Zach Kulstad looks more like a 4.0 honors student headed to college and med school, which he is, than a late-blooming-yet-dominant sprinter, which he has become.
What you couldn’t know from looking at the tall, blond and composed Prior Lake senior is that he also is the kind of kid you too rarely read about these days, the kind of kid who would see a neighbor in peril and react more like a wealthy benefactor than someone who may soon be living in a Carleton dorm.
Kulstad had a friend whose father was a high-ranking executive at a well-known Minnesota company. The man began losing track of his thoughts. Conversations with him became series of non-sequiturs.
So as Kulstad prepares for a weekend including the state track meet, in which he will compete in three events, and his graduation, he is also the proud founder of The Memento Foundation, which he set up to help his friend’s father and everyone like him.
“It all started because I knew a few people whose grandparents or parents had dementia and Alzheimer’s,’’ Kulstad said. “It seemed like there was nothing they could do about it. They just felt hopeless. I wanted to do something to help them out. Whatever I could. It’s not like I can cure the disease or research it right now, but I can raise money.’’
His father, Scott Kulstad, is on the Memento board of directors. Scott once worked for the Vikings and Timberwolves and now is the Executive Director of Orthopedics at Fairview Health Services.
“I’m very proud that Zach has taken this on,’’ Scott Kulstad said.
Scott and Zach were standing beneath the bleachers at Concordia University in St. Paul. Zach had just competed in the section meet there. He set a school record in the 400 meters (49.23 seconds), qualified for state in the 4x200 and 4x400 relays, and helped Prior Lake win the section title.
Scott was still dressed in his suit. Zach wore sweats and stood within a few feet of one of those concessions stands that sells popcorn and hot dogs and probably makes more than the gross national product of most third-world countries.
Smoke wafted past, and Scott mentioned that Zach is a 4.0 student who became a Distinguished Board Scholar at Prior Lake. In the fall, Zach will attend Carleton, where he plans to run track and prepare for medical school.
“I joke that I wonder if Zach got any of my DNA,’’ Scott said. “He’s tall and skinny with a full head of hair, and he’s really smart. That means he got all of it from his Mom.”
Zach smiles as if he has heard the joke before. His graduation approaching, he seemed to be gazing much farther into the future.
The Memento Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that aims to raise money for research and education, and recruit volunteers for basic home maintenance.
Zach’s empathy does not seem to extend to his opponents on the track.
He came late to the sport. A couple of years ago he attended a church camp ‘‘up north.’’ “I played Ultimate Frisbee before,’’ he said. “We were messing around one night and we just had a race for fun. One of my friends who was a distance runner, and he’s pretty fast, said, ‘You should try track.’ ”
He went out for track as a junior and in his first meet took third in the 200 and 400 meters.
“Then I got hurt,’’ he said. “But I’ve just loved it.’’
He views track more as a mathematical certainty than an emotional outlet.
“It’s like a real numerical way to measure hard work,’’ he said. “Your times go down if you work hard and perform. And if you don’t work hard your times get worse. I mean, I think I was naturally good at it, too, which helped. This is something I would hate if I weren’t performing well at it.’’
“Success,” Scott said, “makes it a little more fun.’’
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org