West Chester boy, 9, to run marathon in Antarctica

Nik Toocheck, 9, of West Chester
Nik Toocheck, 9, of West Chester
Posted: February 19, 2013

PENGUINS DON'T RUN fast. Or so Nik Toocheck has heard.

The 9-year-old West Chester boy will see for himself this weekend when he arrives in King George Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, where he'll run his second full-distance marathon amid the glaciers, icebergs and wildlife of the South Pole in the first White Continent Marathon.

Next Monday's race is the second step in Nik's mission to run marathons on seven continents. He would be the youngest person to accomplish that feat and, based on available data, the youngest person to run a marathon in Antarctica.

Is the fourth-grader nervous?

"A little bit, but not really," he said, adding that he can't wait to see the penguins. Nik said he'll brave the balmy 35-degree temperatures with layers of fleece, a waterproof jacket and a T-shirt, and has been training regularly with his dad for the long distance. As the date draws closer, Nik only gets more excited.

Seven marathons would take Nik about a million steps. Each step, he hopes, will raise a dollar for Operation Warm, a nonprofit organization started by his grandfather that provides winter coats to underprivileged children.

"The last couple of weeks, it's been so cold, and there are kids out there without winter coats," Nik said. "So that's what kind of motivates me, to help get coats for them."

The distance won't be new to Nik, who ran his first marathon Dec. 1 in Lewes, Del. "The only time I got tired was at Mile 7, but the rest was OK," he said.

Nik has competed in 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and everything in between. His love for the sport was inspired by his dad, Dan, who runs with him almost every step of the way. Next Monday, the two will run together.

Antarctica originally was to be their final race, in 2016. But when White Continent organizer Steve Hibbs saw an article on Nik's mission, he knew whom he wanted to fill the last spots in his marathon. He called the Toochecks and encouraged them to consider the 2013 race.

"I took an opportunity to look at [Nik's] website, his blog, and read more about the story and what his objective was. . . . I was really fascinated by it," said Hibbs, owner of Marathon Adventures. "This is something that Nik wants to do and has wanted to do on his own, which I'm just amazed by."

Hibbs said that although the terrain may sound intimidating, his Antarctic race is one of the more runner-friendly courses that the company offers. The summer season keeps temperatures bearable, and conditions vary, he said. With 67 competitors signed up, Hibbs said, he hopes the race becomes an annual event.

But don't expect Nik there next year. He has other places to be.

"We're thinking about Mongolia," Nik said. "But it's not official yet."

On Twitter: @AliMarieWatkins

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