SOUTHEAST KANSAS TEACHER RUNS THE “FRONTENAC MARATHON” TO CONNECT WITH HER STUDENTS
By Angela Deines, KNEA Communications
“While she originally started out to do this for herself as a way to ease the sting of not running in Boston and as a way to connect once more with her students, she inadvertently lifted the spirits of an entire town.”Chelsea Glynn, interim president of Frontenac Teachers Association, on fellow educator Caroline Capehart’s 26-mile run
The day started out like most for Caroline Capehart during the COVID-19 crisis: Zooming with her students in their virtual classroom.
But then the fifth-grade teacher and member of the Frontenac Teachers Association had something else to do before noon on Monday, April 20 – start running a 26.2-mile route pass her students’ houses so she could see them in person.
“When everybody is just out there just for you, it’s so emotional,” said the avid runner and Frontenac native, now in her 16th year at Frank Layden Elementary in Frontenac USD 249. “It’s an amazing experience.”
Capehart, who has been a runner since she was in junior high, would have been running in her fourth Boston Marathon on April 20. She said after the initial shock of the announcement wore off quickly that the marathon was postponed until September, she pivoted to thinking about how she was going “make lemonade out of the lemons” she was given.
“My husband said to me, ‘this is pretty much your Super Bowl, why aren’t you more upset?’” Capehart recalled, laughing, “but this is what I do.”
Capehart soon began carefully mapping out the 26.2 miles, the equivalent of a standard marathon, that would take her past nearly all of her 22 students’ houses, a route snaking through the towns of Pittsburg, Frontenac, Franklin and Arma in Crawford County.
When she’s run the last three Boston marathons, Capehart said her husband, Justin Capehart, travels with her without their three young sons. She said he can only catch glimpses of her running, if he’s lucky, because of the dense crowds pressed up against the marathon route in Beantown.
On his wife’s run on this April 20 this year, Justin followed just behind her in his pick-up truck, waving and thanking Caroline’s students, their families and community members for coming out of their homes and supporting his wife.
“She did it to help the kids,” he said. “I wanted them to know I appreciated that…We wanted to be there to see her when she got to the finish line.”
“I was just hoping that some people would be outside,” Caroline said, adding the run included a police and fire truck escort just for her on McKay, Frontenac’s main street. “It was just like a normal run – but it wasn’t.”
On the “Hello Frontenac” Facebook page, residents posted numerous photos and videos of Capehart running past her students who held signs of support for their teacher as she ran past them, waving and shouting, “I miss you!”
Admitting the run got “harder and harder” as it went along – partly because of the warmer-than-expected temperatures – Capehart said she thought about what she would say to each student the closer she got to each of their homes.
“The kids were all out there,” she said. “It just helped me get to the next point.”
Both Capeharts agreed that the community’s response to Caroline’s run was overwhelming because of the circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis.
“It really kind of helped not just her, but for everyone to have some kind of semblance of normal life,” Justin said. “I think it did a lot of good, not just for her but for everyone.”
“I do think it is the small town Kansas,” Caroline added, “and the fact that I’m a teacher.”
Chelsea Glynn, interim president of Frontenac TA and also a classroom teacher at Frank Layden Elementary, said Caroline is “a champion for all of us.”
“In tough times, people need something to rally behind together,” she said. “So long in isolation, with many of us feeling very alone, we were able to peek out of our shelters, homemade signs held high to root on this smiling, resilient woman, and for even just a few hours feel a little normal again.”
“While she originally started out to do this for herself as a way to ease the sting of not running in Boston and as a way to connect once more with her students,” Glynn added, “she inadvertently lifted the spirits of an entire town.”