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July 29, 2014

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Liberty High sophomore runs marathons, aims high

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Courtesy Anjala Krishen

Axenya Kachen, running cross country for Liberty High School, competes at the Las Vegas Labor Day Classic in September. Krishen, 15, a Henderson resident, became one of the youngest Nevadans to finish a full marathon at the Running from an Angel Marathon at Lake Mead on Jan. 7.

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Liberty

3700 Liberty Heights Ave., Henderson

Axenya Kachen clocked her first full marathon at the Running from an Angel Marathon at the Lake Mead National Recreational Area on Jan. 7, making her one of the youngest runners in Nevada to finish such a race.

Axenya is 15 years old.

The Liberty High School sophomore comes by her labor of love honestly: she started running with her mother, Anjala Krishen, when she was 6 years old. Before she tackled her first 26-mile course, Axenya already had traversed dozens of 5K races and seven half-marathons, including the Rock ‘n Roll Marathon on the Las Vegas Strip.

Striving for excellence is “the way of the family,” Axenya said, a philosophy instilled by two parents, both professors at UNLV, with more than 40 marathons between them. Her sister, Sheen Kachen, 12, is no slouch either: not only has she competed in plenty of 5K races, she has a budding talent for tennis.

As if to underline the point, a key feature in the family’s living room? A leg massager.

“I wouldn’t be who I am today without the support of my family,” Axenya said.

Axenya said that when she was younger, sometimes she “hated” running. As a 6 year old, she first got into the sport when her mother and grandfather would take her with them as he was running to recover from a heart attack. Sometime during middle school, she said, she began to find it deeply satisfying, both physically and mentally.

“Any problem I have, I go to my dad. My mom has been there to push me,” she said. “Whenever I don’t want to run, she gets me through those rough patches. And my sister, everything else. Sisters rely on each other.”

At the Running from an Angel marathon, her father, Pushkin Kachroo, was by her side in a more literal sense. Around the 14-mile mark on one of the course’s many hills, Axenya said she was on the verge of breaking down, even seeing slight hallucinations of Gatorade and water bottles, when her dad and a neighbor pulled up next to her in a golf cart.

Pushkin hopped out with a hydrating drink and finished the race with his daughter. Around the same time, her mother was approaching the end of her first 50-mile race.

Running is the family’s activity of choice, Pushkin said, but he hopes it gives Axenya more than a healthy body. Anjala called it “a metaphor for life.”

“It’s not about competition. It’s not about coming first,” said Pushkin, who teaches electrical and computer engineering. “It’s about finding something in life that gets you excited -- something that gives you purpose. We all want to achieve happiness, and this might help you find it.”

Crossing the finish line at Lake Mead gave Axenya a “sense of accomplishment,” she said, but for a high school student who has founded two clubs at her school and already plans to one day fight for women’s rights overseas, the work is never done.

Already a captain on Liberty’s varsity cross country and track teams, Axenya also started the Best Buddies Club, which pairs student leaders with disabled students, and the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign for her school, which strives to eliminate “retarded” from common usage.

If she keeps up the straight A’s she’s earned all her life, she said she could graduate as valedictorian.

Oh, and she’s also on the debate team.

“I’m definitely a nerd,” Axenya said, laughing. “Academics are my number one.”

So, what’s next? Axenya said she plans to pursue a medical degree and eventually become a professor like her parents. But, first, she said she hopes to travel to countries such as Somalia or Saudi Arabia with a program like “Doctors Without Borders” and work to end the oppression women face under fundamentalist regimes.

“I want to make an impact on the world,” she said with a smile. She’d like to add the Disney Princess Half Marathon and the Nike Women’s Marathon to her list of conquered races as well.

For Anjala -- a self-described feminist who Axenya credits with teaching her all she knows about running, what to eat and how to pace -- watching her daughter use the sport as a vehicle to develop her discipline and determination has been “crazy good.”

At her urging, Axenya and Sheen have also earned black belts in taekwondo, another source of fortitude. “I want them to be tough,” Anjala explained, and distance running is just another element in the equation.

“You’re always challenging yourself. Runners call it ‘PR’ -- personal record,” said Anjala, an assistant professor in marketing. “You don’t compare yourself with anyone else. It’s all about yourself.”

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