Chesco 11-year-old has run marathons on all seven continents

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On Saturday, Tara Toocheck hurried to log onto Skype and talk to her son, Nikolas, halfway around the world.

“Mommy, I feel so great. I feel fresh,” the boy, 11, told his mother back in Pocopson Township, Chester County. “Now, I want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.”

An hour earlier, Nikolas had crossed the finish line of a 26.2-mile race in the shadow of the Caucasus Mountains in the Republic of Georgia.

Nikolas isn’t old enough to join the cross-country team at his school. But when the preteen finished the Kazbegi Marathon, he accomplished in less than two years a feat most people don’t in a lifetime:

He had run a marathon on every continent. (Including two in Antarctica.)

Those who track such things say Nikolas is the youngest runner ever to accomplish the vaunted “seven on seven.”

By one estimate, he joins about 450 people worldwide, a sign of how marathons have multiplied in number and popularity in the past decade. But most of the others are in their 40s and 50s, according to Massachusetts-based Marathon Tours & Travel, which specializes in such trips.

“It’s remarkable to have the passion to do it, but it’s another thing to actually go out and accomplish it,” said Steve Hibbs, founder of a nonprofit, the Official 7 Continents Marathon, 1/2 Marathon and Ultra Club. “It’s a real testament to Nik and what he’s been able to do, and what he’ll be able to do when he gets older.”

After last weekend’s race, Unionville-Chadds Ford School District officials posted Nikolas’ accomplishment on their website, and Superintendent John Sanville tweeted his congratulations.

The sixth grader at Charles F. Patton Middle School in Kennett Square runs for more than his own satisfaction. Through his marathons, he has raised more than $40,500 and paid for more than 2,000 new coats for children. He created the campaign, dubbed “Running the World for Children,” when he was 9.

By then, he had been running with his father, Dan, for several years.

It started when the elder Toocheck, an optometrist, began to train for the Air Force Reserve and his son, then 6, decided to join him. They started with 5K races and increased to half- and full marathons.

The Toochecks arranged a sports medicine evaluation to see if so many marathons would be safe for their son as he grew. They also got the blessing of his pediatrician, a pediatric sports medicine specialist, and a pediatric cardiologist.

Nikolas thought it would be cool to run in different climates on the seven continents, so he set that as his goal. At each point, his father, a major in the reserve, has been at his side. (And pays for the travel.)

His first marathon toward the seven-continent goal was in Delaware on Dec. 1, 2012. Races in Chile, Antarctica, and Australia followed in 2013. This year, he also ran in Zimbabwe, Switzerland – and Antarctica again.

His bright eyes widen with excitement when he mentions the friends he has made and the animals he has seen on his world tour – the hippos, giraffes, and penguins.

He rode on an elephant during a safari in Zimbabwe. He loved seeing the Alps rising around him as he ran in Switzerland.

But the goal was completing, not competing in the races. Father and son usually finish their full marathons in about six hours, they said.

The money he raises goes to a nonprofit his grandfather founded in 1998 – Operation Warm – to give coats to children in need across the United States. By the end of this year, the nonprofit, based in Chadds Ford, will have given winter coats to 1.7 million children, according to the group.

“Whenever I’m feeling tired or feel like I want to stop, I just think about the kids who don’t have coats to warm them,” Nikolas said. “And I think I’m so lucky I have coats to keep me warm.”

The trips don’t always run smoothly.

Nikolas had initially hoped to record his Asia marathon last week in India, at the Chennai Trail Marathon. But because of an eleventh hour miscommunication, he and his father couldn’t get a visa to enter the country. Then they started calling around to find other marathons to enter – anywhere in Asia – and found the Georgia race.

“It was just a weird and amazing feeling,” Nikolas said of reaching his goal. “I don’t feel finished. I want to do more.”Nikolas, who has his own website, www.nikrunstheworld.com, was honored in May as one of Pennsylvania’s top two youth volunteers of 2014 by a national program at a ceremony in Washington. The award is sponsored by Prudential Financial and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

He’s not sure where his running will lead him next.

“Maybe,” he said, “the 50 states.”

 

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source: Philly.com by Michaelle Bond

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