Pinkowski develops Chicago Marathon; relationship with OPRC

Influenced by Sir Roger Bannister's book, Director of Chicago Marathon has passion for running

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By Paul Oppenheim

Running Columnist

When Carey Pinkowski took over the job as Director of the Chicago Marathon, one of the first things he did was to call the various local running clubs to ask for their assistance. Previously, the marathon had been mostly a corporate event with little or no involvement from the local running community. In fact, back in 1978 the Chicago Area Runners Association was formed by a group of local runners who were frustrated with the marathon and its seeming disregard for the actual participants.

At the time of Pinkowski's call in 1989, I was president of the Oak Park Runners Club, and as I recall, my response was something like "We've been hoping for your call." Pinkowski was friendly and down to earth, and was anxious to work with running clubs to provide volunteers for the race. He wondered if our club could handle one of the aid stations, or water stops, along the marathon course. I said yes, and we have been doing it ever since.

I also asked if he'd be willing to come to one of our monthly meetings to tell us more about the marathon. He readily agreed, starting a tradition that has continued ever since. Every year, on the first Tuesday in September -- meeting night for the Oak Park Runners Club -- Carey Pinkowski comes to tell us about this year's marathon.

The early years were decidedly more humble – only a few thousand runners were signed up and resources were limited, but Chicago's flat topography, combined with great scenery and a fine course, resulted in larger and larger participation, not to mention a couple of world-record winning times. Today the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is one of the six "World Marathon Majors" (Chicago, Boston, New York City, London, Berlin and Tokyo) comprising the largest and most prestigious marathons in the world. Not bad for a kid from Hammond, Indiana.

This year Pinkowski told a fascinating story from his childhood, when he picked up a book that literally fell off a truck. There had been a fire at Hammond High School which included the school's library. A load of books damaged by smoke and water was being hauled away, and a couple of them bounced off the truck as it turned a corner. The one he picked up was The Four Minute Mile by Roger Bannister, the first man to break 4 minutes in the mile run back in 1954. It was slightly stained and smelled of smoke, but was from the book's initial 1956 printing of only a couple of hundred copies. And somehow the volume had made it all the way to Hammond, Indiana. That book helped to foster Pinkowski's interest in running – he was a two-time Indiana one-mile state champion -- earning a scholarship to Villanova University's high profile track team, where he ran with some of the elite runners of the day.

And many years later, as the Chicago Marathon's well-known director, Pinkowski had occasion to meet Sir Roger Bannister in London, getting his autograph on that somewhat tattered old book.



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