Surprising scholarship inspires teen to complete tribute run

Cameron Smith

Any number of different factors can contribute to a young athlete's sudden desire to begin distance running. While those usually focus on maintaining an athlete's general physical fitness or a desire for increased endurance, Lexington (Kent.) Catholic High student Zack Haffler was pushed forward by a less traditional form of inspiration: He was given a scholarship.

Lexington Catholic student Zack Haffler

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader and Associated Press, Haffler was the recipient of the Joe Bieschke Memorial Award at his recent Lexington Catholic graduation, with the honor stoking Haffler's interest in discovering more about Bieschke's life.

What Haffler found was a touchingly inspired life tragically cut short by cancer in 1986. Among other things, Bieschke was a star on the Lexington Catholic cross country team, and one of his final acts was to complete the annual Bluegrass 10,000, a 6.2 mile run held annually on July 4 in Lexington.

Because Bieschke was already too sick with cancer to run the race as he would have liked to, he was forced to limp through the entire course, never stopping before crossing the finish line.

As soon as he read about Bieschke's commitment to running, Haffler knew what he had to do: He needed to run the 2011 Bluegrass 10,000.

"I found an article online about what he did, and I was kind of touched by how someone in that much pain and struggle could do something so great," Haffler told the AP. "I just looked at him and at myself, and it seemed as though I had never done anything that great. And so I felt like I ought to do something."

That Haffler would run a race in memory of someone he never met was surprising, because of both his sudden motivation and overwhelming lack of experience. According to his parents, Haffler had never run any notable distance before in his life, let alone complete a race.

Yet that didn't stop the teenager, who finished the race on Monday -- Haffler crossed the finish line with a very respectable time of 48:31 -- and said he planned to write a letter to Bieschke's parents in California to let them know that their son's steely determination still inspires those at his alma mater.

"I just felt like I needed to do something to prove to myself, or to Lexington Catholic, that I deserved an award like that," he said.

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