Thousands turn out for Palos Heights half marathon
By Tim O’Brien Correspondent May 5, 2013 5:00PM
Runners participate in the First Midwest Half Marathon in Palos Heights Sunday, May 5, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 7, 2013 6:19AM
Cheering on his son, Tom, Oak Lawn’s John Zero was there for the Boston Marathon.
He was there Sunday in Palos Heights with his wife, Nancy, and he plans on being there for the Chicago Marathon in October.
Undeterred by the Boston bombings in April, Zero has no plans of missing out.
“We’re still here,” Zero said Sunday morning with a smile. “It’s still fresh in everyone’s minds, but the support is what the runners look for, the longer the distance, the more the support. It keeps you going.”
On a warm day, almost 2,000 runners and thousands of volunteers and spectators descended on Palos Heights for the sixth annual First Midwest Half Marathon.
Woodstock’s Dan Kremske won the race, finishing the 13.1 mile course in 1 hour, six minutes and fifteen seconds ahead of Kenya’s Elly Sang (1:06.32). Crystal Lake’s Jacqui Giuliano (1:20.48) was the first female finisher, beating out Kaneland’s Kristen Heckert (1:21.40).
Zero and his son, Tom, were just blocks away from the explosions in Boston on April 15.
Less than three weeks removed, an increased security presence was on display Sunday as SWAT officers, police and canine units patrolled the course and watched from rooftops with police helicopters in the air.
That runners and spectators alike still came out in droves came as no surprise to race founder and director Mel Diab.
“The response here was going to be even stronger,” Diab said. “The (bombers) were people trying to change our lifestyle, and we won’t allow it. Runners are tough people. I knew it wouldn’t stop people. This race is about having fun and enjoying the run.”
Diab also pointed out the half marathon earned more than $150,000 for prostate cancer research.
The increased security presence was hard to miss Sunday, but most spectators did their best to ignore it. Sisters Barb Diehl and Marcia Renfus, of South Holland, arrived bright and early in support of their niece and daughter, Lisa Gonya, running her first half marathon.
“You see the security, men on rooftops with AK-47s and think about it, but you can’t let it stop you,” Diehl said. “I feel safe out here.”
As for the race, Renfus was busy enough rooting on her daughter.
“Nervous, exciting, it’s all there knowing she wants to do her personal best,” Renfus said with a laugh before the race. “Her goal is just to finish.”
Gonya did just that, finishing in 2 hours, 13 minutes in her first half marathon.
Setting up camp at the 13-mile marker, Jim Weber, of St. John, Ind., waited with his 3-year-old son, James, for his wife, Jacqueline, to pass by. The couple met running track at Augustana College.
Jim and James greeted runners with cries of “Good job, dude!” and “Good job, girl!”
“It’s a great experience being out here and watching her,” Jim Weber said. “Her first marathon was last summer in South Bend, (Ind.), and she ran Chicago in the fall. It is fun seeing her come along and progress, cheer her on and continue to see that competitive spirit in her.”
A junior at Richards High School, a cross country runner and the setter on the volleyball team, Dan Krasich ran Sunday’s half marathon without any serious training, finishing in about 1:35.00.
“Without the training, it was a little rough, but I love this type of race,” Krasich said. “It’s cool to have such a big event near home, and it attracts a lot of people from all around.”
Working as a volunteer, Chicago’s Kelly Flowers helped pour water and Powerade at the finish line Sunday. Flowers was in attendance with Zeta Phi Beta, an international sorority.
“I am enjoying myself, and this isn’t work,” Flowers said. “We pride ourselves as an organization about our service. We’re talking about running next year, so we’re just inspired by the whole thing.”