Eric Lider: Coaching kids with special needs

Eric Lider runs the Challenger Program, a series of classes for students with special needs that he founded in 2010. (KATU Photo)

Just about everyone has a favorite teacher -- someone they talk about years after they've finished school.

That's why we’ve launched the series, “Leaders in Learning,” to recognize them.

If you have any connection to Lake Oswego Schools, you might know Eric Lider. He retired from his elementary school teaching job in 2004 but hasn't slowed down since. Lider continued coaching the Lake Oswego High School Cross Country and Track teams until 2017. Then, after nearly 40 years of working with kids, he still didn't really "retire." He continues to run the Challenger Program, a series of classes for students with special needs that he founded in 2010.

"I started to look around and realized special needs kids weren't having the same opportunities as other kids," said Lider.

Lider waits at the front door of Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy every Wednesday evening to greet kids who participate in the class. He has a high-five or a hug for every one of them. And they all have big smiles on their faces as they run into class.

"You can tell from their action, they love to be here. This is a highlight for them. They can't wait for Wednesday to come to fitness class, " said Lider.

Whether it's jamming on the "air sax," singing and dancing their hearts out or playing a thrilling game of Duck-Duck-Goose, this is the place where they can be themselves and not worry about "keeping it together."

Parents say it's the highlight of their week.

"You look at their faces, you hear the delight in their voices, and you can't fake that," said Tiffany Morgan.

Lider is loved and he's leaving a legacy. He mentors young volunteers from the National Charity League. They help run the classes every Wednesday night.

Emily Zinsmeister volunteers during breaks from college. She's studying social work, inspired by Coach Lider's leadership and dedication.

"These kids are amazing. Each and every one of them brings something to the table," said Zinsmeister. "Just the happiness and love here is overwhelmingly awesome."

Lider says he lives to empower kids. It's what he loves to do. And he doesn't plan to slow down anytime soon.

"It's just a joy to have this class. I mean, we look forward to it. Kids look forward to it. It's just a joyful time," he said.

Do you know a teacher, coach, or mentor who's doing great things for local students? Send us an email at and tell us their story!

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