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Special needs campers are the winners


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Children who encouraged Robert Takla in his IRONMAN challenge, from left, Ethan Grabowski, Griffin Wright, Jacob Arrendondo, Sarah Pentecost, Jacob Hernandez, Tyler Girand Takla and Corbin Marentette; in front from left, Benjamin Zahner and Giovanna Revitzer. Photos courtesy of Robert Takla

January 02, 2014
What do Kids on the Go and the IRONMAN Florida competition have in common?

The former is the beneficiary of more than $12,000 raised by the latter, Robert Takla M.D., chief of emergency medicine at St. John Hospital and Medical Center and competitor in the Nov. 2 IRONMAN race in Panama City Beach, Fla.

He swam 2.4 miles in the Gulf of Mexico, biked 112 miles and ran 26.2 miles all with the goal of helping the local nonprofit summer therapy program for special needs children.

"We raised $11,105 on our own," he said, "and the IRONMAN foundation was kind enough to also donate an additional $1,000 — so $12,105 in total. That's 24 kids for summer camp!"

Kids on the Go was founded in 1999 to provide summer therapy, said speech and language pathologist Kristy Schena, executive director and founder of the nonprofit. It costs $500 for one child to attend a six-week camp, usually held at the Assumption Cultural Center in St. Clair Shores.

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Takla and Schena became acquainted when he worked at St. John Oakland and witnessed the work she accomplished with special needs children through physical, occupational and speech therapy.

"I have been a supporter, but this time found a way to support even more," he said.

In last year's competition, Takla, who has been with St. John since 1996, had written the names of his children, Taylor and Alex, on his bib.

"I always tell them never quit. So when I was getting tired last year during the race, I knew I had to finish and live by example and emphasize the values I try to teach my kids.

"This year, I thought there was room for many more on my race bib. I approached Kristy and asked her for every $500 we raise, can I have permission to write a child's name on my race bib — so that as I race and cross the finish line — they are also racing and crossing the finish line with me. Let's fundraise and race at the same time. The journey will be more meaningful and the race would be a celebration."

When packing for the Florida trip, his second 140.6 distance event, Takla included good luck cards and pictures created by the Kids on the Go children, whose 21 names were written on both his racing bib and on his bike. Those words of encouragement from children back home were his inspiration, Schena said Takla told her.

To prepare for the race, Takla trained as much as 18 hours a week.

"It is like any worthy endeavor — there are no shortcuts. It requires a commitment and a time investment, lots of hours, lots of early mornings, long weekends and sacrifices. Anytime you say yes to something — you are saying no to something else," he said in an e-mail.

However, the sacrifices were worth it.

"I am a middle to end of pack racer in general when you compare me to other ironman athletes. But I am not competing against anyone else, only against myself. So if I give it my best and cross the finish line, then I have succeeded. And in this case, I came in first place because 21 kids raced with me," he said.

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