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Raindrops do not dampen spirits of Southwest Marathon, 10K runners

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

The competitors weren’t complaining about the drizzle and cold temperatures on Sunday during the 9th annual Southwest Half Marathon and 10K run in Palos Heights.

“It was a great for runners, but not a great day for spectators,” said Mel Diab, co-founder and director of the up-and-back race run on Route 83 through Palos Heights and Palos Park.

While they may have been few in number, the chilly, wet weather didn’t dampen the spirits of those lining the railings to cheer on family and friends competing in all the races, including South West Special Recreation Association’s Walk, Run or Roll race for people with disabilities.

Jeff Prestinario, who co-founded the half marathon and 10K with Diab, was the emcee. He said that in addition to the chilly weather being preferable for the runners, there were no reports of exhaustion or dehydration as there were when the weather was warmer. So the four ambulances on standby were not needed.

Registration got off to a slow start this year, and the numbers were down a bit from previous years. But “thanks to a big rush in April,” Diab said more than 1,200 people ended up registering. This included 875 in the 13.1-mile half marathon and 355 in the 6.1-mile 10K. According to the final results, a total of 934 people finished both races.

Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) was grand marshal of the event. He offered a good excuse for not running in the half marathon as he often does.

“I ran my first marathon yesterday, the Illinois Marathon in Champaign. And I got dehydrated,” explained Lipinski.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) was among the half marathon runners. He also joined Lipinski, local leaders, organizers and sponsors on the reviewing stand before the races got underway. Mayor Bob Straz was there representing Palos Heights, along with Palos Park Mayor John Mahoney and Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett, who welcomed the visitors as president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors.

“It’s very important that we keep this race going. It is a great event for the whole area,” said Lipinski, who expects to be back running in it next year.

Diab said the race wouldn’t have been possible without the principal sponsors, CNB Bank & Trust and Palos Community Hospital, and he singled out the Meijer grocery store in Orland Park for praise as well, thanking the store for its in-kind donation of bottled water, Gatorade, fruit and energy bars and other food made available to runners and watchers alike.

Diab and Prestinario also credited the 200 volunteers who set up everything and ran the refreshment tents for making the event a success for the ninth year in a row.

A faulty air horn used to start the races was the only snafu, but it didn’t bother the runners.

“Mel does a great job with this. I like to support his races,” said Wendy Jaehn, 41, who was the fastest woman in the half marathon. When told that the organizers were concerned that the wet road surface might be dangerous, she said it didn’t slow her down. “You just have to be careful,” she said.

“I like to run in this type of weather,” said Veronica Laureano, 31, a member of the Chicago Road Runners Club who was the fastest woman in the 10K.

Ryan Giuliano, of north suburban Oakwood Hills, won the men’s half marathon. He also won it two years ago. He said his time of 1 hour and 9 minutes was close to a personal best.

“It is a great course,” he said. “You get a lot of support from the other runners on the way back.”      

Joe Solek, of Orland Park, was watching from the sidelines with his two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, for his friend, John Cancialosi, who was the lone competitor in the wheelchair race.

“He is a great guy and very inspirational,” said Solek.

Cancialosi, who owns Tinley Park Kitchen & Bath Shoppe, is a quadriplegic and competes in a hand-cycle, or crank bike, which he pedals by hand in a reclining position.

The rain didn’t bother him either. “This is my kind of weather,” said a beaming Cancialosi after the race. He has raised more than $3,700 for SWSRA since he began wheelchair racing a few years ago.

Mary Cody, of Oak Lawn, who completed the half marathon with her running partner and neighbor, Brian Jordan, said she was happy to see the finish line and her husband, John, and daughter, Emma, waiting to greet her with hugs.

“I’ve run a few half marathons. But this is the first time doing this one,” said Cody. “It is a really nice run through the forest preserves, but I just want to go home and relax now,” she said with a weary grin.