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Eighth wonder

  • Written by Tim Hadac

Streak of great weather for race continues

Mother Nature’s seven-year winning streak of mild weather at the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon looked like it would end last Sunday, as early-morning rain started to slap the pavement on the 13.1-mile course in Palos Heights and Palos Park.

But whether it was a 6:30 a.m. pre-race prayer service led in the beer tent by Harvest Bible Chapel Pastor Ryan Hall, or race co-founder Jeff Prestinario’s repeated insistence that the streak would not be broken, faith paid off. About 30 minutes before the starting horn sounded at 7:30 a.m., clouds rolled away to the northeast, and the sun bathed Route 83 in light and warmth.
That was fine with Palos Heights resident Kathy Becker, who bicycled from her home a mile away to cheer on her cousin, Marie Gagliano, at the starting line on Route 83 near Palos Heights City Hall.
“I didn’t bring my umbrella, but I was more worried about Marie. Wet pavement can be a hazard, or even anything slick on the ground,” Becker said, recalling the infamous incident at the 2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, when winner Robert Cheruiyot slipped on an advertising mat, fell backwards and hit his head on the pavement just as he reached the finish line.
No such slip-ups occurred Sunday at the eighth annual Palos event, even though a shortage of volunteers weeks earlier had threatened to make logistics a bit difficult.
“In the end, it all came together, as it does every year,” said Mel Diab, race co-founder and owner of the popular Running for Kicks specialty running shoe store near 127th Street and Harlem Avenue. “The people who volunteer for this event really pull together, work together and make it all happen. I can’t thank them enough. They are as important as our sponsors and everyone else who made this day possible.”
Prestinario added that in its eight years, the event has raised more than $200,000 for charity. This year’s not-for-profit recipients were the American Cancer Society and the Alsip-based South West Special Recreation Association (SWSRA).
The morning was a mixture of grimaces, sweat and smiles, as competitors—in the big race, as well as a 10K and the Walk, Run or Roll race for athletes with disabilities—pushed themselves to their limits and then savored the sweet payoff of their efforts.
Finishing first overall in the half marathon was Kyle Brady, 26, of Warrenville, with a time of 1:11:31. Finishing first among women and 10th overall was Kristen Heckert, 28, of Bolingbrook, who hit the tape at the 1:18:36 mark.
Nearly 40 athletes with special needs participated in the event’s Run, Walk or Roll race, headed by the SWSRA, nearly doubling last year’s final total of 32 participants.
Results for the Half Marathon and 10K race are posted online at theracershub.com.
The event, which bills itself as the premier athletic event in the Southwest Suburbs, also draws thousands of people to the area—some of whom patronize local restaurants and other businesses, giving a shot in the arm to the local economy.
“We had the best breakfast yesterday at Royalberry Restaurant,” said Oak Lawn resident Dawn Podlasek, there with her husband, Jim, and twin 8-year-old sons, Jason and Jon. “This evening, after we drop the boys at their grandma’s house, we’re coming back for dinner and drinks on Harlem. We go to Orland a lot when we dine out, but we didn’t know about these nice restaurants in Palos Heights. We had been passing them up, I guess, but not anymore.”
That kind of endorsement was music to the ears of Palos Heights Mayor Robert Straz.
“The whole idea behind this race—other than the race itself—is to get people into the Southwest Suburbs and appreciate what we have here,” Straz said in his pre-race remarks at the starting line. “All too often, everything south of Madison (Street) is thought of as being a vast wasteland of culture and civilization…but we do actually have things going on out here

“We’re fortunate to go through the forest preserves a bit west of here,” the mayor continued, pointing toward Palos Park. “Behind me, we’ve got Lake Katherine, which has an incredible amount of natural beauty and a bike path (the Cal-Sag Trail) under construction that will link Alsip with Lemont. So please, stick around and discover the Palos area.”
The 2015 First Midwest Half Marathon’s organizing committee will meet next week to share observations and discuss ways to improve the event for 2016. Those with feedback to offer may visit firstmidwesthalfmarathon.com and click on the “Contact” tab.