By Elaine Kish
Growing up an Ohio farm boy, he had never witnessed a protest in person. Curious as to their cause, Dean Kahler went to a student rally on the Commons of Kent State University on May 4, 1970. It was a day that would change his life forever.
After several days of demonstrations at Kent State, Ohio National Guardsmen were sent to restore order to the campus. Firing on thousands of students, four were dead and nine wounded when it was over. One of the wounded, Kahler says, “It felt like a bee sting. I experienced tightening of my legs, then they relaxed and I had no feeling in them. I was afraid I would be shot a second time because the bullets kept coming.” Being well trained in first aid and having recently studied the central nervous system in a zoology class, Kahler realized he had a spinal cord injury.
He was taken to Robinson Memorial Hospital where he remained for 21 days and was eventually transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Cleveland, Highland View Hospital. The medical term for Kahler’s injury is paraplegia, spinal cord injury, thoracic 9, 10 and 11. As part of his therapy, Kahler began practicing with the Cleveland Wheelchair Team. Because he was athletic and fit, as well as a fast learner, he was discharged in October 1970 and returned to school. Earning a B.S. degree in secondary education, Kahler became a social studies teacher, often discussing the Kent State shooting with his students. He went on to work for several state agencies and served as a County Commissioner in Athens County, Ohio.
Fast forward to present day and you may, or may not, be surprised to learn that Kahler is one of the wheelchair “runners” you see at many of our local races. Since his injury, he has never required any assistance and has always taken care of himself. Kahler lives with his 91-year-old father and cares for both of them without the assistance of a caregiver. A typical day starts with waking up around 6:30 a.m. After eating breakfast and reading the newspaper, Kahler takes a run around his neighborhood for an hour. Some days he works out with ten-pound dumbbells, and does pushups and sit ups. He spends the rest of the morning with his dad and catches up with friends on Facebook. After eating lunch and running any necessary errands, Kahler and his father prepare their dinner together. With his father for the evening, Kahler is usually in bed by 10:00 p.m.
Kahler now lives in his hometown of East Canton, Ohio. Not bitter about his injury, and wearing a friendly smile and laughing, Kahler says he is glad to be alive. He attributes his good life to four things—a good family, good faith, good friends and a good support system from both his campus and hometown communities after the incident.
Running now for 44 years, Kahler has participated in 38 races so far this year and hopes to make it 40 by
Thanksgiving. After that, additional races this year will depend on the weather. Recently Kahler ran the Indian Summer 5K in Athens, Ohio, after which he stayed in town to visit with friends. He followed that with the Great Pumpkin Race of four miles. Usually Kahler travels to races by himself, although he has had friends travel with him on occasion. Favoring road races, Kahler cannot run cross country or on crushed limestone paths. He likes the people and has made friends with many runners over the years.
Kahler’s advice to young people or anyone facing physical limitations: “Don’t sell yourself short. Try to do everything for yourself. Get up and get going every day. Be happy and thankful you have another day to do some good. When you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Have fun and joy in your life.”
Dean Kahler Kent State Shooting