For Charlie Kern of Elmhurst, running has been a big part of his life.
For Jackson Bode of Elmhurst, his running is just beginning.
This fall, Bode will compete for his first cross country team as he enters sixth grade at Bryan Middle School. He’s excited and ready, thanks in part to Kern and attending his Elmhurst-based Championship Academy running camp for the second year in a row this summer.
“I like how he’s sometimes on the (Prairie) Path running, supporting kids and giving kids confidence and stuff,” Bode said. “I like that about it and I think he’s a great coach. He has certain exercise routines that we do, like the hip routine. I think he’s just good at influencing and giving kids confidence to run.”
Kern, who turned 42 in June, is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, when he took time off during the camp, he competed in July at the biannual World Masters Athletics Championships in Sacramento, Calif., for athletes at 35 years old.
Kern finished second in the Men’s 40 1,500-meter run (4:04.33) for athletes ages 40-44 after winning the same race at the 2009 World Masters Championships in Lahti, Finland (4:04.75).
“I don’t have any regrets about the race, but I wanted to win. Right after, I was thinking about, ‘OK, what’s next?’” Kern said. “This time around, a family vacation was the main focus. With that in mind, I finished second. Running takes me away from my family so much, even training. I’m running on the Prairie Path, wherever. The vacation was a great opportunity to kind of reward everybody.”
Kern already has given back more than he’s received from running. He won the New York high school state title in the 1,600-meter run as a senior at Sweet Home High School (Amherst, N.Y.) and went on to compete at the University of Kentucky.
“Now the challenge is just to see how fast can I run this year,” Kern said.
He’s a social studies teacher at York High School and previously was as an assistant coach for 10 years for the Dukes’ boys cross country and boys track teams through 2008. He’s also coached many York boys runners independently when they’ve competed on their own at national-level meets.
When the Championship Academy debuted in 2009, there were 79 runners. This year’s camp in June and July had 210 runners.
“We’ve grown by over 100 percent in two years. I’ve got a great staff, a great place to run and great kids to work with,” Kern said.
The camp is for boys and girls entering fifth through 12th grades and was based at Wild Meadows Trace (York Road and the Prairie Path) or at Timothy Christian High School for track workouts.
The camp usually started at 8 a.m. or 7 a.m. for the workouts at Timothy, lasting about 90 minutes to two hours for the high-school runners and 45 minutes to one hour for the grade-school runners. The camp was extended to make up for canceled dates caused by this summer’s storms. The camp sometimes started earlier because of the extremely hot temperatures in mid-July.
Kern had a staff of 12 runners that he’s either coached or taught and a full-time trainer. Kern said local sponsorship from Olympic Chiropractic, Farmers Insurance and Smoothie Factory and Nike also helped. More information on the camp and Kern is available at www.ckrunning.com.
“(The goal) first and foremost is a love and appreciation for running. It’s something that they can do the rest of their lives,” Kern said. “But another goal is to be prepared for the cross country season.”
Elmhurst’s Mady Schiller, a first-time camper, is hoping for an improved girls cross country season as she begins seventh grade at Bryan Middle School. This is also the first school year in which she can compete in track.
“I really like cross country and long-distance running and my friends are doing it so I thought I would give it a try. I’m going to do it next year,” Schiller said. “The counselors are really supportive and encouraging and all around the people are just very nice and helpful. And I love running. That’s what we do here. Mr. Kern is great at running and very supportive and encouraging. He offers great advice.”
At Wild Meadows Trace, Kern said he uses a roughly one-mile oval designed to keep the runners on soft surfaces that goes east through grass and west on the Prairie Path.
They also had daily discussions beyond running. On the final day, Kern discussed to “Live like a champion,” in sports, the classroom and their lives.
“(I’ve learned) don’t give up and you can push yourself to do more than you think you can do,” Schiller said. “And don’t put yourself down mentally or physically. Be positive and you’ll get through it.”
Kern needed a little encouragement himself from his wife, Lynne, to compete at the World Masters Championships. With the event in the U.S. this time, they would be joined by their children, Charlie, 11, and twins Emma and Ethan, 9.
“I wasn’t going to compete this time but my wife persuaded me to go to try and defend the title and the kids could come and see their dad run in a U.S.A. uniform. Not many kids get that chance,” Kern said.
The prelude to the competition was family time in Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco and even white-water rafting the day before the July 15 final after Kern posted the second-fastest time in the July 13 preliminaries (4:15.32).
In the final, Kern’s 4:04.33 actually beat his victorious time from 2009. However, Kern was beaten by .96 by Canada’s Rich Tremain, 40, (4:03.37). Argentina’s Daniel Andres Castro, also 40, was third (4:05.18).
“The way the race went this time around was slow, slow, slow -- and then a mad dash to the finish,” Kern said. “Richie just has more leg speed than I do. He was able to get there before I did and I was able to get there more than everybody else.”
The 16 finalists consisted of six U.S. runners and 10 representing nine other nations. Still it felt like old times.
Tremain was Kern’s teammate at Kentucky. Tremain was a freshman when Kern was a senior.
“He’s a great guy. He did better when we were both in our prime so to lose to Rich, it wasn’t awful,” Kern said. “If I’m going to get beat, he’s a good guy to beat me. He’s a great kid.”
There’s still plenty to accomplish. At Worlds, Kern was approached by other runners with ties to New York about going for the 40-plus world record in the 3,200 relay during the indoor track season. Finding a fourth runner and a meet in which the relay will be allowed to compete still must be done.
“My job is just to stay fit, be ready once the indoor season starts to run fast,” Kern said.
In the meantime, Kern can take satisfaction in all of the runners he’s influenced through his camp.
York senior-to-be Kailee Sweeney joined the camp for the first time this year as she prepares for the girls cross country season after taking off 2010 to train for the annual Chicago Marathon in mid-October.
Just as important as the consistent mileage is that Sweeney appears to have her recent chronic injuries under control.
“I was looking for new ways, innovative ways to run better, improve my running to be able to stay not injured. It’s a different style of running than I’m used to but a lot of it’s worked out, a lot of new exercises. I really like it,” Sweeney said.
“(Kern) just has a way of speaking to kids and sort of getting them into more than just being a great runner but being a great person, too. He’s just really motivating, whether it’s to go out and work hard and run really well that day or if it’s to go out and do something great that day. He’s just a really inspiring person.”