by Olivia Martin
LENEXA — According to friends, family and various health care professionals, Tyler Supalla is either crazy, a cyborg or both.
On Oct. 14, Supalla, a Western civilization and Latin teacher at St. James Academy in Lenexa, will travel to Louisville, Kentucky, where he will participate in his first full Ironman race.
The race warrants every bit of its name.
To become an Ironman himself, Supalla will swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and top it all off with a marathon — a 26.2-mile run.
A cyborg, or not, there’s no doubt a lot of heart behind this ironman’s effort.
Supalla is using his training and race as an opportunity for prayer and to fundraise $10,000 — the cost of one year’s tuition at St. James Academy — for the first-ever St. John Bosco Memorial Scholarship in the hope of enabling students to attend the school he loves.
Human: 1, Cyborg: 0
St. James Academy president Andy Tylicki was both surprised — and not surprised — when Supalla came to him with the idea.
“For [Supalla] to go to the effort of training for an Ironman and thinking it’s something that could benefit our students is who he is,” said Tylicki.
Currently, 37 percent of St. James Academy students receive a form of financial aid, which is made possible through donations and memorial funds.
“Our hope is that we don’t lose kids because of finances,” said Tylicki, “but we know we do. We hope this will help students and encourage parents to come and talk to us.”
Audrey Hihn, a teacher at St. Michael the Archangel in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, graduated from St. James Academy in 2011 and attended the school thanks to financial aid.
“I grew up in a single-parent home and my mom worked very hard,” said Hihn. “I would not have been able to go to St. James if it weren’t for people who put aside money specifically for scholarships.”
As a former St. James Academy teacher herself, Hihn has experienced every facet of the school’s support for its students within its community. She sees Supalla’s scholarship initiative as a natural gesture of that community.
“Especially in today’s climate, students need community and support,” she said. “St. James [gives] that.”
How it started
An avid basketball player, Supalla hadn’t intentionally run more than two consecutive miles until his sophomore year at Benedictine College in Atchison.
Desiring a more serious exercise regimen than intramural sports, Supalla started running, completing his first half-Ironman in fall 2014, and his second in June 2018, by which point he was teaching at St. James.
Realizing he was already halfway to completing a full Ironman in terms of training, Supalla decided to go all in.
“A lot of people discouraged the idea,” he said, “but my students were totally on board!”
Their enthusiasm made Supalla begin to see the Ironman as a teaching moment.
In addition to fundraising, Supalla began asking for prayer intentions.
“There is a spiritual reality I find in racing and running,” said Supalla, “and the prayer intentions make the training no longer just about me, but about someone else.”
The experience of community is central to Supalla’s Ironman and has revealed deeper truths.
“People are really there to celebrate the chance to run and to cheer each other on,” he said, “[But] at the same time, you cannot run for somebody else. If somebody is struggling, you literally cannot do the running for them — but you can cheer them on and be there to support them no matter what.
“I see that in my profession as a teacher, [and] I’ve found the Christian life to be very analogous to the race.”
A saint for students
In childhood, Supalla’s mother would read him stories about St. John Bosco. A priest in Turin, Italy, in the 19th century, St. John Bosco devoted his life to helping poor young boys of his city.
“He gave them the chance at a good education and a home with love and support,” said Supalla. “He wanted them to have a future in this life and in heaven.
“That had a big impact on me.”
That devotion to the saint has continued throughout Supalla’s life, as he chose St. John Bosco as his confirmation saint and now shares his profession as a teacher.
The training has also been a lesson for Supalla in the truth of prayer and Christ’s ongoing presence.
“I’m missing out on so much of my life if I think that good moments are only those when life is blissful,” he said.
“In the Ironman,” he continued, “I’ve learned that even my training and suffering can be an encounter with beauty because it can be a moment to relate more to another person who is suffering or offer up my own life for them in a way.
“It’s a big gift to be able to offer up my suffering.”
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