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EC man loses more than 80 pounds in past year, preparing to run half-marathon

As Matt Risen stood along the “BluGold Mile” on the UW-Eau Claire campus at last year’s Eau Claire Marathon, he turned to his wife and said he was going to run the race next year. He’s made the statement in the past, but this time, he was serious.

Just weeks after last year’s marathon, Risen’s third child was born. Risen, who described himself as 5-foot-11 and 329 pounds at the time, decided he needed to get serious about his weight.

“If I want to be around to see him graduate high school, I needed to make a lifestyle change,” Risen said. “I was in a truck all day, and I was constantly getting fast food.”

So Risen began a diet, and he started running, preparing to do his first-ever half-marathon.

“My goal was to lose 100 pounds in one year,” Risen said. “I started training, and doing the couch-to-5K program.”

He admits it was a challenge getting started.

“The first thing I noticed when I started running is how old my knees felt,” he said.

As of this week, Risen is down 82 pounds, checking in at 247 pounds. He is running early in the morning, sometimes after work, and frequently with a group that are all on the same diet plan together. He’s eager to have his family see him when he passes through the BluGold mile, at roughly mile 11 of the course.

“They are super-excited to come and cheer me on,” he said. “I just want to finish it without walking, and keeping it under a 12-minute pace.”

Risen is excited about how much his health has improved.

“I have energy to play with the kids,” he said. “They are in sports, so we’re constantly moving. It saved my life, honestly.”

Risen, 41, is a lifelong Eau Claire resident, graduating from North in 1996 and UW-Eau Claire in 2001. Not only did he play football in high school, he was on the Eau Claire Predators from 2002 to 2006, then helped coach the team from 2006 through 2017. Now his weight is suddenly less than when he was in high school. His diet changes include more healthy shakes and cutting out sodas, white bread and pastas.

Runner zigzagging EC streets while training

Jake Smith, 25, moved to Eau Claire in fall of 2016, and he wanted to get to know the city better.

Smith, a New Lisbon native, decided to try running every block of every street in Eau Claire city limits while training for the marathon. He estimates he has only completed about three-fourths of his plan, but added that he has totaled more than 700 miles, largely because he has to backtrack on some of the roads.

“I got the idea from an ultra runner,” Smith said. “I thought it would be a cool idea.”

Smith uses an app to track each of his miles.

“I mark it off on a giant wall map in my office,” he said. “It’s an idea to see the city through a different lens.”

Smith completed the Eau Claire Marathon last year in 3 hours, 29 minutes, 54 seconds. He wanted to run again this year to redeem what he considers was a subpar finish in last year’s hot conditions. His goal this year is to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Smith said he loves doing this race.

“Living in Eau Claire, and being able to train on the course, I just have to do it,” Smith said. “It’s my favorite weekend of the year. It’s really cool seeing the city come alive; it’s neat seeing people come out in droves.”


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Why I revere my septic guy

Historians claim language is the cornerstone of civilization. Other experts say religion, science or even the family unit. I suggest something most of us do not consider: indoor plumbing.

I’m at work when I notice a text from my husband, Bruce: “Come home so we can flush together.” Only rural folks with a holding tank can understand the pure joy when a septic pumper truck maneuvers down and back up an icy driveway and takes away 3,500 gallons of waste water.

“Amen,” I text back, the experience simultaneously romantic and religious. Chippewa Septic owner Travis Simet is my hero.

“Everything’s a little harder in the country,” a friend told Bruce and me when we first moved to a Lake Hallie cabin nine years ago. Six months in, our septic system failed. Given his extensive research, Bruce still claims he could earn a degree in septic (or should I say Private On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems—POWTS). Modern zoning means we’d have to install two concrete holding tanks, nose to nose and specially cast to fit the long configuration of our lot. This was summer. Of course we didn’t consider we’d likely have to call a septic pumper twice per winter. Or that a truck would have to maneuver our steep, quarter-mile driveway that becomes a little like the Donner Pass December through February. Or that I’d have to spread 1,000 pounds of salt and sand, sifting the mixture off the back of my plastic snow sled, a low tech but efficient approach so Travis could get to us.

Our last “pump guy” was easy-going and chatty. “What are you gonna do about it?” he’d say about the state of politics or pretty much anything else. His not-so-chatty son took over. We’d see him every two months, and we built a relationship. In early January I called for a pump. “The driveway is perfectly clear,” I pitched, knowing Son was warier than Dad. An hour later a receptionist called back: “We thank you for your business, but we can’t come to your house in the winter.”

Our tanks hold 4,000 gallons of waste; an alarm rings when we get to 3,000. I do the math: we have room for about three more weeks of flushing, showering, and laundering. Not time to panic.

I got off the phone and panicked. I texted friends with septic systems, then I went old school and checked the yellow pages. In desperation, I called all three numbers for Chippewa Septic. A few minutes later Travis called me. I explained the driveway and the current conditions.

“I’ve got a few dicey ones,” Travis said confidently. “Can I come today?”

I talked with him while he moved away the cement tank cover and dropped the large hose in. Afterward, he came to the door, rubber boots on my outside mat, body leaning towards me. Even if his boots are clean, which they looked, or if a house is a cabin with a “no need to take your shoes off” approach, which I have, this must be septic guy protocol, like put on the big rubber gloves when you touch anything outside the truck, take them off before you write the invoice. Surprisingly, the discovery that illness came from bacteria in human waste didn’t occur until the 1850s. One hundred seventy years later Travis gave me a bill with clean hands.

I told him, “Our alarm goes off about every two months. I’ll see you in the spring.”

Bruce and I will never again be one of those “flush and forget” people. And neither will any of our guests. Above our toilet my framed home-made sign reads: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow . . . ” You know the rest. Bottom line: every flush counts.

Chippewa Septic was established in 1966 and has been a father/son business ever since. Travis Simet and his wife, Cassi, took over from dad, Steve Simet, in 2018. Steve worked as an over-the-road truck driver for 24 years and was looking for an occupation that meant he could be home each night. Through a friend, he heard Chippewa Septic was for sale. Steve went on a few runs with the owner and bought him out in 2000. He moved the business from Lake Wissota to south of Eau Claire where he lived. Travis went on jobs with his dad since he was a kid. The current shop is just a few miles down the road, next to Travis and Cassi’s house. Their motto: “It’s important to have it done properly.”

Thirty percent of Wisconsin homes have a system other than city water and sewer, and that number is even higher in Chippewa County where over 50% of total housing units have POWTS. In Eau Claire County, 22% have them. Human waste management is a solid business in the Chippewa Valley. Cassi reports that Travis often goes weeks without a day off. Perhaps only owning a funeral home or liquor store offers as much security. Or as one septic website proclaims: “The more it flows, the better we eat.”

I ask the Simet’s about any bathroom humor Travis dealt with when classmates discovered what his dad did for a living. Steve and Travis laugh and recall how Steve dropped his son off at middle school in the septic truck. Travis says, “And he blew the air horn.”

Father and son lament about the downside of the job: smashed fingers from heavy cement tank covers, mosquitoes, poison ivy, bees, rain, heat and bitter cold. These are unexpected answers, given I really want to know about the dirty business of taking away waste after others do their business. Travis says simply that this line of work “takes a certain kind of person.” His dad nods in agreement.

Many septic businesses are passed down through families, most often father to son. Partly, Travis explains, because 1,600 hours of work experience are required for a septage servicing operator certification, and it’s often easiest to keep it in the family. I ask about any siblings who might want to work in the business with Travis. He tells me, “My sister is a nurse. I couldn’t do her job any more than she could do mine.”

Next Saturday: Nickolas Butler talks brats with a local chef.


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Durand-Arkansaw teacher charged with inappropriate relationship with 14-year-old

A Durand-Arkansaw school teacher has been charged after being accused of an improper relationship with a 14-year-old boy, where she allegedly sent topless photos and video to the juvenile.

Sarah E. Heskin, 24, 424½ E. Galloway St., was charged Friday in Pepin County Court with using a computer to facilitate a sex crime. She appeared in court, and was released on a signature bond. Heskin will return to court June 4.

According to the criminal complaint, the incident occurred in February in Durand. Police chief Stanley Ridgeway investigated the case after a school official learned from a couple of students that “claimed there was an inappropriate relationship going on between the victim and Ms. Sarah Heskin.”

The complaint avoids identifying the gender of the victim, but a news release from the Durand Police Department indicates the victim was a boy.

The officer met with the victim and asked about the relationship with Heskin. The juvenile said Heskin has given a hug before.

“When pushed further on the topic of physical behavior and/or any inappropriate behavior, the victim admitted that she/he has tried to kiss Ms. Heskin once and she got upset with her/him. The victim claimed that there had been no social media messages exchanged between herself/himself and Ms. Heskin.”

When Ridgeway interviewed Heskin, she admitted to having contact with the victim on Instagram and giving the juvenile advice. She acknowledged the victim attempted to hug her in the past, but she pushed the student away.

After being pressed further, Heskin admitted they had kissed, and admitted she had sent photos of herself to the victim. There were two or three photos she sent of herself from her bed. She admitted that “in the video, she was naked on the upper half.” They talked in Instagram about “travel plans after school.” She then admitted the photos sent were of her breasts and butt. Heskin acknowledged she was aware the victim was 14 years old. She claimed she was intoxicated when she sent the pictures and video.

She added that nothing has happened outside of school.

Heskin admitted she set up secret Instagram accounts between her and the victim to conceal their communications.

As terms of her release Friday, Heskin cannot have any contact with the victim or the victim’s family.

Heskin has been placed on administrative leave pending conclusion of the investigation, according to Durand-Arkansaw superintendent Greg Doverspike.