IMPACT – Laura Klitsch

There’s no shortage of sayings reinforcing the importance of first place in our culture.

Ricky Bobby’s perspective was “if you ain’t first, you’re last.” 

“Second place is the first loser” is on t-shirts sold at every mall across the country.

Edmund Hillary said “no one remembers who climbed Mount Everest the second time.”

In case you’re curious. Tenzing Norgay was technically the second person to summit Mount Everest. He did it on the same day with Edmund Hillary, and after saving Hillary’s life on a previous attempt. Despite Hillary’s assertion, Norgay was highly awarded for his mountaineering career. There are mountains named after him, here on Earth and one on Pluto.

Photo credit:

To this day, an estimated 4,000 people have successfully reached the top of Mount Everest and about 800 people still try it every year. While they may not be as famous as the man who did it first (or second), people are clearly motivated to do things for reasons other than fame or being first.

Last place though, has a stigma.

Laura Klitsch got involved with IM ABLE years ago as many did. “I took one of those evil intro classes at CorpsFitness.”  She’s talking about the gym started in 2004 by Chris Kaag, IM ABLE Foundation’s Founder/CEO. At the gym, she learned about IM ABLE and was inspired to volunteer. She helped get the IM FIT Inclusive Group Fitness Program going in 2017. “I remember the beginning when Kelly [Haldeman] was running it. She’d call me on Tuesday and Thursday in a panic and say ‘I need you to be there because I don’t know if there’ll be enough volunteers!’  Look at how far it’s come; how big it’s gotten. There’s almost as many volunteers as there are participants.”


Laura signed up for IM ABLE’s duathlon in 2019 and met quadruple amputee and IM ABLE grant recipient, Beth Kase. “She’s ridiculous.  She was out there on a bike. I remember hearing that it had just been a few months since she got her prosthetics.   I lost count of the loops so I may have done an extra lap. I hear someone behind me yell ‘hey, nice calves!’ and I look back and it was Beth. Everything’s a challenge for her. She’s out there working harder than 90% of people in Berks County. That course is challenging enough and she’s on a recumbent bike. I’d imagine it’s even harder for her but she was out there, all smiles, still spreading love.”

At IM ABLE’s 17th Annual Got the Nerve? Triathlon on September 18th, 2021, more than 300 participants woke up before dawn on a Saturday. They swam far enough out into a lake that you couldn’t see them from shore. Then they ran up to their bike and went either one or two loops on a course that one volunteer called “cruel” because of amount and severity of the hills. Then they ran a 5K or a 10K. The fastest sprint distance racer did it in just over an hour; the fastest Olympic distance racer in just over two.

After all that exercise, there was a lunch and awards of course. Volunteers cleaned up. Racers loaded gear into their cars and headed home.

Over four hours after the race started, 4:15:40 to be exact, when the park was nearly empty, and to the applause of the small handful of people who were still around to witness it, Laura Klitsch crossed the finish line to complete the Olympic distance triathlon in dead last.

You might think she would be upset with that.

“I was on my bike and saw people with their bike loaded on their car, headed home. It was kind of disheartening. But I’m not a quitter, that’s for sure.” Laura shrugged at the suggestion of pulling the plug and calling it. “I’m not going to lie. When I started the second running loop, I thought ‘I can just finish.’ But I kept going because I can.”

“You look at kids out there busting their butts. Kids with special needs, able-bodied kids. It’s easy to just sit in the stands being critical. You gotta walk the walk. I actually enjoy the challenge. Maybe I’ll try a marathon?  Anyone can do it. There’s no time limit or anything. But most people don’t. I think people are afraid to fail. I mean, if people knew they were going to finish last, they wouldn’t do it. But someone has to finish last.”

That’s misleading really though if you think about it. She finished an Olympic distance Triathlon. She completed 1,500 meters in open water, 21.1 miles on a bike, and then 6.2 miles on foot. That’s more than a lot of people can say. A few people started the race and quit for one reason or another. A bunch of people signed up for the race and didn’t show up. Billions of people didn’t even sign up.

“Everyone’s reaction was, ‘but hey you finished!’ I guess I’m just used to being this slow. It was nice; nobody ever told me to get off the course. Everyone was super encouraging. When you’re doing an IM ABLE race, there’s a bigger reason you’re out there. It’s not like your normal triathlon. It’s for IM ABLE and for all those who can’t do what I can do. If you don’t like running, then do something else. You gotta have a damn good excuse if you don’t challenge yourself.”

That’s what makes the IM ABLE community special. It doesn’t matter to us what place you come in. No excuses, just move! “We’ve all got challenges,” says Chris Kaag. “Yeah, I can’t walk, but there’s people out there with back pain or whatever, and that’s their challenge to overcome. We all gotta do what we can with what we got.”

Our generous donors and volunteers made this possible and we can’t thank them enough.