October 12, 2020 at 3:34 p.m.
Running has been part of their lives forever, and they see its rewards in themselves and in the 16 Waverly-Shell Rock athletes they coach. Past teams have included their now 19-year-old son, Kyle. Son Caden, 16, is on the current team.
“There are a lot of similarities between farming, especially dairy farming, and running,” said Kevin, who has run 17 marathons and more than a dozen half marathons. “You need the same kind of dedication year-in and year-out, the same mentality. Once you start you see it through.”
For Cherish, running serves as a stress reliever.
“I call it my time,” she said. “It’s also one of those things you can do anywhere as long as you have a pair of shoes.”
Unfortunately, foot surgery two years ago has sidelined her from all but the coaching part for now.
“I miss it very much,” Cherish said.
Kevin, raised on the farm the couple now operates, met Cherish at a University of Wisconsin-River Falls track fundraiser. She was a city girl and a sprinter during high school and college; he was a cross-country runner.
During college, they coached a Stillwater, Minnesota, girls junior high school team. Nearly a decade later, Kevin began volunteering for the WSR track team which led to a cross-country coaching job. Five years later, Cherish joined him as assistant coach.
“By then, we knew our oldest son would be interested,” said Kevin, explaining part of their motivation.
The couple accommodates coaching around 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. milking. When they need to be away, a local youth is available to milk on weeknights.
Kevin is also a spring track coach for 40 WSR students, so Cherish milks earlier along with doing her regular youngstock chores.
The cross-country team qualified for state last year for the first time in decades. For 12 of Kevin’s 14 years, WSR has had at least one runner qualify individually.
But the satisfaction comes from more than those accomplishments and the additional income, although Kevin said they made more coaching than dairying one year.
“What makes it rewarding is seeing everyone improve,” Kevin said. “I think of the junior varsity – the kids that often get overlooked – and how they make these big improvements.”
Cherish said she knows they are helping youth develop an interest that goes beyond high school.
“Some of these kids are grown up, married but continue to run today,” she said. “You realize you have given them something to do for a lifetime.”
It has been that way for the Kuekers. They began married life living in town, and Kevin ran the 6 miles to the farm many days.
In 2004, he ran a 3-hour, 6-minute time at the Twin Cities Marathon to qualify for the 2005 Boston Marathon. Although he admits farm work is much of his preparation for long-distance competitions, he did train more traditionally for the Boston event.
This summer, Kevin ran together with Caden for his first half marathon – virtual Grandma’s Half Marathon.
Cherish ran the Twin Cities Marathon twice. She has completed six half marathons, including one with Kyle – his first of three. Kyle wants the entire family to do a marathon together, Cherish said.
Coaching also gives them a chance to promote their product and their lifestyle.
“When it first came out that chocolate milk is a great recovery drink, we started to push that,” Kevin said. “We will sometimes bring it to practice. Other teams have started using it and now parents know. When there is a banquet, there is always chocolate milk there.”
The teams occasionally run their farm’s hay fields, and the teams have taken photos on the farm, including some with cows.
“I like that we show them we can do more and be more than one thing,” Cherish said. “We show them we can get it done.”
When Kevin began coaching 14 years ago, the Kuekers were farming with Kevin’s father, Donald, and Cherish was working as a registered nurse. She came home to full-time farm work when Donald retired.
Until this year, Donald helped on the farm, running errands and doing miscellaneous work.
“I was curious how it would go this season,” Kevin said. “I didn’t think he did that much, but it’s those little things that help.”
But with good neighbors doing custom field work, chopping is done, and Kevin said he is relieved.
“Half the time we just go (to practice) and make it work,” Cherish said. “Things suffer a little, especially with the house. The laundry doesn’t get out of the baskets much.”
For now, the Kuekers get-it-done philosophy is working – for dairying and coaching.
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