California Educator

June/July 2022

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E A R L Y I N T H E M O R N I N G on Saturday, April 30, at the end of the Oceanside Pier in San Diego County, Robert "Bob" Eilek began the first step of what he hoped would be a 3,000-mile journey to fulfill an ambition to run coast-to-coast across the United States. Friends and family cheered as the youthful septuagenarian started his cross-country trek. Long before Forest Gump would make his Academy Award-winning fictional crossings of America back in the '90s, Bob Eilek had a dream to run across the country to bring awareness to an issue dear to his heart: supporting Native American young people in the U.S. Eilek, a Native American with Santee Sioux ancestry, taught middle school U.S. history for 40 years before retiring from Temecula Valley Unified School District in 2019. Now, educators and former students alike have shared their stories and memories of their "favorite teacher " as they followed his adventure on social media. "Mr. Eilek was a great teacher who showed compassion to thousands of students in his class without favor or judg- ment," said Julian Forrest, who was Eilek's student in 2011. Eilek, in fact, had to stop his run soon after starting, due to injuries after over-exerting himself. But at press time he was planning to pick up again. Eilek's intention, of course, is a worthy goal in itself. Eilek's Native American roots extend beyond family and tribe. In childhood, he was a big fan of the running legend Billy Mills, a virtual unknown who came from behind in the 10,000 meter race to take the gold in the 1964 Olympics. The feat would make Mills the most celebrated Native Amer- ican athlete since Jim Thorpe. Eilek often draws inspiration from Mills' awe-inspiring final lap. "Billy Mills is truly a champion and a legitimate American hero," he says. "I've watched his victory in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics on many occasions and his electrifying final lap brings tears to my eyes every time." Eilek's passion for running has been lifelong, and putting it together with his passion to help Native American youth just seemed right. He is hoping to raise funds as he runs for Running Strong for American Indian Youth, a nonprofit started by Billy Mills himself back in 1986. Mills, who grew up in poverty on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, was following in the tradition of the Lakota people to give back to those who contrib- uted to one's success. Eilek chose Running Strong because of its devotion to strength- ening Native communities and peoples. "It was simply their primary and genuine emphasis on helping Native Americans throughout our nation," he says. "And I wanted to do something to aid that cause." Even if he can't complete his run, he encourages others to support the cause. His former chapter Temecula Valley Edu- cation Association, like many others, is rooting for Eilek and has made a donation. Find out more about Running Strong at Bob Eilek with a few supporters. "[The nonprofit] Running Strong's primary and genuine emphasis is on helping Native Americans. And I wanted to do something to aid that cause." A Retired Teacher's Brave Steps Bob Eilek's eort to support Native American youth By Ed Sibby 55 J U N E / J U L Y 2 0 2 2 C

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