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Fundraising fourth-grader: 'It makes me feel really good'

Apr. 22—CHAMPAIGN — Max Kennedy is as active as fourth-graders come.

He enjoys running with his friends on Bottenfield Elementary School's cross-country team. He's preparing to test for his second-degree black belt in taekwondo.

Each activity is also a platform to raise money for a cause that hits close to home.

His father, Ryan, suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2022, an inspiration for a fundraiser to accompany Max's involvement in Friday's Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon 5K.

"It makes me feel really good to think that I'm helping so many people and helping find a cure for a ruptured brain aneurysm," Max said.

Ryan was fortunate enough to be among about half of those with ruptured brain aneurysms who survive, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, but it's been a long road to recovery.

The foundation says 66 percent of survivors face a permanent neurological deficit.

Ryan still can't drive or work. Short-term memories don't come easily. But he's made significant progress. And he's still there for Max.

"We like to play basketball sometimes," Max said. "We play catch a lot. Sometimes, we play our PlayStations together."

As for who the better gamer is?

"Probably me," Max said.

"I think he'd argue with that," his mother, Lindsay Gauble, said about Ryan.

And Max has answered the call for his mom, as well, during a challenging stretch for both of them.

"Max is my rock," Gauble said. "He's kept me pretty sane throughout this whole ordeal, and I definitely depend on him for his support and don't know what I would do without the kid."

Running isn't something everybody adapts to easily. Max found that chatting with his buddies during runs helps take his mind off the monotony of the workouts.

But Bottenfield's team of 46 kids keeps it light. And the team has been working toward the race as a unit.

"We run around Bottenfield, the neighborhood there," coach Matt Jahnke said. "The kids have been working really hard, and it's fun to see the work pay off in a couple of weeks here."

Bottenfield's program has existed for three seasons under the direction of Jahnke, a physical-education teacher at the school. It is open to fourth- and fifth-graders, who started training for the Illinois Marathon 5K in February.

Times aren't such a concern for the team, though Jahnke remembers one particularly quick student clocking in at 21:10 and holding their own with runners from older age groups.

But there's a pizza party in store for the whole team should everyone finish within an hour, a mark that has been cleared for the past two seasons.

"Everyone's just really excited," Jahnke said. "And it's fun, I feel like, because we have such a big group of kids running all together ... people on the sidelines cheering us on, see all the orange Bottenfield shirts, and they encourage the kids a lot. And it's such a great experience for the kids."

And Max is a key part of the group's good energy.

"He always has a great attitude," Jahke said. "And as somebody that's a hard worker, he is always a positive person. That contributes to overall the class and the team being more positive because of his presence, too."

There will be plenty of energy among the group when the race begins Friday evening. Max isn't sweating the 3.1-mile course, which starts on Oak Street south of St. Mary's Road and ends inside Memorial Stadium.

"I'll be proud of myself," he said. "Also, I'll feel like I've accomplished" his goal.

Max has grown accustomed to fundraising efforts over the years. He's required to do a service project to go along with each black belt he earns on the mat.

He and his friends made candy bags for the Champaign Police Department when he earned his first black belt two years ago. He's already raised about $250 for the foundation ahead of his second belt.

"He made coffee mugs that were decorated with the brain-aneurysm awareness logo, and he sold them to raise money," Gauble said.

The Illinois Marathon 5K was a perfect platform to draw additional attention to . All proceeds generated from the fundraiser will go directly to the foundation.

"He's done a really good job with that," Gauble said. "We have a couple more (days), so we're really going to hit social media and try to get people out there to donate."