoubtedly continues that trend.

With the Bank of America Chicago Marathon being held this past Sunday, October 12, and RB possessing a plethora of teachers well known for their running exploits, it only seemed fitting that their hard work and dedication to the art be recognized.  This year, RB staff members Steve Yurek, Bill Frey, and Art Ostrow all ran the race, with respective times of 3:39:29, 4:20:56, and 5:42:46.

In the second installment of “Secret Lives of Teachers,” Clarion features long-distance runners Yurek, Michelle Koehler, and Larry Forberg.

Steve Yurek (Math)

Contrary to Koehler and her youthful beginning to her running career, Steve Yurek began running not for joy but simply for the fact that he looked in the mirror one day and realized that he needed to make some changes in his life; changes that would reduce the overweight depiction of himself he saw as a 38 year old man.

“I was getting a little fat. I was 38 and breathing heavy. I was walking in Las Vegas with my wife and my sister and thought, ‘This isn’t normal for a 38 year old.’  So I came back, weighed myself, and I was 205 lbs which is a little gooey for someone my height. I started doing sit-ups and pushups, and decided that I needed a little something extra, so I started running,” Yurek said.

Eleven years later, Yurek is literally a shadow of the man he used to be and is running marathons as if he had been doing it his entire life. Most recently he ran a 5k for the athletic department in DeKalb, where money was being raised for his son’s club volleyball team. Unlike Koehler as well, Yurek indeed ran the Chicago Marathon this past Sunday, running a 3:39:29 (8:22/mile).. This isn’t Yurek’s first time running the Chicago course as in 2010 he ran it and in the process was able to complete something very special, something greater than the race itself.

“I always have someone meet me at Mile 20. Her name is [RB Graduate] Gabby Marone and she has met me six out of the eight times I have run the race. One year it was 88 to 90 degrees and she met me there, and if it weren’t for her, I would have just stopped, but she wanted to run her six miles with me and I kept on going.

We actually finished the race before they shut the race down. She got me through where I normally wouldn’t have gotten through,” Yurek said.

As a more light hearted memory, Yurek even recalls a man juggling as he was running the race, and to his dismay he could not for the life of him catch up with the juggler.

“He was ahead of me the whole time. My son jumped in with me at the Mile 13 marker and I said, ‘Hey look at that guy up there, he’s juggling’ and my son said, ‘He’s juggling while he’s running?’ I said ‘Yes!’ and he said,’ Well let’s go catch him’ and I said,’ I’ve been trying to catch the juggling guy!’” he said.

When he isn’t viewing miraculous jugglers on the streets of Chicago, Yurek, when he gets the time predominantly after school or on the weekends, loves to go on leisure runs filled with sports radio.

“It’s very peaceful. Places that I usually run are trails, so it’s also a lot of nature out there. It’s just being out by yourself and listening to a ballgame. I like listening to sports on the radio, keeps my involved. I’m not a big listening to music while you run guy. I like baseball, football, and hockey which keeps me occupied,” Yurek said.

As for his future goals, Yurek too would love to one day compete in the Boston Marathon but his time last year unfortunately was 46 seconds short. If he wants to qualify he only would need to then run two seconds faster a mile. Yurek, although not having run all his life, certainly knows what it’s like to just get up and run and for those people he has advice.

“If I were to say get up and run as far as you possibly can, I would say most people could go about five miles. Anything after that you have to train for, your body doesn’t want to do all that work. When you hit Mile 15, you still have an hour to two hours left to go and you’ve already run 15 miles. You can’t tell yourself anything bad. Stuff’s going to hurt and you have to work through it,” Yurek explained.

Many runners would like to say that they have always been as elite as they are, but astonishingly Yurek only ran for 42 seconds the first time he attempted running. Now he has run numerous marathons and runs at seemingly every chance he can get at the ripe age of 49. To say that it is too late is a common fallacy and Yurek is a testament to that notion.

Michelle Koehler (Science)

Michelle Koehler, mother of three, former head coach of girls track for 13 years (three at Morton and ten at RB), and now in her twelfth year teaching at RB, has been running since the fall of 1989. Despite her humble beginnings, over the years she has evolved into an extremely consistent and successful runner. Never being quite good at any other sports, Koehler, on a whim, decided that she would go out for cross country her freshman year, and today couldn’t be happier she made that choice.

“I fell in love with it from the get go,” Koehler said.  “My high school coach was awesome, as well as my parents just motivating me. My dad was at every cross country meet, at every track meet, and he would even leave work early just to get there. That motivation and seeing how excited they were helped build that confidence.”

Most recently Koehler ran the Chicago Half Marathon, and although it was her sixth time running the course, it was the first since her stay in hospital care last year for meningitis. Even to just obtain a respectable time in comparison to her old scores would be a success in and of itself, but she went above and beyond.

“A week beforehand I had finished a long run and I had been battling a hamstring issue, so I went into it thinking ‘let’s just do this,’ do as well as I can and at about mile nine my hamstring started to bother me a little bit. My goal then was that I just wanted to finish in less than two hours and I did, I finished in 1:55. It wasn’t my best and it wasn’t my worst, so I was still happy that I did a good job,” Koehler said.

To many, being a marathon runner sounds absolutely painful, but for Koehler, despite the physical pains that comes with the territory, it is the relaxation and eagerness to one up herself that she finds in running that simply has her hooked.

“It’s the competition with myself. I set personal goals all the time, for different races and things like that. I’m very much a competitive person, not against other people but I want to reach goals for myself and know that I can attain certain things,” Koehler said,” I also use it (running) as my sort of mental escape. If I’ve had a bad day, it feels great to just get out there and run.”

Being a teacher as well, often times there isn’t an ideal time just to get a nice leisure run in, therefore for someone as committed as Koehler, time simply has to be made.

“I run usually at four in the morning on a treadmill, or outside depending on what the weather is like and having three kids at home it’s difficult to find that balance. My kids want mom time. My long runs though are usually on Sunday mornings, where I usually try to get out before my kids wake up,” she said.

In running, as in any sport, there are moments that define the athlete; moments that resonate for the rest of their lives. These moments often times come when the pressure is on the line and for Koehler that was exactly the case. It was her freshman year at Western Illinois, a school she attended for her competitive running skills, and with the limelight shining she was able to perform at her peak.

“My freshman year we competed at Valparaiso University for our cross country conference. I was doing well, running in the middle of the pack, and I ended up being the first freshman to cross the finish line and the second among the group of our girls. I just remember seeing my coaches face and being like ‘holy cow!’  He was shocked to see it was me. I just felt great and the whole adrenaline thing and just seeing how excited he was,” Koehler said.

That race would ultimately end up being the one that set her scholarships in stone, proving that she was capable of performing at the elite collegiate level.

With sights ahead for the future, Koehler like many other determined runners has goals of one day running the ever so prestigious Boston Marathon, and with times in striking distance that goal is very much in the realm of possibility. Additionally, it is the inspiration that the 2013 Boston Marathon evoked that has been a catalyst for her dream of completing the rigorous course Boston presents.

“My husband understands my motivation and he even wants to be there. He wants to be standing where the bombs went off just to know that I’m not scared to do this, I’m here for everybody that couldn’t be here before, and all the struggles that goes along with that. It’s definitely a dream I have to get there someday,” she said.

Larry Forberg (English)

For Larry Forberg, his 36 on-and-off years as a career in running began with an emotional inspiration: the relationship that he had with his father. At first Forberg’s father, being a runner himself, saw running as a way for his son to get in shape for basketball, but it turned out that young Larry was actually a much better runner than he was a basketball player and ever since then, running has stuck. Having lost his father at a very young age, in recollection Forberg sees his beginnings in running as moments he’ll cherish forever.

“When younger it was something I was good at and it also allowed me to spend time with my father. We would run together almost daily. Now that he is gone I know how lucky I was to have those moments together,” Forberg said.

These days, while Forberg isn’t coaching boys’ cross country, he finds the most convenient time to run is in the afternoons when he gets home from work. Other than that, he spends his summers starting off each day ideally with a nice run. As for his favorite running memories, much like with his father, they involve his children and how running has enhanced their bonds.

“It is hard to say. One marathon, one of the people handing out the medals was my daughter and she put the medal around my neck. Also, last year my son ran five miles with me, just like I used to with my father. I have had many wonderful moments associated with running,” Forberg said.

Having been around the block a few times, Forberg is a great guide in teaching younger athletes what exactly can get them over the hump to becoming a truly skilled runner. As Yurek explained as well, it seems that the common theme is the training that is involved prior to running the marathon.

“You have put in the mileage. You have done the training. Physically the marathon is grueling.  Mentally it is exhausting the last six miles. If you have faith in your training, you should be fine. But there are moments early on where you think, “I just ran 6.2 miles, only twenty more and then you get to the twenty mile mark and you think, ‘Only 6.2 left.'” Forberg said.

As far as his most recent race, Forberg ran last year’s Chicago Marathon, however he did not run this year.  Nevertheless, he still looked forward and was excited for a race that involved his community.

“I don’t have any planned race coming up. but I run a 10k in the Spring through the neighborhood I grew up in and it is fun because a lot of the families I grew up with still live there,” Forberg said.

Among the three, there is more than a lifetime of experience in running to be shared, cherished, and noted. To even just be a part of running culture Koehler pointed out is something that is truly special about her life in the RB community, and believes that it holds true for the others in the building who run competitively.