We featured Nik Toocheck in the March-April issue of Youth Runner Magazine but we had to edit down the interview to fit within the pages. Below is Nik's full interview along with some of the photos from his adventures. We first noticed Nik a couple of years when we heard about his idea to "Run the World for Children" and do some good with his love of running. About Nik, he is in the 6th grade, 11 years old, and he is the first kid under 12 to run 7 marathons on 7 continents. Like you, we wondered what motivated Nik a kid to do everything he has accomplished so far in his life. Not everyone agrees that a kid should run a marathon and we wondered about that as well. Here is our interview with Nik, one incredible kid.
It's been fun to watch your progress over the last couple of years and follow your fantastic adventures. If you can zero in on one experience from your travels, what would that be? Not necessarily the marathons but it could be a person you met, or the culture, animal life, or the scenery.
When I traveled to Zimbabwe to run the Victoria Falls Marathon, I was excited to see one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. Victoria Falls is something I will never forget, but I think another experience there had a bigger impact on me. The race helps support the Rose of Charity Orphanage, which takes care of about 70 children. My family scheduled a visit to the orphanage. When we arrived there, the children had made welcome signs and were all lined up singing for us! After spending some time there, a boy not much younger than I was came up and introduced himself and said his name was Gift. He was very friendly and was not wearing any shoes. We had brought an extra pair of my Altra running shoes, just in case I needed them. But it seemed like Gift need them more than I did. I helped him tie them on, and off he went running around. When I saw him a little later, he was back in his bare feet. He said that he had put them under his bed and was saving them for the kids' race the next day. It is at times like that when I realize how lucky I am.
Which marathon was the best experience for you?
The Swiss Alpine Marathon was a great overall experience. The race was held in Davos, the highest city in Europe. Just getting there was great because I got to take a train from Zurich up into the Swiss Alps. We decided to get there early so we could acclimate to the altitude and do some hiking and running in the mountains and around the glaciers. The race was a point to point race which took us over mountain passes and Swiss villages. Even though it was the middle of summer, it rained the entire race and I ended up covered in mud. I was told I was the youngest finisher in the 29 year history of the race.
Best plans sometimes don't always work out. What were some of the difficulties or "unexpected" things that came up during the adventures?
When running international marathons, it sometimes seemed as if the running was the easiest part. For my first White Continent Marathon in Antarctica at age nine, we were supposed to fly to Antarctica from Chile to start the race at 5:00 am. Even though it was summer in the southern hemisphere, the weather is very unpredictable. The airline decided that the weather looked bad for the whole week and the race might have to be cancelled. We had a window of opportunity to fly in which allowed us to get in and start running. I was so happy to be running with the penguins! I stopped to play with them whenever I got the chance.
But the weather took a turn for the worse. We were told we had to leave Antarctica or we could get stuck there for up to a week. So after running 18 miles, the race director paused the marathon and got us back to Chile to finish the last 8 miles. I was lucky enough to go back last year when I was 10 to run the White Continent Marathon and complete all 26.2 miles on Antarctica.
When you're out there on the course what are you thinking about?
When I am running in a new place, there are always new and exciting things to see. In Antarctica, it was the penguins, and in running in Chile we were on the Strait of Magellan where I was watching dolphins and whales swim by. In Africa, they had armed guards on the course to keep us safe from the wild animals, like elephants, boars and buffaloes. I also like to talk with my Dad about whatever sport season is going on too.
About the "Million Miles," did you meet someone in need that inspired you? Doing what you are doing takes drive, our readers would like to know what makes you tick. We know Winter Vinecki and the drive she has is for her dad. What do you really want to accomplish out of all of this?
I have been Running the World for Children since I was 9 years old. My grandfather started the charity Operation Warm, and I have been around this charity my entire life. My family has also been involved in helping provide vision care to those in need, so they have always been a good role models for me. My dad has also told me stories about the great humanitarian Roberto Clemente, who was also a pretty good athlete. I think that I am fortunate to do what I love for good, and if I can run and help other kids, how great is that?
What's your standard answer to the folks that say you're just a kid, how can you run a marathon?
Now that I have run 14 marathons, I can let my record speak for itself. Anyone wanting to run a marathon really needs to be ready and prepared for the distance no matter what age you are. Once you have mentally committed to it, you just have to put in the time.
Tell us about an average week of training.
For my first marathon, I followed the standard 16 week program, with 4 runs during the week and a long run on the weekend. Lately, I have been doing more cross training, like baseball, wrestling, and hockey. The more fun the activity, the better.
It seems like you started as a race walker, are you going to continue with that?
I actually started as a runner when I was 6. Race walking is a great sport and is much harder than it looks. It helps to have endurance and being able keep good form. I plan to continue.
Most everyone has a great idea or thought on how to change the world or do something better. The hard part is just doing it. What advice do you have or encouragement for other kids on how to get started with their ideas?
You don't have to be big to make a difference! Just start with something that is important to them and stick with it. Even by helping just one person, you have made a difference.
How do you manage your school work with your running schedule and events?
Now that I am in 6th grade, I am starting to get more homework. I can take it with me or try to do it ahead of time. I am doing really well in school and it is priority. We try to arrange the running schedule around breaks from school.
More about Nik now. What is your best school subject and and any thoughts yet on what you'd like to be when you grow up?
My favorite subject is Social Studies. I like learning about history, people and places. I guess that is why I like to travel so much. I would like to be a MLB baseball player when I am older, then perhaps go work with the FBI.
Who are your role models?
My father, he has always been super supportive of my dreams. I also am a big fan of Dean Karnazes, the UltraMarathon Man. Dean was one of the first to encourage me to run and set my goals high.
What is an average dinner the night before a marathon for you? What do you eat and drink the morning of?
I am a big fan of pizza and garlic bread the night before a race. On the morning of a race, I like Waffatopia waffles. I drink lots of water and milk.
Blue. I run in black and gold - Pittsburgh sports colors
Last really good book you read?
The Transcendence Series, written by my sister, Thea. It is available on Amazon.
The Harry Potter Series
Anything else that you would like Youth Runners around the world to know?
Everyone needs to find their own distance. Usain Bolt isn't likely to win a marathon and Meb Keflezhigi doesn't run the 100 meter dash. But winning isn't everything; do what you love for good. There are no boundaries! You don't need to be big to make a difference.
Top Ten Accomplishments
1. World Record- Youngest person to run a marathon on all 7 continents
2. Two time marathon runner in Antarctica- Youngest person ever
3. Four time National Race Walk Champion
4 Former Age World Record Holder 10 mile and 15K Road Race
5. Jefferson Awards Foundation 2015 Globe Changer
6. Prudential Spirit of Community 2014 State Awardee
7 Kohl's Cares 2014 Regional Award
8. Sports Illustrated Kid's 2014 Difference Maker
9. Unionville Recreation Baseball Championship Starting Pitcher
10. Kennett Wrestling Novice Tournament 2015 - 1st Place