Tonganoxie teacher runs in marathon, visits town where father once lived
Taking 5,430th place in a race usually doesn't warrant a medal in most running events.
But when you're running in a marathon -- with 17,000 other people -- that's a pretty good finish.
Dave Wahlgren, a Tonganoxie Junior High science teacher, ran June 4 in a marathon in Stockholm, Sweden, with longtime friend, Gary Teske.
When a runner finishes a race, they usually are awarded a finisher's medal. Both runners finished, although was slowed by severe leg cramps.
The heavy medal is a reminder of Wahlgren's latest accomplishment -- he now has nine finisher's medals. But this was his first outside of the United States.
It also was his most special.
With 17,000 runners, it was the largest marathon Wahlgren has competed in.
It also was his father's native country. Wahlgren's father came to America with his siblings in 1920.
The 17,000-person marathon took center stage in Sweden. Wahlgren said thousands of people lined the marathon route, something he hadn't experienced in his American marathons.
The event even was televised throughout the country.
"This is like their Super Bowl of running," Wahlgren said.
The 26.2-mile course started outside Stockholm's Olympic Stadium, which was the site for the 1912 Olympic Games. The route went through the streets and bridges of Stockholm, a city built on a series of islands. The marathon concluded inside the stadium, where Wahlgren said the most world records have been set.
The marathon winded through the heart of Stockholm, its cobblestone streets narrow in the older parts of the city. It also made its way to newer areas of the city where the streets were wider. In addition, the route went past City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize is announced.
"There were so many people lining the streets, so I was like a tourist on the run," Wahlgren said.
Wahlgren and Teske, as they usually do, wore their Kansas University shirts during the marathon.
Wahlgren said one spectator yelled "Go KU," while another asked "Where's Kansas?"
Wahlgren wasn't offended that locals didn't know about the Sunflower State?
"Would we know all the provinces of other nations?" Wahlgren said.
Fans displayed various national flags -- including American flags. Some spectators even had noisemakers.
During the marathon, many children stood along the route, slapping hands with participants.
"Sometimes I'd make a detour to slap hands with them," Wahlgren said. "It was a lot of fun. It was a fun marathon."
At the finish line
Wahlgren and Teske started the race together, but lost each other after the first water break.
Their wives watched the marathon at different spots along the course and then made their way to the stadium to watch their husbands finish.
When Wahlgren finished the race, he looked for his wife, but couldn't find her. Finally, they connected. Wahlgren's wife, Lonnie, didn't see her husband cross the finish line.
"My wife was just scared to death that I had just died of heat stroke somewhere in the crowd," Wahlgren said Friday. "If it would have been in Kansas like today, I probably would have."
Wahlgren finished the marathon in 4 hours, 9 minutes and 16 seconds.
"I would have liked to have broken four hours, but I was very happy," Wahlgren said.
Teske, despite his leg cramps, finished in 4 hours, 40 minutes.
"At least we finished and that was a great setting to run in, no doubt about it," Teske said.
Wahlgren traveled to his father's hometown of Skruv, which is located in southern Sweden.
In 1920, Wahlgren's father and his father's four siblings left for America. Wahlgren's grandfather, whose wife had died before their children left for the United States, stayed in Skruv.
Although they kept in contact through mail, Wahlgren's grandfather never saw his children again. He died in 1930.
While in Skruv, Wahlgren found where his father had once lived. A forested area, the house was gone, but its foundation still was visible.
"It was a very touching moment to stand in that spot," Wahlgren said.
Wahlgren found the church where his father once attended. He also looked for his grandparents' graves.
In Sweden, Wahlgren said, if no relative is there to pay for care of the grave 25 years after the person's death, the headstone and body are removed and someone else is buried there. According to Wahlgren, bodies aren't embalmed and are placed in wooden boxes.
When Wahlgren's father moved to America, Skruv had roughly 400 people. In 20 years, the town decreased by a third of the population because so many of its residents had emigrated from Sweden to America, Wahlgren said.
To remember those emigrants, Skruv built an emigrant museum, which Wahlgren said had pictures of his father and aunts that "somehow made it back to the museum when he died," Wahlgren said.
Wahlgren also found a book that included his father's emigration papers, of which he made a copy for himself.
Skruv is home to a glass factory where Wahlgren's father once worked, and subsequently, a glass museum. Wahlgren mentioned the name of a distant relative to the museum curator. The 85-year-old relative actually lived next door to the museum curator. Thanks to a translator, Wahlgren communicated with the relative.
The vacation later took Wahlgren to Germany. While there, they visited the castle that was the inspiration for Disneyland castle.
Waiting to get on a bus headed to the castle, Wahlgren struck up a conversation with someone coming off the bus who happened to be from his hometown -- Rockford, Ill. They also attended the same high school in a city that Wahlgren said has about six high schools.
"It really floors me how you can go to the remotest part of the world and run into someone," Wahlgren said.
Life in the fast lane
The vacation also included stops in Austria, Luxembourg and Denmark -- but Germany provided the most exhilarating ride.
Wahlgren drove on the Autobahn, where drivers can, in some stretches, travel at more than 100 mph.
"My senses were on high alert," Wahlgren said. "You don't want to make any mistakes."
Wahlgren, at one point, was driving about 110 mph and had to get out of way of really fast cars, usually Mercedes he said.
Accidents along the autobahn, though, delayed traffic for an hour or more, Wahlgren noted.
"At that speed cars can tend to disintegrate, not to mention the folks inside," he said. "So that's the downside of speed."
This little piggy went to Sweden
Wahlgren's running partner has a specific running uniform -- an old KU shirt and a hat that resembles a pig.
Teske, a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lawrence, was a missionary in Papua New Guinea in the late 1970s and early 80s. In that country, pigs are a domestic animal. When he returned to America, he started collection anything related to pigs. About 15 years ago, a friend gave him the pig hat as a present.
"I tell him it's a real chick magnet," Wahlgren said jokingly. "All the girls when they see him say 'ooh, cute hat, cute hat.'"
Wahlgren now has finished better than Teske just twice in marathons. Teske finished the Stockholm marathon in his worst time because of those severe leg cramps, which "mystified" Teske.
He said dehydration might have been a problem. In Swedish restaurants, they don't give refills on water, as would be customary in the U.S.
Marathons aside, the longtime friends have been running for a few years now. Teske said he's been running off and on since the 70s, while Wahlgren started running about 11 years ago.
Both run to keep in shape, but as Teske said it also provides a release and is an activity that fits into his hectic schedule.
He refers to running as his wilderness, an escape from everyday stress. It also keeps him from dieting.
"One big reason I do it is I'd rather run than not eat," Teske said. "I run to eat, you might say."
The two runners first became friends when they lived in the Great Bend area. They were separated briefly, but managed, by chance, to again live in the same area -- Wahlgren in Shawnee and Teske in Lawrence.
Although they don't run together as often, they still get together on occasion -- and have a friendly run.
"The winner is usually the first one to throw an elbow in the home stretch," Teske said.
Their next marathon still is in the works.
Teske mentioned a 170-mile team run that goes through Colorado, including some mountainous areas.
Both also have mentioned a marathon in Seattle in which another longtime friend plans to run -- it would be his first.
No matter the venue, the friends continue to enjoy marathons -- and vacations that go along with the demanding sporting event.
"It's been a lot of fun," Teske said. "In the broad sense of the word 'fun.'"