Race security shouldn’t be as threatening
There were police helicopters, bomb-sniffing dogs, snipers on roofs and plenty of unconcealed machine guns.
Was it a hostage situation?
Was it a bank robbery?
Was the President in town?
It was the 2013 running of the First Midwest Bank Marathon in May.
On April 15, terrorists bombed the finish line of the Boston Marathon leaving deaths and injuries in its wake. While the cops and government officials pieced together what had happened in Boston, the men that ran the half-marathon here at home were a little edgy.
Co-race director Mel Diab was actually running the Boston Marathon but was miles away when the explosions hit. Still, he was shaken by the events. The next morning he said he was sad and angry, saying “These are cowardly, terrible human beings that did this.”
The other co-director, Jeff Prestinario, was spitting mad. Prestinario is normally a low-key friendly guy with a smile on his face but during that time, he was trying to get ready for one of the biggest events in his village, and a flood of thoughts were running through his head, including possibly cancelling the May 5 event.
But those thoughts quickly were erased and he, Diab and several law enforcement organizations teamed up for a day in which there was a heavy security presence. Cops with machine guns milled around with the thousands of kids, runners and spectators at the race. Shortly before the race started, a helicopter from the Chicago Police Department made an appearance and buzzed around for a little while checking things out.
The day went without incident and Prestinario was back smiling again.
The organizers had their first committee meeting for the May 4, 2014 race on Friday, and while the emotions from the Boston bombings are in the past, they aren’t forgetting that tragic event, either.
In the coming months, there will be a game plan for security but it doesn’t figure to be a severe.
“The terrorism created as huge problem for our race,” Prestinario said on Friday. “It happened soon before our race. The police and fire department and city will be discussing what level they will supply services and security for this year.
“I don’t think it will be at the level of last year. Knock on wood, this won’t be an issue. The security last year was unbelievable. We had more security than probably any race you have seen.’’
Palos Heights Sgt. Jeff Crowley had a big hand in security last year. This year, Sgt. Adam Nagy will take over for Crowley but Crowley was at Friday’s meeting in Nagy’s absence and agreed with Prestinario’s assessment.
“We incorporated a lot of things last year because of international events’’ Crowley said. “We don’t anticipate we’re going to do that much again. But we will go over all of that.’’
There figures to be a fair presence of security this year but not as prevalent as last year.
Outsiders may scoff that last year was overkill. After all, why would a terrorist want to make a statement by bombing a race in Palos Heights?
But at the time it made sense. It was an uncertain time and it was smart to be too cautious than to underplay the safety of thousands.
10K saves the day
The seventh running of the race has been saved and it looks like it will be alive and will be for three years, thanks to the First Midwest Bank sponsorship.
But it was almost shut down because of costs. During the holidays, it was still up in the air. But adding the 10K race to the half marathon could defray some costs.
“We talked about it and I met with Mel [Jan. 2] and we did some numbers and figured out what we needed,” Prestinario said. “At that time, we had to decide if we wanted to do it another three years. It was close.
“People don’t understand that the cost of running this race from top to bottom is expensive.” Presitinario added. “We needed to do something to bring in more runners. A 10K was the most natural way.’’