- Terra Molengraff/Daily
By Steve Zoski, Daily News Editor
Published June 17, 2012
Leave it to Ann Arbor to bring together a student who overcame paralysis, a nun, military veterans and a man in a Chinese food costume to participate in the same athletic event.
This Father’s Day morning marked the first time runners could participate in a 26.2-mile marathon through campus and city streets — many of which were closed as a result of the first-ever Ann Arbor Marathon and its conjoined half marathon and 5K races.
The marathon course began outside Michigan Stadium and ended on the 50-yeard line of Elbel Field after traveling through parts of campus such as the Big House, the Law Quadrangle, Yost Ice Arena, the Michigan Union and Nichols Arboretum. Huron Valley Ambulance was on standby at the finish at Elbel, and transported three participants in stable condition because of heat-related issues.
Champions for Charity, which also hosts the annual Big House Big Heart 5K, 10K and 1-mile races, organized the event. Six dollars from every race fee benefited the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation.
Additional charities were allowed to register and use the marathon as an independent fundraising opportunity. The race was sponsored by local businesses, like Ann Arbor State Bank, along with national companies like Macy’s.
Currently, the marathon’s website has released times for 580 people in the full marathon and 1,211 people in the half marathon. Local running store chain Running Fit provided timing services for the event.
Finishing first in the marathon was 39-year-old Marco Capelli with a time of 2:48:02. The first woman to finish was 24-year-old Allyson Weimer, who had a time of 3:11:36. In the half marathon, 20-year-old Toledo native Trevin Flickinger finished first with a time of 1:18:40. 29-year-old Denver native Sarah Pizzo was the first female to finish with a time of 1:27:10.
Among the marathon’s organizers were Michael Highfield, founder of Champions for Charity, and his wife Andrea Highfield.
In an interview after the marathon started, Andrea Highfield said she was thankful for the gentle weather, adding that she and her husband had been concerned the morning would be ruined with rain and storms.
The night before the race, the website for the marathon noted that there was a planned procedure of postponing the race or pausing the race’s timing if lightning was spotted before or during the race.
“So thankful,” Highfield said. “We were both up all night just making arrangements for if we had to switch times.”
Water stations were set up at every mile, and stations providing GU energy gel were set up at miles 12, 18 and 22.5.
At the beginning of the marathon, Highfield told runners they could vote for the best, most enthusiastic water station when they finished the race. Highfield explained the best-voted station would receive prizes such as a Verizon tablet and $250 in cash.
Highfield added that volunteers came from places including Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Highfield also said her husband’s committee, the Ann Arbor Marathon Committee, had researched the best course for Ann Arbor.
“My husband and his committee wanted to show off all of Ann Arbor,” Highfield said.
Though the inaugural marathon started outside Michigan Stadium, Highfield said future events could try finishing there.
“It would be nice to be able to finish (in the Big House) — and maybe we’ll get to that someday,” Highfield said.
Standing on the corner of East Madison and State streets, Northville resident Sarah Hendricks waited to cheer on Rackham student Clarissa Freeman, who ran the half marathon after suffering from prolonged paralysis due to a debilitating condition called spina bifida while in high school.
“She has a medical condition, and she had a relapse and wasn’t able to walk or take care of herself,” Hendricks said. “She’s been working really hard and training, so it’s pretty much a miracle.”
Hendricks explained Freeman’s relapse occurred 18 months before the marathon and while her time was well done for a first-time runner, she knows Freeman can improve.
“For a (first) race, there’s always a learning curve for both participants and the organizers, so you (can) always learn,” Hendricks said.
Before the marathon, supporters of an Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic nun named Julia, who was running the full marathon, stood by the starting line.
Maxine Kollasch, an IHM sister from Monroe, said Julia was running the event to fundraise for their faith and spirituality outreach blog called A Nun’s Life Ministry.
“We have Julia running the marathon,” Kollasch said. “She’s been training faithfully, and she’s really excited about this.”
She added that they were happy to provide Julia with a much-needed energy boost after she completed the marathon.
“We’re here to support her and give her coffee at the end of it all,” Kollasch said.
Team Red, White & Blue, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit group for wounded veterans, had members running in the full marathon, half marathon and 5K, including Johnny Algor, a recent law and business graduate and military veteran.
Before he ran the 5K, Algor said his foundation fundraised in support of the event, which he added is one of many events his organization participates in to promote wounded veterans’ well-being.
“We try to reintegrate wounded veterans back into society, and one of the ways we try to get them out is through physical fitness,” Algor said. “That’s also how we build awareness.”
Algor said his organization was able to come together for the marathon and bond with a dinner at Conor O’Neill’s the night before as well as a tailgate planned for after the event.
Algor said he was excited to run by the places where he studied for years.
“We’ll get to see some of the sights, I’m excited for it,” Algor said.
Ann Arbor residents Christopher and Carolyn Todd sat in chairs on the corner of Hill and State streets to cheer on their son Kevin and friend Josh, who traveled from their respective homes in Boston and Miami to run.
Carolyn Todd said the marathon did not count as a qualifier for the esteemed Boston Marathon, something she said would have drawn in more competitive runners.
“This is not a qualifying event, which is not disappointing, but that means it’s not (the) highest caliber — but it’s their first (marathon),” Todd said.
The Todds said it was nice that the event was in their hometown because this was their first time getting to see their son run a marathon, even though he has run many and qualified for the Boston Marathon this year.
Christopher Todd said if they had a gripe about the marathon, it would be at their struggle to find parking.
“We were planning on parking at Yost, but there’s no way of getting in there,” Todd said.
Carolyn Todd said the marathon turned out great, but added that she presumed drivers were probably a little irked about the closed streets.
“Locals are not happy about the traffic situation,” she said.
Kinesiology senior Ian Prochaska and his twin brother Zachary tied as winners of the 5K, both running times of 16:59.
Prochaska said he found the course easy to follow.
“There were maps online, so those were nice, so I had a little bit of a look (at) the course before I showed up, and then since my brother and I were out front, there was a lead vehicle,” he said. “So I just followed (the vehicle) the entire race and that was wonderful.”
Prochaska said the scheduling of their final exam in their spring class the next day deterred them from running one of the longer courses and led them to compete in the 5K.
“My brother and I actually planned on doing the half marathon, but since we have our biochem final tomorrow, we wanted to be off our feet for the rest of the day,” he said.
Prochaska said he was happy that the marathon benefited a good cause.
“Any time you get to support things like the Ann Arbor school system, that’s always a wonderful thing,” he said. “Getting out there and competing with a bunch of people is just an added bonus.”