Chicago is famous for many things: deep dish pizza, fantastic jazz, the Sears Tower, and Al Capone, to name a few. There’s also Wrigley Field, the Bears and the Bulls. And come this weekend, The Windy City will resemble a running mecca.
Between Saturday’s 5K and Sunday’s 10K and half marathon, Humana Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago is expected to draw nearly 20,000 runners, walkers and wheelchair athletes.
It’s the 10th edition of the event and 73 men and women qualify as legacy runners—runners who have completed the previous nine half marathons and plan on lining up for the big 1-0. Here’s a look at four of them.
A determined runner
Barney Rupp, now 72 years young, took to running in his late 40s when his daughter wanted to try out for the high school cross country team.
“OK,” said Rupp, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Glenview, “I’ll run with you a little on weekends to help you get into shape.”
“A little on weekends” morphed into 16 marathons, nearly 40 half marathons, and a determination to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Twice, Rupp has missed qualifying for running’s most famous 26.2-miler by less than a minute, once by eight seconds.
“I can’t quit (trying to qualify),” he said. “I’m so close.”
When he trained for his first marathon, Rupp promised his wife that he’d be one and done. Then he crossed the finish line in 1997 and yelled, “Sign me up for next year!”
“It was the sense of accomplishment,” he said.
For the fifth straight year, Rupp is part of a mentoring program called Students Run Chicago. The organization recruits inner-city Chicago high school students who are not athletes and trains them for more than three months for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago half marathon. About 35 students are part of this year’s program.
Said Rupp, “The kids cross the finish line with tears in their eyes, they’re so happy they accomplished something difficult.”
Drawn by the finish
Araceli Fuentes was fresh out of high school, working at a law firm when a co-worker asked if she’d like to join her for a half marathon. Although she was running 3 to 5 miles a couple times a week, Fuentes admits, “At the time, I really didn’t like to run.”
The group dynamics changed her attitude.
“When you finish,” said Fuentes, “even if you don’t run it all, if you walk and jog, once you cross that finish line, you have that satisfaction, even if you’re the last one to finish.”
Fuentes’ husband, Roger Mendoza, is also a Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago legacy runner. At 31, Fuentes is the youngest Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago female legacy runner.
“I love the course,” said Fuentes, who lives in the Chicago suburb Oak Lawn. “I love the live music, the bands at every mile. Rock ‘n’ Roll is more organized. I’ve taken part in other races and they’re chaos, too many people in the corrals. We just like this race.”
Fuentes has battled a worn disc the past year. A doctor said she should quit running.
Recalled Fuentes, “I almost cried. I said, ‘This is my thing.’ But I’m still doing it. I’ll deal with the pain later.”
From hoops to marathons
Scooter Cichon’s first love was basketball. But after being a part of Pittsburg State’s team for two years in Kansas and scoring one point, the coaching staff was blunt.
“They told me I didn’t have enough talent,” he said.
Looking for something to fill the athletic void, Cichon turned to running. He ran the 3,200 in high school. Three times he missed qualifying for the state meet by one spot. The 33-year-old has demonstrated a knack for the longer distances.
After clocking a 3-hour, 45-minute finish in his first marathon, Cichon has lowered his PR to 2:40:33. He has run Boston nine times.
As to running’s draw, Cichon said, “I like the time you’re forced to spend alone. I never listen to music. It’s a time of self-evaluation and evaluation of the elements in your life.”
Cichon teaches math at the high school he graduated from, St. Mary’s-Colgan in Pittsburg. His father, who last season won his 600th game, was his high school basketball coach. Scooter is now an assistant to his father, plus coaches track and cross country.
Cichon picked Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago as a destination race back in 2009 and has been coming ever since. Living in a small city with a population barely reaching 20,000, he likes the grand scale of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
His given name is Scott, but a friend nicknamed him Scooter in college and it stuck.
Said Cichon, “I think it’s tough for people not to like a guy named Scooter.”
A state of Bliss
Bliss Packer met her husband 20 years ago and would traipse across the landscape, watching him run road races.
“I got tired of just watching and being the spectator and cheerleader,” said the 67-year-old Packer, the oldest female Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago legacy runner. “I did ‘subway marathons,’ jumping on subways to follow him.”
So Packer, a retired CPA, joined the running party and fell hard. (Her half marathon count is up to 76; marathons are in the past now but she ran 15 of the 26.2-milers.)
“The bands on the course are great. They give you all kinds of things to keep your interest,” said Packer, who now lives with her husband, Richard Pleet, in Lac Du Flambeau, Wis. “As a walker, I’m a back-of-the-packer. One thing I like about Rock ‘n’ Roll is I’m not alone out there.”
Packer and Fleet decorated their exercise loft and travel trailer with medals Fleet won at Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago.
“He likes to say they’re our trophies,” said Packer, “because we did the races together.”
In other words, the woman has long exited the sidelines.