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High school grad on 5,000-day streak of wearing dinosaur shirts — and counting

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 6/8/2018 Frank Vaisvilas
Zachary Dundek has worn a shirt featuring dinosaurs for 5,000 consecutive days. He said he plans to keep the streak alive as he heads off to college this fall. © Dundek family photo/MCT Zachary Dundek has worn a shirt featuring dinosaurs for 5,000 consecutive days. He said he plans to keep the streak alive as he heads off to college this fall.

NEW LENOX, Ill. — Zachary Dundek's siblings warned him four years ago he would become the target of bullying in high school if he continued wearing shirts featuring dinosaurs every day.

But he had worn a dinosaur shirt every single day for the 10 previous years, and he wasn't about to stop because of what other people might think as he prepared for his freshman year at Lincoln-Way Central High School in New Lenox.

On May 30, Dundek graduated from Lincoln-Way Central, proudly displaying a dinosaur embroidered on a dress shirt under his gown. He'd completed his goal of wearing the prehistoric creature on his attire for more than 5,000 consecutive days.

"I never skipped a day," he said.

Dundek said he'd be disappointed if one day he wasn't, for some reason, able to wear a dinosaur shirt, but he said he isn't superstitious and doesn't think anything negative would happen as a result.

Still, "I never thought about giving it up," he said.

And Dundek was never bullied or teased for it.

Now a high school graduate, Zachary Dundek plans to keep his 5,000-day streak of wearing a shirt featuring dinosaurs alive into the foreseeable future. © Dundek family photo/MCT Now a high school graduate, Zachary Dundek plans to keep his 5,000-day streak of wearing a shirt featuring dinosaurs alive into the foreseeable future.

"A lot of people in high school didn't notice," he said. "It's high school and I think people were more concerned with themselves."

But to those friends and teachers who did notice, Dundek said, he became known as the guy with the dinosaur shirts. It was used as a term of endearment, he said.

And while his siblings would try to encourage him to wear something else, their mother, Victoria Dundek, told them to stop and just allow Zak to wear what he wants.

"He just wore them with such confidence," she said.

Zachary started wearing dinosaur shirts as a toddler that were hand-me-downs from his older brother, who was "obsessed" with dinosaurs, Victoria Dundek said.

"At 3 years old, when he started having a mind of his own, he started wearing them every day," she said.

Of course, there were times when Zachary needed to wear something fancier than a dino-printed T-shirt.

When those occasions arise, he either wears the dinosaur shirt under a formal shirt or he has a small dinosaur patch sewed onto his clothes.

Zachary said he also has school-themed shirts and sweaters with dinosaur pictures drawn on them.

And although Zachary obviously loves dinosaurs, especially after watching movies such as "Jurassic Park" when he was younger, Victoria Dundek doesn't view his wearing the shirts as an obsession. Rather, she said, the streak is a sign of her son's dedication and determination.

Zachary sees it that way as well, and his dedication and determination applied to more than his attire.

He graduated with a 5.51-grade point average and has been involved with a multitude of school programs, including Mathletes, Peer Helpers, plays, musicals, Scholastic Bowl, as well as a fencing team outside of school.

Bobbi Pehle, Zachary's AP psychology teacher and sponsor for Peer Helpers, said she first noticed his shirts during a three-day student retreat four years ago.

She asked him about his prehistoric predilection and he explained he's worn shirts with dinosaurs on them every day and he intended to keep doing it.

Pehle, at first, thought it was odd but then saw how comfortable and confident Zachary was in wearing the shirts and she saw it as a positive personality trait.

Pehle described Zachary as a naturally bright student who would routinely help other students without making them feel bad for not initially understanding a concept.

Zachary plans to attend Miami University in Ohio this fall to study biochemistry.

"It's funny. I wanted to be a paleontologist when I was little and now I want to be a genetic engineer," he said. "'Jurassic Park' was one of the movies that inspired the T-shirts, and now I'll study to have one of the two careers highlighted in the movie."

Genetic engineers in the film were the ones who figured out how to create a dinosaur using DNA from a prehistoric mosquito that was frozen in amber.

"It's a lot harder than they make it seem in the movie," Zachary said. "But I think we could find a way."

And while his work may or may not one day bring dinosaurs back from extinction, he said he'll continue doing his part to bring the past alive by wearing dinosaur shirts for the rest of his life.

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