The obituary caught my eye just as we headed out the door last week for America's Kids Run. Frank Edward Petek, 59, was the guy at the starting line of the annual event who would share a joke, give kids a high five or calm their nerves with a few words of encouragement. I didn't know him at all but I remembered him after covering numerous Junior Bloomsday/America's Kids' Run events while working as the Saturday reporter for The Spokesman.
My son, who's 6, participated in the event for the first time this year. When he sprinted across the finish line and jogged back to us at the other end of Joe Albi Stadium, he was grinning from ear to ear. He was so proud to be part of this run.
As I watched my child along with dozens of other 6-year-olds make their way back into the stands to reunite with their parents, I immediately thought of Mr. Petek and the many other volunteers who have devoted so much time and energy to America's Kids Run. Some of them don't even have kids. Other volunteers have children who are now grown but they continue to show up -- to support other people's children and to help raise awareness of the importance of exercise and a healthy lifestyle. According to his obituary, Mr. Petek didn't have children of his own. But one of his "greatest joys" was volunteering as an assistant coach for the North Central cross-country team.
"Whether it was the fastest runner or the 27th kid near the back of the pack, you could hear him yelling encouragement on the course," according to the obituary. In 2006, the last time I covered America's Kids' Run, I remember Petek telling the kids to check their shoelaces at the starting line and to always try their best.
“We hope these kids adopt a healthy lifestyle," he said. "We also want to provide them with an alternative to Nintendo.”
We're lucky in Spokane to have had Mr. Petek and to be surrounded by many dedicated teachers, coaches and volunteers who help care for our kids. My son's T-ball team, for instance, is coached by two 16-year-old girls from Ferris High School who simply want to share their love of baseball with children learning to play. Every day at school, he and other students are so fortunate to be surrounded by caring parents and grandparents, friendly neighbors and other volunteers who believe in young people and the need to invest in their future. I know it's a cliche, but it really does take a village.
How about you? Who are the people besides your own family who have made a difference in your child's life?