Peter Kline will run Sunday’s Seattle Marathon while pushing a three-wheeled jogger. He does marathons across the country, always accompanied by a rider-athlete with disabilities.
Peter Kline likes to say you can change the world one kid at a time. And he has the results to prove it — as in the smiles, hugs and utter jubilation of lives uplifted.
Kline runs marathons with amazing frequency all over the country. His appearance in Sunday’s Seattle Marathon will be his fifth in the past six weeks, and about No. 50 overall.
But he doesn’t run them alone. Not anymore, and never again. Kline, 63, will be accompanied Sunday, as always, by a “rider-athlete” — a person with a disability, in most cases a severe one, whom he will push in a three-wheeled jogger for the entire 26.2 miles.
It’s hard to say who benefits more from the pairing. Kline says his life has been immeasurably enriched by these five-hour interactions, which often turn into a lifetime bond.
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“I’m the blessed one,” he said.
But for the riders themselves, well, their reactions are as heartwarming as they are heartfelt. Even the ones who can’t speak — and Kline says, emphatically, “I don’t assume any of the kids isn’t communicating with me. If they’re not verbal, I just talk to them.”
There was the youngster who got out of the running chair near the finish line and triumphantly navigated the final 10 yards or so with his walker. There was the young man with one nonfunctional arm who kept telling Kline during the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., “Let’s do this!”
There was 12-year-old Eric, whose parents were so thrilled by the joy he displayed during the San Diego Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon that they bought their own jogger.
“Peter, you’ve changed our family’s life,” Eric’s mom told him in an email. “We never knew we could include Eric in what we did.”
There was Braydon, a 12-year-old with cerebral palsy whom Kline pushed in two marathons. Each time, around the 23-mile mark, Braydon started putting his foot on the front wheel in an obvious attempt to brake the jogger.
“It wasn’t a fluke,’’ Kline said. “He didn’t want to leave Disney World. This is his Disney World. His crazy Uncle Peter leaves at the end of the marathon, and he doesn’t want that to happen.”
A senior vice president with Merrill Lynch in Bellevue, Kline’s odyssey began about 10 years ago. At the time, he was a non-dedicated weekend runner, slightly overweight, when he decided on a whim to train for a 10K run. His wife challenged him to try a half-marathon, and a passion for running was born.
Kline’s first marathon was in 2006 in Las Vegas, which he finished in 5 hours, 10 minutes. Determined to run the Boston Marathon, Kline hired a personal trainer who helped him meet the 3:45 qualifying standard. He ran Boston in 2008 in honor of Scott Patrick, a close friend and former Seahawks executive who had been diagnosed with glioblastoma.
Patrick died a few months later at age 51. Of all the marathons Kline has run, the only medal he doesn’t have is from Boston, which he gave to Patrick.
The charitable aspect of that run — he took pledges to raise money to fight brain cancer on Patrick’s behalf — awakened in Kline the realization he could use his running to do good deeds. His sensitivity to the challenges faced by people with disabilities was heightened around the same time when he met a young woman from Ukraine who needed a wheelchair after an accident. While running in Boston, Kline had met Dick Hoyt, who has pushed his disabled son, Rick, in more than 1,000 races.
All these incidents led to an epiphany.
“I though, ‘Gee whiz, maybe there’s a child out there that wants to compete in a marathon but doesn’t have the abilities to do so,’ ” he said.
Finding such children has proved to be an interesting challenge, one that Kline likens to Internet dating. Though he does work with various organizations, much of it is through word-of-mouth — often his own.
“I just ask people and say, ‘Do you know somebody?’ ” he said. “Every place I see someone with a disability, I go over and say, ‘Have you ever thought of running a marathon?’ ”
His first accompanied run was the Las Vegas Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon in 2012, with Taylor Little, a 19-year-old who has cerebral palsy. That year he was the only person in the race with a rider-athlete. This year there were a dozen.
Taylor’s mom, Eden Little Capsouto, was so inspired she started a “Light of Las Vegas” chapter of MyTeamTriumph, an athletic ride-along organization for people with disabilities that includes a Puget Sound chapter. Kline has run so many races with her daughters, they call him “Uncle Peter.”
“I’m seen him grow and get educated, and just fall in love with all these kids and young adults,’’ said Capsouto, a special-education teacher. “It’s great to see someone like Peter educate himself and go out and spread that message of inclusion. We just love and adore him.”
Capsouto, who has three kids affected by cerebral palsy, has found lasting positive changes in her kids from running with them.
Kim Rossiter, a major in the U.S. Marine Corps based in Roanoke, Va., who heads an organization called Ainsley’s Angels, concurs. His 11-year-old daughter, Ainsley, has a terminal genetic disorder called Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy (INAD), and just finished her 100th race.
“It gives them a sense of being included, but more specifically, they ARE included,’’ said Rossiter, who has become a close friend of Kline’s since helping him procure a jogging device for his first race. “They are not on the sidelines watching the likes of Peter run by in a race. They are involved, and athletes in their own right. It takes some endurance to sit in that chair for five hours.
“Secondly, it gives them a sense of freedom, of being liberated. A sense of pride to be involved.”
During each race, Kline gives his rider-athletes responsibilities. He tells them that he has the first 10 miles, but the next 10 miles, he needs them to support him. The last six miles, Kline tells them, “We’ll do it together.”
“We have this sort of symbiotic relationship where we’re working together,” he said. “If they’re verbal, I’ll say, ‘I’m feeling kind of tired, I need some encouragement.’ ”
The team gets plenty of encouragement along the race route, including from one cop who left his post and ran a bit with Kline and his rider, saying, “I have to know why you’re doing this.’ ”
“When you’re running down the street with these kids, and they’re seeing you, they’re inspired, and I think they go away as better people because of that,’’ Kline said.
Kline trains by running four miles to work every morning with a three-wheeled jogger in which he’s placed a 50-pound bag of sand, as well as two plates of 45 and 25 pounds, distributed to simulate the weight of a passenger. (He recently ran the Chicago Marathon pushing a 32-year-old, 182-pound man with spina bifida, so it takes some muscle.) He also sees his trainer once a week to boost his strength, and runs the equivalent of a marathon at a track each weekend.
That regimen prepares Kline for his grueling marathon schedule, which has taken him to San Diego, Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago and Washington, D.C., among other places.
In 2014, Kline fashioned a 24-hour, 100-mile ultramarathon in Las Vegas in which he ran the first 74 miles at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas track, pushing a different child every two hours or so. He then ran to the starting line of the Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon with 12-year-old Braydon Fauntauzzi, whom he pushed the final 26.2 miles.
On the run to the starting line, they were accompanied by Rossiter, who buoyed Fauntauzzi — who has cerebral palsy — by singing Marine Corps cadences en route.
“Braydon just loved it — he started kicking and smiling,” Rossiter said. “In my loudest Marine Corps voice I said, ‘You’re not authorized to smile,’ and he got even brighter.”
Of Kline, Rossiter said, “The beauty of our relationship is that we both want the same thing: for any person who otherwise couldn’t finish the race to have the experience of doing this.”
Though Kline has a website (marathonswithmeaning.com) and appreciates contributions, he’s not actively seeking them. He pays for the bulk of his expenses, including donations of running chairs to those in need, out of his own pocket. He’s doing this — about eight to 10 marathons a year — because he loves the interactions with his athletes and the positive influence on their lives.
“I used to say to myself, ‘Peter, if this fails’ … but what is failure? If you push one kid, you didn’t fail,” he said. “I get more out of it than I give. The inspiration I get from the kids lifts me up each day.”