Standing for Strike: Students, staff show support for math teacher facing cancer

By: Allie Taiber

Perched on his stool a few weeks ago, math teacher Rich Strike had to share some heartbreaking news with his students. After the words “I have cancer,” students and staff were left devastated, but a spark of inspiration ignited beneath them.

Strike is certainly not letting prostate cancer get him or his classroom down. He continues to stand by his students’ and staff’s sides for their every needs, so they’ve come to terms that it’s time they stand for him.

Students of Strike’s AP calculus class have decided to come together to show their support for their treasured math teacher this Friday. In honor of his last day before surgery, they’re planning to surprise Strike by wearing T-shirts that they designed and organized themselves with some help from Strike’s co worker Linsey Zimmerman.

“When I heard Mr. Strike had cancer, my heart sunk. Anytime you hear news like that it’s devastating,” Zimmerman said, but through the power of prayer and good thoughts, those around him are doing the best they can to stay as positive as he is. “We need to keep him in our thoughts. He keeps a positive outlook on things. The doctors are all positive, and I think it’s important we all help him stay as positive as he is,” Zimmerman said.

“He’s definitely on my list of top teachers,” senior Jason Rathjen said.

Strike’s kind but sarcastic humor allows him to stay constantly engaged with his students and staff around him. His dedication to his     has never veered from 100 percent. “Mr. Strike always goes the extra mile to be certain that his students and staff are OK, which is pretty cool,” Rathjen said.

“As soon as we heard the news, we felt awful, but shortly after everyone instantly went into the mindset of what we could possibly do to help,” Rathjen said.

His class took the issue to their AP calc group chat, and instantly ideas on what they could do to support him flew left and right. With the logo of “Strike Out Cancer” on the front, and “Strike’s Army” on the back, there’s no doubt that Strike has the support of those fighting with him.

From the preliminary design of the light blue color in honor of prostate cancer, to the photo of Strike’s well known idol of Albert Einstein, down to the military font in honor of Strike’s involvement in the Army, the detail and care students have put into the shirts to support him is apparent.

“It made me so happy. It warmed my heart seeing everyone come together as a student body so we could be there for our teacher,” senior Kayla Baker said.

As they worked together to produce the shirt, the relationship between Strike and his students  just within the first quarter in a half is very impressive. “They all care for him and want him to know that they care and support him. To know that your students care is big,” Zimmerman said.

In addition to designing T-shirts, students came up with the idea of hosting a trivia contest. The contest included math, Army and golf questions all pertaining to the important areas of his life. Students anticipated the trivia event on Thursday, Nov. 19 during power hour.

For $1 per person, the original plan was for the proceeds to go to Strike, but when they shared the idea with Strike, he refused to take the profits.

“How about we donate the money to Jane Carter?” Strike asked. Every day his selfless character shines through his actions. Thinking of others and what he can do to benefit those suffering around him was no surprise.

“Strike wanting the money to go to a different cause is completely him,” Zimmerman said. In light of the huge support Carter has been receiving, they’ve decided that the money from the trivia contest will be donated to the USO (United Services Organization), a cause that supported him immensely during the time he served.

“As a fighter, he’s so strong. I know that’s cliché, but with the way he grew up, being in the Army, I feel like that’s really shaped him into who he is today. He’s so selfless. That’s the best word I can use to describe him,” Baker said.

And selfless is exactly what he is. “There’s so many days and nights and weekends, even during the summer, he’s here doing things for us, always caring for his students and staff. For us being able to support him now is a great thing,” Zimmerman said.

The initial concern has always been for his students and whether or not they’d be OK through the transition without him for a while. As he’s the only qualified teacher to teach AP calculus, Strike has organized multiple UNI professors to be here for his classes, but he has never wanted the attention to be on him.

The cancer was especially unexpected for those who know Strike because he is an active, healthy person who even walks to school every day. “The whole thing was so surprising. You don’t think of someone you know to ever actually go through that. I’ve never watched someone so close to me that I see every day struggle through cancer, so it was a big deal,” senior Kayla Baker said.

But for others, the news hit home. “It hit me hard when he told us. My grandma has had cancer five times. I have a good idea of what he’s going through, and I can really relate with the pain he and his family are experiencing,” Rathjen said.

Students are using their emotions to be there for Strike in his time of need. “I was so sad. I’m still sad. I get anxious almost. It’s good he’s getting this treatment so early, but it’ll be hard. It’s early in the year, and we’ve all already gained such a good relationship with him; it’ll be different when he’s gone,” Baker said.

Through their support, students have already raised $300 in just T-shirt profits for Strike, and more shirts are available for purchase. “I just hope that in the end, no matter what happens, that he is OK, and that he knows that all of his classes, and even those who don’t know him are here to support him,” Baker said.

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