By Ken Sain
Arizonan Managing Editor
Bright Beginnings School teacher John Mahnke recalls a time he went back home.
“I graduated from college in 1992 and by 1997. I was not exercising very much,” the Chandler school physical education teacher said. “And I remember going home, and my dad’s like, ‘Boy, you kind of let yourself go a little bit.’
“I was living by myself, single guy, who never looked in the mirror. This is my comb, this is my brush. I was eating Wendy’s, Burger King, everything you could think of. I got on a scale and it said 325 pounds. “
Mahnke decided to make a change.
He started out walking, and eventually began running. At the end of this month, he plans on competing in a 100K race.
And since he’s a physical education teacher, Mahnke decided to turn the event into a class lesson.
“Sometimes you need motivation other than just you getting out of bed, going for a run because you want to do it,” Mahnke said. “And so, I thought if I tell the kids, I’m going to do it. I got it to it. I can’t back out now. When I started talking to them about doing it, I couldn’t believe how excited most of them were. “
Their excitement led to a class project: To help motivate their teacher, his students would try and complete about 100K themselves. That’s more than 60 miles. How they do it is up to them – walking, running, biking or swimming.
“Crazy,” fifth-grader Tyler Bronner said when asked what he thought when his teacher told him about his race. “I thought it was pretty cool.”
Tyler completed his 60 miles by walking, running and biking. He said it took him three-and-a-half weeks. Javier Marin said he also completed his 60 miles by walking and running in four weeks. He said he plans to keep exercising.
“Because it gets my energy out,” Javier said. “And it’s like, it gets me fit.”
“As a physical education teacher my overall objective of school for K through six is to get kids active for the sake of being active, not because some referee or their parents tell them they have to,” Mahnke said.
“Javi and Tyler are very active kids. But we have some kids who I would have thought, because I told them you don’t have to do this, they wouldn’t. And they’re turning their mileage in, and their parents are emailing me: ‘I can’t believe he wanted to go for a walk after dinner today.’ “
Third-grader Jilayn Doughty is halfway through her 60 miles. She said she’s mostly swimming and running in her backyard.
“It’ll take about another month,” Jilayn said. It took her five weeks to complete the first 30 miles.
This is not the first long-distance race for Mahnke. He’s competed in marathons and once ran in a 50-mile race in Wisconsin. It was not a fun experience.
“Raining sideways off of Lake Michigan,” he said. “Maybe 45 degrees, freezing. It was so cold at every aid station they had chicken noodle soup for you to drink. I got to the finish and I’ve never been shaking so bad because you’re frozen. They just hauled you into a tent and throw blankets on you, and I’m like, ‘No, never ever, ever, ever again.’ “
The 100K race on Oct. 29 in the Fountain Hills area is actually the shorter race. The organizers, Aravaipa Running, are also staging a 100-mile race. There is also a 31K race for those looking for something less challenging.
One of the top goals at Bright Beginnings is to teach their students to have good character. As such, students are on the honor system for reporting their miles. Not every student is participating and Mahnke is keeping track of how they are doing in the school’s hallway.
He gave each student a cutout boy or girl that represented them, asked them to color it, and it advances when they do. Mahnke says he’s getting enough emails from parents that he knows his students are actually doing the distances they report.
“I’m going to trust that you’re gonna write down the miles that you did and we’re all going to take you for what you say,” he told his students. “So it’s going to build trustworthiness and responsibility. Some parents have said, they go for a three-mile bike ride every day. We kind of incorporate that into it as well with the character building. “