Cedar Lane graduate Michael Slaninka jogs along Third Street in Niles with a log on his back in preparation for United States Army boot camp. Daily Star photo/CRAIG HAUPERT

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A heavy burden

Published 5:05pm Thursday, June 7, 2012

It’s not every day you see a person jogging alongside the road carrying a 70-pound log over his shoulders.

Then again, 19-year-old Michael Slaninka isn’t your typical teenager.

Slaninka, who graduated last week from Cedar Lane Alternative School in Niles, is counting down the days until Oct. 29 — the day he leaves for boot camp with the United States Army.

Hauling logs is part of his self-imposed training.

“They are going to make you run like no other, so I want to be ready,” he said.

It wasn’t long ago that Slaninka was carrying a different kind of burden on his back. One created by his own bad choices.

Liar, liar

When Slaninka was a freshman at Niles High School, he told a lie on the first day of school that would plague him the rest of his high school days.

He told students he was from a foreign country and that he had killed people. He’s not sure why he told the lie, but people believed him at first.

“For awhile I was the cool foreign kid and stuff like that,” Slaninka said. “When holes started to come into my story, I would tell more lies to fill in the holes. By the time I was in 10th grade, people knew I was a liar. I was labeled off as a loser.”

Slaninka spent the next couple years trying to repair his reputation, but nothing really worked. The damage had been done.

By the time he was a senior, Slaninka’s grades were so bad a counselor told him there was not point in continuing his education at the high school.

He was advised to enroll at Cedar Lane Alternative School.

That’s when he realized he had hit rock-bottom.

Redemption

Slaninka found the strength to change by turning to God. He had been attending Bertrand Bible Church for many years, but had never really bought in until he began attending school at Cedar Lane.

Slaninka became more involved in his church and began speaking to inmates at the Cass County Jail with Forgotten Man Ministries. He’d tell them about his struggles and his transformation through God, encouraging them to do the same.

He also spends many hours volunteering at Silverbrook Manor, a nursing home in Niles where his mother, Cynthia Sebeck, works.

Silverbrook Manor employees presented Slaninka Thursday with a certificate and a cake in thanks for all his work.

“He really is a wonderful and very giving person,” said Cindy Miller, Silverbrook activities director.

Slaninka improved his grades and graduated on time from Cedar Lane. He received a leadership award from the school and spoke at graduation.

He said he’s finally at peace with himself.

“If I can change, anybody can,” he said.

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