Joe Klecker might be training in Boulder, but it was impossible for him to watch the horrors unfolding near his hometown and not feel compelled to action by his Minnesota roots.
The now-former Colorado cross country and track star is from the western suburbs of Minneapolis, a city that has been ripped apart by civil unrest in the weeks since a black man, George Floyd, was killed by a white police officer who has since been charged with second degree murder.
While clashes between protesters and police unfolded across the nation, Klecker watched the historic Lake Street thoroughfare in Minneapolis become decimated by the conflict. After stumbling across the charity welovelakestreet.com, which is endeavoring to raise funds to help rebuild the district, Klecker decided to help by auctioning off some of the gear from his decorated distance running career at CU.
“A lot of the places that were getting destroyed were places I grew up going to. A community I was used to,” Klecker said. “Just to see them getting destroyed, it was hard to watch from afar. It was great seeing the protests and the community coming together, but the flip side of it is you see this community kind of get destroyed.
“You see all these fundraisers and charities, and I came across one for rebuilding Lake Street. I read about how many of those businesses are owned by minorities and how a lot of those businesses were impacted by the coronavirus, and then getting looted and everything. It was hard to see that. I was thinking for a few days of what I could do from Colorado to help. That’s when I thought about auctioning some of my old CU apparel.”
Klecker raised $10,200 for the Lake Street fund, getting donations from more than 200 different people. The news of Klecker’s charity drive spread quickly through the running community, and he said he personally knows only about 25% of the donors who reached out.
“Initially I didn’t really have any goals for it. I just wanted to help the cause,” Klecker said. “Within an hour I had a couple hundred bucks and I thought that was pretty cool. All of the sudden it was up to $3,000. It was really cool to see people I don’t directly know supporting it. And a lot of them reached out to say they didn’t need to be part of the drawing. They just wanted to help the cause.”
Last month, Klecker was one of three standout CU distance runners — along with Dani Jones and Makena Morley — who opted to not take advantage of the extra year of eligibility awarded by the NCAA to spring sport athletes whose 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Klecker already was a fifth-year senior, and returning would have meant spending an extra year at CU simply for one more outdoor track season. He finished his Buffs career with seven first team All-American honors and leaves as the program’s record-holder in the indoor 5,000 meters. Last week, Klecker and former CU soccer goalie JJ Tompkins were named CU’s recipients of the Pac-12’s Tom Hansen medals, which are awarded to one male and one female student athlete at each league school who best exemplify achievement and leadership on and off the field.
“There was definitely a thought to coming back next year, but for school it wouldn’t have made any sense,” Klecker said. “It was always my plan to move on, and there wasn’t really another program I could do in one year for advancing my education. This summer I’ll be in Boulder and hopefully some races will start to pop up in September and October.”