Driving home from a mentally and physically exhausting mud and obstacle race known as the Tough Mudder, Brad Kloha, 28, was deep in thought.
Having completed a handful of these strength and endurance tests for various foundations, the Freeland native wanted to do something bigger.
“Driving back, I decided I wanted to create my own (fundraising race), but then the idea came to me, why not pull off something where I run a bunch instead,” Kloha said. “At first, I decided to run 52 races in 52 weeks, but that seemed too easy.”
Starting June 15, Kloha will attempt to finish 100 road and mud and obstacles races in 52 weeks as part of a project he calls “Run to Remember,” which will conclude in June 2014.
The goal of “Run to Remember” is to raise $1 million for Alzheimer’s disease awareness through the Alzheimer’s Association. Kloha launched the “Run to Remember” website four weeks ago, and has already raised $6,586.
The site, which includes a calendar of Kloha’s future races, his personal blog and a memorial wall, also gives people the option to donate and sponsor the cause in various ways.
Kloha said finances for the year are a slight worry, as estimated costs of entry fees and travel will total between $10,000 and $20,000, but he is determined to find a way to finish 100 races.
“When I run these races, I think I’ll have enough motivation,” Kloha said. “It’s too big of a cause not to finish. It’s not just about me anymore; it’s about all the families of people with Alzheimer’s disease. I might be hurting, but so are all those families watching family members go through it.”
Kloha ran his first mud and obstacle race in 2010, when he completed the Warrior Dash with his sister Heather Wesolek in Illinois.
At first, he thought he might run a race each year, but said he caught the bug and began participating more frequently.
After coming up with the initial idea to run 100 races, he got the support of his Central Michigan University coworkers to help formulate his ideas for the organization.
Kloha, a 2006 CMU graduate, is an enrollment management analyst at his alma mater.
In November, he met with the Central Michigan chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association in Midland.
“I was primarily interested in getting permission to say it was supporting the Alzheimer’s Association,” Kloha said. “They loved it, and sent me the logo to put on all my materials. Then they set up the donation page for me, so no money donated went through me.”
After gaining permission and support from the Alzheimer’s Association, the flower, a Peace Lily Kloha received from his grandmother, Phyllis Brinkman’s funeral, blossomed for the first time.
“I have a Peace Lily, which is a plant with some flowers, kind of like lilies, but it doesn’t blossom very often,” he said.
The lily blossomed a second time on March 11 when the “Run to Remember” site launched, and a third time when ABC 12 aired Kloha’s story, gaining attention for his project.
“I’m convinced she is right next to God saying ‘make all this happen,’” he said. “It’s the little things like that that keep me thinking I know she’s watching and she’s proud.”
Brinkman’s mother lost her battle with Alzheimer’s disease when Kloha was a young child. He didn’t fully understand what was happening with his great-grandmother, but watched Brinkman go through the disease later.
Wesolek said the progress of Brinkman’s Alzheimer’s was difficult for her brother.
“I think it hit him really hard; it hit us all really hard,” Wesolek said, fighting back tears. “It’s really hard seeing a sweet, innocent, never asking for anything kind of woman who all of a sudden doesn’t know how to walk or know who you are. It was really hard for Brad, because he was right there in the thick of it.”
Brinkman lost her 13-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease on June 18, 2011.
“She would forget who I was, which was the hardest part for me,” Kloha said. “At that time, 25-years-old and having known her for so long, she couldn’t even say my name, so that was tough.”
When Kloha runs his 100 races, he will have a sleeve on one arm with a picture of him and his grandmother, and a picture of his great-grandmother on his other.
“If I get tired during a race, I can look down and see why I’m doing it,” he said. “Even though I know it has a greater impact on others, my grandmother and great-grandmother are my primary motivations.”
Kloha will put his body to the test when he takes on 100 races in 52 weeks, especially his knees.
During his first Tough Mudder – a 12-mile mud and obstacle course – he suffered a slight tear in his meniscus of his right knee and a strain in the MCL of his left knee.
“After three knee surgeries, there’s not much left in my knees, and my ankles are torn up from soccer,” he said. “So, (health) is always a concern, but, even if I have to do them injured, I will, because I’m committed to the 100 races.”
Kloha has a supportive family in his corner.
“He’ll never quit; he’s definitely an achiever,” Wesolek said. “If we have to push him in a wheelchair through the races, he has our full support and we’d be willing to do that.”
Kloha said he trains almost daily, running between three and 12 miles a day, in addition to traditional weight lifting. His training intensity varies with his work schedule as an instructor at Seung-Ni Fit Club of Mount Pleasant.
His more vigorous workouts include running with a 60-pound sand bag on his shoulders, running while dragging a chained cement block, and scaling the rafters of the pavilions at Island Park and Deerfield Park.
Kloha’s races will vary from traditional five-mile road races to obstacle races of varying distances. His longest race will be a 28-mile, 50-plus obstacle course known as the Ultra Beast.
The “Run to Remember” finale will be a traditional 5K and 10K road race called “Run to Remember” in Mount Pleasant to bring the project back full circle.
“Short of a doctor chaining me to a hospital bed, I’m going to complete the 100 races,” Kloha said. “There are tons of people out there who are so inspiring, so there should be no reason why I can’t finish.”