December 4, 2003

Homeschoolers Help Runner in Four Month Trek to Fight Cancer

Martin Berkofsky, world famous concert pianist and recording artist, is now a passionate advocate of homeschooling. In 2000, Martin was treated for cancer at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he was able to overcome prostate cancer. Martin took up running to help his recovery.

Martin began planning a long distance run with concerts along the way that would benefit cancer research. The run was a year in planning.

About a month before Martin's start date, Tracy Klicka, wife of Chris Klicka, senior counsel of HSLDA, approached Martin so that he could start giving one of the Klicka children piano lessons. At one point, Martin shared that his plans to stay with host families along the way had not worked out. He wanted to keep operational costs low so that virtually all the donations could go straight to cancer research.

Tracy decided to contact homeschoolers along Martin's route to secure host families for him. They checked Martin's route, which was mapped out in 10 mile increments, and contacted families, explained that they were looking for families who would be willing to house Martin for up to several nights and drive him to his starting point each morning. Dozens of families, many of them members of Home School Legal Defense Association, agreed to help.

These arrangements took place less than a month before the starting date of the run. "God was so faithful to place Martin with families who would be openhearted and amicable, as well as praiseworthy examples of Christ-likeness," said Tracy, when talking about the homeschoolers who volunteered as host families.

The Celebrate Life Run began on April 9, 2003, which was Martin's 60th birthday. Tulsa mayor Bill LaFortune, staff members of CTCA, and friends (Tracy and several Klicka children among them) saw Martin off for his first 10 miles. The run would take him through Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois, ending in Zion, Illinois, just north of Chicago.

Martin stayed with many families along the way who graciously opened their homes and were blessed by meeting him. The Nisbett family in Saint James, Missouri (members of the Home School Legal Defense Association) helped him organize a concert at the University of Missouri at Rolla. In an entry on Martin's online journal, Mrs. Nisbett talked about Martin. "What an incredible person! Martin was extremely gracious." The Nisbetts were told how after meals Martin cleaned the table and loaded the dishwasher. "I've never had my kitchen cleaned by a concert pianist," said Mrs. Nisbett. "He was so cheerfully flexible, even doing a live radio interview sitting on top of the dryer in our basement, one of the few quiet solitary places."

The Dahl family in Springfield, Illinois (HSLDA members) not only kept Martin, but they also welcomed the film crew from CTCA and made homemade pizza for everyone. Linda Dahl commented on Martin's integrity in running the full distance he had committed to run. "Martin is a man of character. His honesty especially is very obvious. When I dropped him off to begin his run the first day we met a local TV crew who interviewed him. They met him about one block beyond where he was to begin and he insisted on backtracking in order to completely cover the route."

HSLDA members Don and Angela Lusk of Bloomington, Illinois hosted Martin and were treated to a private concert. Martin accompanied Summer Lusk's violin. "Our piano had never been played like that before!" says Angela. Another host family and HSLDA member in Bloomington, the Hedding family, commented on Martin's playing. "It's one thing to listen to a CD of classical piano music. It's quite another thing to listen to an actual concert pianist play beautiful music on your piano in your living room (and have your breath taken away), and then the next minute just visit with him like a normal person and share a bowl of ice cream with him."

Martin was able to raise $80,687 dollars for cancer research from his Celebrate Life Run. The run, which lasted nearly four and a half months, covered 880 miles.

Martin sang the praises of homeschoolers all along the way to the various media outlets that interviewed him. After the run was completed, Martin remarked, "I had the rare privilege of meeting some of the best people I have ever met through the home schooling network. I have never met more well-adjusted kids in my life. The whole thing is principle based. 100 percent of them are 100 percent."

While the real credit goes to Martin for overcoming cancer, completing his run, and raising the money in the process, homeschoolers all along the way were able to have a part in this ministry. "Without these families," said Tracy Klicka, "Martin's run would not have been such a positive and life-changing experience for him."

Martin is so excited about the impact of homeschooling in America that he wants to do additional runs for homeschooling causes. He is talking with HSLDA to do four 100 miles runs to raise money for the Homeschooling Foundation. HSLDA is thankful for Martin Berkofsy's willingness to help homeschoolers in need.

To read Martin's day by day journal and learn how you can help donate to the fight against cancer, be sure to check his website: http://www.CelebrateLifeRun.com.

 Other Resources

Read a more in-depth article on the story of Martin's run