DALLAS — Kahl Murdock wants young people to know that sports isn’t the only way to be competitive and belong to a team.
Robotics can offer that same experience. It requires the same kind of dedication to training, work ethic, and best of all, the thrill of going head-to-head — or robot-to-robot — with a rival.
Kahl speaks from experience; he’s done both.
He picked up robotics in the sixth grade when he suffered an ankle injury that temporarily sidelined him from playing competitive sports.
“I was trying to find something competitive to do. I wanted to stay active,” said Kahl, a Dallas resident and freshman at Early College High School in Salem. “I wanted to do something along those lines of competitiveness.”
He found a VEX robotics kit in a catalogue and was intrigued. Kahl asked for the kit for Christmas.
Instead, his mom, Michelle Murdock, found out the LaCreole Middle School had an after-school robotics club. Kahl joined and started to go to competitions. He was hooked.
Now he’s in the business of getting others hooked on robotics, too.
A few months ago, Michelle was ill and in the hospital. Kahl spent a lot of time with her there and brought his robot with him.
“Robotics season is non-stop. You are always working on the robot 24/7, as much as you can get,” Kahl said. “As the time went on, my mom was in the hospital, so I was building the robot at the hospital. I was driving it, testing it.”
When Michelle started feeling better and walking the halls, Kahl drove his robot beside her. It attracted a lot of attention.
“Everyone kept on looking and smiling,” Kahl said. “I was thinking, everyone’s enjoying it.”
That when the idea of TORC — Team Oregon Robotics Club — took form. TORC is Kahl’s nonprofit-in-progress — he’s still filling out the paperwork to officially become a 501 C3 — that works to encourage the pursuit of robotics at all age levels.
“I want to try to go out and do a community outreach and to tell people that just because you have a physical (disability) or you don’t want to compete in regular sports, that there’s another opportunity for you,” Kahl said. “There are other ways you can be competitive and be active.”
Through TORC, Kahl raises money, mostly through sales of cotton candy on his own or in conjunction with his parents’ business Travelin’ Taphouse, to purchase VEX robotics kits for demonstrations at outreach events.
“I was at the Gilbert House on President’s Day, doing an outreach there,” Kahl said. “I had my robot there as a show-and-tell of VEX EDR (high school-level robotics).”
He brought along crates of Legos, robots geared for younger children, and a sign-up sheet for children who want to join a robotics program.
“If they are interested in joining a robotics team, we can get the (information) to a local representative for Oregon who has all the contact information for all the teams and try to get them into a team that way,” Kahl said. “We can also talk to the schools to see if there is enough interest to get a program started there.”
He’s already working to launch a club at his school, in partnership with Chemeketa Community College. Kahl said in the outreach events he’s held so far, he has been encouraged by the amount of creativity and interest children have in the activity.
“At the Gilbert House, there were people recording it. Everyone was smiling, they were happy. Everyone was so happy to be there, and it made my heart really warm,” he said. “I like people to experience what might be out there because not a lot of people know about VEX.”
Money raised will also help pay for Kahl’s team to go to the VEX World Championship this year.
Though he’s just getting started — he has school and his own robotics team to prepare for state this weekend — Kahl has a lot of support.
Notably, Amy Roloff, of “Little People, Big World,” and musician Gabriel Cox want to help spread the word and raise money for the cause. The pair were on board for a gala fundraiser for TORC at Eola Hills Wine Cellars last weekend that had to be canceled at the last minute.
Kahl plans to hold an outreach at Ronald McDonald House between his robotics competitions, but says he doesn’t mind spending the extra time being a “VEX ambassador.”
He said seeing children light up when they have a chance to explore robotics makes the long hours worth it.
“It really motivates me to go out and do another one,” Kahl said.
For more information about TORC or to donate: TORC.