The Klecker Family Running Circus
"Our weird family of runners."
LØPE MAGAZINE – Issue No. 019, March 2020
By Liam Boylan-Pett
Barney Klecker pulled into the gas station and zipped the Ford Excursion to an open pump. He shifted into park, and turned to his wife, Janis, in the passenger seat, and their six kids in the back. “Fifteen minutes,” he said. “You know the drill.”
Mary, John, Sarah, Joe, Bit, and James all rushed out of the van, which had been packed by Janis the night before—a Jenga-stack of bags in the back along with a cooler filled with veggies and peanut butter sandwiches. They had been on the road since about four in the morning, heading west to Colorado for a family vacation from Minnetonka, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. This was how the Kleckers traveled—six kids made flying too expensive. So yes, the Kleckers knew the drill. They took turns using the restroom and picking out a few snacks while Barney filled the tank.
Once everyone had taken care of the essentials, they gathered next to the gas station, where Barney made one more announcement: “Let’s race.”
Then, the Klecker kids raced. They would set a course—say, around the gas station–and then two or three would take off in a sprint. Eight years separated the oldest from the youngest, so Barney and Janis handicapped the races, giving the younger kids a start line farther up the course. The Kleckers would run around the gas station, and out-and-back to a street sign in a frenzied ten-minute period filled with races that added up to about one mile per kid, Barney estimated. A mini track meet condensed into ten minutes where everyone would double and triple.
This was not some new trick. It was the norm for the Kleckers, who used to run down and back on the cul-de-sac on Christmas morning before opening presents. When road-tripping, a race on the side of the highway was a welcome respite from sitting in the car. Plus, Barney would give out candies to the race winners—those circus peanuts, the orange marshmallow candy, being a top prize. The races complete, the kids laughed and shouted as they piled and crammed back into the van, which had a custom paint job depicting a crowd of runners and leaves that had been designed by the same person who designed the Twin Cities Marathon logo. Once they settled—the kids’ heavy exhales filling the back seats—Barney shifted the van into drive and it lurched forward, the road trip commencing again. It was how the Kleckers traveled, from one rest stop to the next and a chance to run around or chase the family van down a country road.
Running was the norm. It had been since Barney and Janis began dating in the late 1970s. Barney would set the 50-mile world record and Janis would win the 1992 Olympic Trials marathon before their family started to grow.
Running remains the norm for the Kleckers. In fact, at one point in 2011, there were five Kleckers on the cross-country team at Hopkins High School. Today, Joe (the fourth Klecker kid) is a senior at the University of Colorado, where he is one of the best runners in the N.C.A.A. (The recently cancelled outdoor season could mean Joe has run his last race for Colorado.)
Back when they were racing around gas stations during road trips, the Klecker kids thought that’s what every family did on a road trip. It wasn’t until they got older that they realized they were unique—that they were, as Sarah (the third Klecker kid) told me, a “weird family of runners.”
Weird runners, it turns out, can work.
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