TJ's Flight fundraiser sees smooth landing in Brookings

Annual challenge raises $3,250


BROOKINGS — In 2009, Angie Schmitz-Thompson’s 12-year-old son TJ died in the crash of a small, private airplane. About six years ago, the fitness instructor at Synergy Strength Studio in Brookings organized the first TJ’s Flight to the Finish Challenge to raise funds for charitable causes and to establish a legacy for her son. Now the challenge is an annual event each February. This year would have marked TJ’s 27th birthday.

“It started quite small,” Schmitz said, of the annual and now expanded event. “It was just the TJ’s Flight to Finish scholarships. … It’s just been growing every year.” Now it’s a fundraiser where teams “do workouts (at Synergy) to raise money for their chosen local charity. This year we did partners; we had teams of two and they would pick a charity that they would do this challenge for. At the end of it, we would gather points and whoever had the most points would earn the money it had cost to enter the challenge.”

This year 45 two-member teams paid $50 each to take on the month-long challenge. Additionally, Schmitz noted: “Every time we have this challenge, people give free-will donations. Last year I had 10% of the winnings and donations from my friends, my family go into the TJ’s Flight scholarship fund as well.” This year a total of $3,250 was raised from all these funding sources.

This year’s challenge workout exercises were “core-based.”

“That means there was a workout for your core every day,” Schmitz explained. “That was the physical challenge; but also we implemented core meaning core values. … Show random acts of kindness. Not only just a workout.”

Finishing the challenge in first place was the team of Kim Koch and Danielle Witt. They will be donating $1,000 the Go Fund Me account for Zander Ulvestad, a 5-year-old boy battling Wilms tumor, a rare form of cancer. Four other top-finishing teams will also be making donations to their charities of choice.

“I am very proud of how hard they worked for little Zander Ulvestad,” Schmitz , referring winners Koch and Witt. “This year we’re going to give five different charities some of the donations.” The donations will be divided with staggered funding in descending order, from first through fifth place.

The winners of two scholarships, worth about $1,000 each, were Kaedyn Sapp and Paige Kuchel, both members of Synergy.”

— Contact John Kubal at