Racing for a reason

Marathon runners hope to raise money for diabetes and cancer research


Forest Lake resident Mike Kaiser proposes to Sonja Benston at the finish line of the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth in June. (Photo submitted)

Kat Ladwig
Sports Editor

After finishing Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth this June, 48-year-old Forest Lake resident Mike Kaiser waited for his girlfriend to cross the finish line with a Coke in one hand and an engagement ring in the other.

With their mothers and combined families watching, 43-year-old Sonja Benston said yes. Now the newly engaged couple have two big events coming up: a wedding and the Chicago Marathon, where both Kaiser and Benston plan on raising money for their charities of choice.

The marathon holds a deep meaning for the couple, as they are participating in the run’s charity program due to personal reasons. Kaiser lost his grandfather, Alvin Kaiser, this year to cancer. As a result, the Raymond James financial advisor is hoping to raise $2,000 for the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) before the race on Sunday, Oct. 7.

“He just died a couple of months ago, so this means a lot to me,” Kaiser said. “The association is really proactive in training people to live a healthier lifestyle, which can change your chances of getting cancer. So it’s educational as well as for research.”

Forest Lake residents Mike Kaiser and Sonja Benston and their kids, Antonio, Ben, Samantha, Elena and Gabby take a family picture after running the Forest Lake OSI ‘Fun in the Forest’ 5K on July 14. (Photo submitted)

Benston, a para-professional for the special ed department at Wyoming Elementary and floor manager at Vanelli’s restaurant, is also trying to raise money for medical research. She lost her father to Type I diabetes at a young age 15 years ago, and hopes to raise $1500 for the Diabetes Action Team. Benston said her father had been a lifelong diabetic, and struggled without the modern-day technology and meters many diabetics have today. Despite the advances, though, Benston still hopes for more to come.

“It limited a lot of things he wanted to do, so it’s important for me to run in his honor,” Sonja said. “So many advances have been made in diabetes research, but we still don’t have a cure.”

As for Kaiser, this isn’t the first time he’s run for a good cause. He became hooked on long-distance running after his first marathon at the 2007 Grandma’s Marathon. It wasn’t long before Kaiser qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2008. He has qualified each year after, and realized he could do more than just run it for himself.

In December of 2009, fellow Forest Lake residents Judd and Andrea Yaeger were involved in a head-on car collision. The accident resulted in the amputation of Judd’s lower leg. As Kaiser was training for the Boston Marathon in the following April, he decided to race for “Team Yaeger” in honor of his friend.

The next year, Kaiser raced for “Team Crandell” in honor of another Forest Lake resident, Jim Crandell, who was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor in 2010.

“I started reading these marathon-running books by Dean Karnazes,” Kaiser said. “He said that when you start running for a cause, it means more, and that’s true. It’s motivation.”

Another motivation for Kaiser and Benston are their kids. Kaiser has two: Samantha, 14, and Ben, 11. Benston has three: Gabby, 11, Antonio, 9, and Elena, 7.

With Kaiser going on his 20th marathon and Benston on her third, they try to make each weekend outing a family event by mixing in some 5Ks that the kids can run, too. Kaiser said the younger ones usually run 7-10 races a year.

“It’s usually an all-or-nothing thing,” Kaiser said. “If one of the kids wants to run that weekend, then they all do.”

For those that want to donate to the running cause for Kaiser, go to and click on ‘supporters’ on the left hand column, then scroll until the ‘Team AICR’ link. For Benston’s cause, donations can be made by going to, and clicking on ‘find a runner.’