At age 11, Robert Tolson entered the July 4 Race. It turned out to be the beginning of a long run.
That same year, his mom, Becky, ran her first marathon.
“I wanted to be like her and run a marathon,” he said. He participated in running club at , where he broke in his running shoes non-competitively. In seventh grade, he joined the cross country team, mostly for social reasons.
His first race changed everything.
“I crushed my goal. I thought, ‘Maybe I’m actually good at this’ and my times went down.”
No longer training “at the back of the pack,” Robert set goals for every workout, either about time or for passing teammates.
Two years later, Robert’s work ethic propelled him to become lead freshman at the first meet. Little did he know, that drive would help sustain him when things got rough.
The second race of the season, Robert’s shin hurt, and he fell back in the pack. After months of consulting with the trainer, doctors, physical therapists and finally an orthopedic specialist, Robert was diagnosed with a stress fracture caused by flat feet. He was fitted with orthotics and couldn’t run for most of that year, a time when he “lost himself.”
Robert’s dad, Todd, explains: "He didn’t know what to do with himself. He lost his identity and his passion. He lost motivation in other areas, as well.”
So what is it about running that helps Robert in life?
“It’s structured and helps me manage my time; it keeps me focused. It keeps me out of trouble,” Robert laughs.
Looking back on his injury, he says he never thought of quitting, but he had his doubts about ever recovering. Still, he went to every practice even though he couldn't run. His parents took him to every meet and together, they cheered on his teammates.
“I’m not sorry it happened. I see now how it played out to give me more respect for the sport," Robert said.
He says his injury helped him decide on a career in physical therapy, and he’s now taking honors biomedical science courses. In the summer, Robert trains six days a week, five to nine miles a day. As sophomore at , Robert made varsity (top seven) for his first two races and lettered.
Robert has the desire to succeed. But what led to this self-discipline?
Becky, an educator, says that discipline starts at home, in early childhood.
“When our kids were little, we set forth expectations every day — making beds, putting clothes away. They had responsibilities.”
Todd, the treasurer of North Canton City Schools, says he believes in parental “encouragement” rather than parental “pressure.”
“If all kids feel is pressure, they’ll have little personal desire.”
The Tolsons provided many opportunities for their children then allowed them to find their niche.
This year, Robert cross-trained on the swim team, a decision he made himself, though his parents were scholarship swimmers at Cleveland State. He’s running track now, too. His parents and his younger sister Sarah are his biggest supporters.
“This week, I could hear my dad clear from the back stretch of the two-mile: ‘Robert, you gotta pick it up!’”
Nothing like a little parental encouragement to get a runner to the finish line. Or perhaps to the start of a marathon.