Thursday, October 1, 2015

My Journey to the 2015 Chicago Marathon

When I first signed up for the 2015 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, I was beyond excited. In 2014, I had an opportunity to witness the race in person for the first time. For years growing up, I’d always roll out of bed, groggy-eyed on a Sunday morning on the second weekend of October and see my dad watching the Chicago Marathon. This was well before I started running, which was less than three years ago.

Something about the event captivated me even before I ran or really knew the magnitude of what it was. Watching some of the best distance runners and 40,000 other people run 26.2 miles through the streets of Chicago with 1.7 million spectators cheering them on seemed so cool. Seeing these runners cruise by major landmarks as well as the neighborhoods such as Chinatown was a sight to behold.

In 2014, I stayed at my friend Keith’s place in the South Loop the Saturday night before the marathon. I woke up early on marathon morning to head out to the race and watch it. At the time, I had one marathon under my belt and was planning on doing at least one in 2015.

Keith and I made our way to the corner of State and LaSalle, and it was already packed by the time we got there.  Before we knew it, the top elite runners came by and were gone before we knew it. After that, the semi-elite runners came through, followed by a herd of 40,000 runners came stampeding by. I had never seen anything like this in person.

Watching 40,000 runners, all on a mission to cover the 26.2 miles, storm through the streets of Chicago was an amazing experience. Factor in being cheered on by 1.7 million spectators, and I knew this was something I wanted to do again. Keith and I moved to the 13-mile mark to catch the elites and a good chunk of the runners come through again and head west. Runners still looked good at this point, but their journey was only about half done.

Finally, we went over to right around the 26-mile mark. Seeing runners nearing the finish line of an exhausting journey was pretty cool, too.  From that point on, I knew I had to do the 2015 Chicago Marathon.

Fast forward to this year, 2015. I submitted my application back in late winter and was accepted into the Chicago Marathon. I was excited to get all registered and get ready for it in the summer months, but I was also in the middle of training for my second marathon, the Wisconsin Marathon, in early May.

Around the same time, I was offered a position to be the Social Media Manager for Chicago Athlete Magazine. It has been such a blessing to work for the magazine these last several months. I love doing social media for the magazine and being out at races on weekends to take pictures. I particularly enjoy the thrill of covering a triathlon and just seeing people go after their goals. It’s really inspiring.

I ran the Wisconsin Marathon, and I struggled through it to say the least. Once I got around mile 16 or so, I knew my body wasn’t exactly cooperating. By mile 18, I had a cramp in my hamstring that forced me to stop and stretch it. I knew then that my dreams of hitting my goal were over as the cramps spread to the rest of my body.

I was blessed to have two Dick Pond Fast Track teammates by my side that day. First, Joe Vukits got my started off on the right foot for the first 10K. We went out nice and easy, then he unleashed me and let me run. The support and encouragement Joe provided leading up to the marathon was huge, too.

Mark Przybyla is an incredible teammate, and he was standing out on a desolate gravel road around mile 15.5, waiting for me to come so he could run me in the rest of the way. While the cramps from an unusually warm day did me in, Mark was there to support me through it all. We had great conversation throughout, and in the last mile, him and Paul Harris ran me in. Also, Fast Trackers greeted me at the finish line with a medal.

I also have to mention my three friends from Harvest, Sarah, Liz, and Kristi, who came up there to cheer me on. I saw them for the first time at Mile 9, and they drove around in their car for the entire second half of the race even though I was in a lot of discomfort and struggling. Their support was incredible.

I cannot tell you enough how much it meant to have my Fast Track teammates as well as my family and friends there with me. None of them had to get up at insanely early time to come run with me or support me, but they did.

Then began my journey to the Chicago Marathon. It started off with a little bit of rest (not as much as I truly needed) followed by running an 8K 13 days after my marathon and the Soldier Field 10 Mile three weeks after Wisconsin. I probably shouldn’t have ran these races, but running the 8K in my neighborhood and a race that finished on the 50-yard line of Soldier Field were both pretty neat experiences.

In the early parts of the summer, I entered a drawing to win a free, customized training plan from Full Potential Running and coach Eric Wallor. I consider Eric a friend and have bounced ideas off him in the past, but when my name was pulled as one of two winners of the training plan, I was thrilled.
Eric is an extremely kind guy and also extremely knowledgeable (not to mention talented) when it comes to running. I battled some hip pain/knee issues in mid-June, but we slowly began to get after the training plan he had for me.

There were some hard weeks, but I was committed to the plan. I do not run well in the summer, and training for a marathon in the summer was just further proof to me. In addition to that, something just didn’t feel right with my body. My legs ached consistently.

Despite a few brutal long runs where I pretty much got sick, I longed for the marathon and the second Sunday in October where everything, Lord-willing, would fall into place. The thought of 45,000 runners and 1.7 million spectators excites me.

The leg pain continued. At that point, I went into a major physical and mental funk. I was no longer motivated to pound the pavement for any reason. I dreaded runs rather than looked forward to them. I didn’t see how I was getting better. I wasn’t motivated at all.

I wanted to know what was wrong with my body, in particular my lower left leg/shin area. While the heat and humidity were definitely a cause for slower splits and rougher runs, I knew there was something else that was wrong.

Over Labor Day weekend, I went up to Camp Harvest for a 20s Ministry Retreat. The Lord really spoke to me about running and that it shouldn’t be an idol in my life. It’s not wrong to enjoy and love to run, but I had been putting way too much stock in it and became even more frustrated when I didn’t feel fully healthy. I knew that the Lord wanted me to be living for Him first rather than just worrying about this upcoming marathon.

The last 3-4 weeks, I’ve experienced some victories and some more frustrations. In terms of victories, Eric invited me out the Illinois Prairie Path in Elmhurst, a hidden gem of a path/trail, for a Sunday morning run. Not only did I enjoy the views, but I also had a good run with little pain for a change. I was able to run fast and simply enjoy running again.

I recently got a massage and two days later completed my final long run of 18 miles.

While I do not know how my body will hold up in ten days, I know some things for certain. I plan to enjoy this first Chicago Marathon experience to the fullest, regardless of how my body performs. I am extremely grateful for my family, friends, and teammates who will be cheering me on downtown on Sunday, October 11. Finally, I plan to run this race to honor my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is to him that I owe the ability to run and be able to do this.

This brings me to the final reason I am running this race. My first marathon, the Wisconsin Marathon in 2014, I was able to raise funds to help support the rebuilding effort of Washington, Illinois, a town devastated by a huge tornado in November of 2013.

While I know I am way behind in the fundraising game and most charities for the marathon have already finished their fundraising campaigns, I still have the desire to bless people in any way I can. This is why I will now begin raising money for Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago.
Breakthrough partners with those affected by poverty to build connections, develop skills and open doors of opportunity.  The ministry is located is Chicago’s East Garfield Park, a rough area of the city with very high poverty and very low opportunity. The ministry is about “restoring the broken networks of youth and families and empowering adults in the community to achieve self-sufficiency and break the cycle of poverty.”

The great part about this ministry is that God is at the core of it. I personally have had an opportunity to work with Breakthrough. Late in 2014 and early in 2015, I had the chance to lead groups of high school students from my church, Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, down to the men’s and women’s homeless shelters on Sundays. We bought groceries/fixings for a meal before we left for the city, got there and prepared a meal, and served the meal to the men and women.

It was an amazing opportunity to serve a meal to these men and women and sit down and have conversations with them. I was blessed to be able to serve in this capacity and hope to get back to Breakthrough in the near future.

With your financial support, we can bless those who need it immensely at Breakthrough. Please consider donating to this cause and praying for the lives it will touch.  I will keep this initiative going for as long as needed in order to get the funding where it needs to go.

If you are interested in donating to this cause, please call, text, or Facebook message me about how you can do so.

I am really excited for the Chicago Marathon! It’s the month of October already, and the race is nearly here. The race weekend festivities are going to be incredible. I cannot wait to run through the streets of Chicago to 1.7 million cheering spectators and have the support of my family, friends, and Fast Track teammates. 

Everybody has a story and journey of how they make it to the starting line of the Chicago Marathon. Mine's little messy and has been difficult, but I am going to do it. Not for my own glory. For the glory of God. For Breakthrough. For family, friends, and teammates.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

God Bless,


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chaires Chooses Biola University

PALATINE, Ill. – Harper cross country and track and field athlete Stephanie Chaires (Palatine, Ill./Christian Liberty) nearly gave up running due to a frustrating injury that wouldn't seem to go away. However, coach Jim Macnider encouraged Chaires to continue rehabbing because he saw the potential in her.

He saw potential in her to not only be a great Harper Hawk athlete, but to be good enough to get a college scholarship after Harper. Chaires finally got healthy and developed into an even better runner in her sophomore season, and because of that she will now run for Biola University in La Mirada, California.

Women's Cross  Country and Track and Field: Stephanie Chaires Biola University Signing 2015
Chaires will continue her collegiate running career at Biola University in La Mirada, California.
Biola University is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and a member of the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC). Chaires was drawn to the school for a variety of reasons.

"I heard it was a good school, so I reached out to the school and everything just fell in place," Chaires said. "I love how the school will encourage me to grow in my faith, how committed the track and field and cross country programs are, and how challenging the academics seem."

Chaires graduated from Harper with an Associate in Arts degree and will major in business with concentration on management and marketing at Biola. She plans on using that degree to either start a business, work in a health/wellness related job, or work with kids.

Chaires' list of accomplishments in her time at Harper College is a lengthy one, starting on the academics side. Chaires received an NJCAA Award for Exemplary Academic Achievement, an award given to student-athletes who have a GPA between 3.60-3.79 on a 4.00 scale. She was also an N4C Academic All-Conference student-athlete in both her years at Harper.

Athletically, she finished her Hawks track and field career this May with a strong showing at the 2015 NJCAA Division III Women's Outdoor Track & Field Championship. She placed fourth in the nation in the 1500m and fifth in the 5k and also helped the 4x400m relay team finish in fourth.

In the fall, Chaires placed 16th at the 2014 DIII Cross Country National Championships and her team took second place, best in school history. She gives credit for her success to the tandem of Macnider and assistant coach Eric Wallor.

"They were the two coaches that saw potential in me and pushed me to what I didn't think I was capable of doing," she said. "I'm blessed to have them."

Things seemed bleak last spring as Chaires sat out the entire season due to a foot injury she sustained back in the summer of 2013. She placed 23rd at the 2013 DIII Cross Country National Championships despite battling injury.

Prior to the injury, Chaires was a big part of the Hawks track and field team's success in the spring of 2013. She was a member of the 4x800m relay team that took home a national title, was a member of a fifth place 4x400m relay team, and took fourth individually in the 1500m.

Before her running career at Harper started, Chaires was a First Team All-Region midfielder for the Hawks' soccer team in 2012 and helped the team win a regional title and place sixth in the nation.
Reminiscing on her time at Harper, Chaires is grateful for her entire experience.

"I'm grateful for all my business teachers and my classes. I feel prepared academically because of the great teachers I had. Their goal is to help you succeed," she said. I don't feel anxious and feel completely prepared going into the (cross country) season, and I will most definitely miss all the amazing people and friends I have made along the way."

Opening Ceremony Set for August 24

PALATINE, Ill. – The Harper College athletic department will be hosting an opening ceremony for student-athletes to kick off the 2015-2016 school year on Thursday, Aug. 24.

The event will be held in the gymnasium in the Wellness & Sports Center (Building M) and is open to all students. The ceremony begins at 3 PM and will feature an introduction by Director of Athletics and Fitness Doug Spiwak. This year's featured keynote speaker is former Harper cross country and track and field athlete David Adler.

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: David Adler 2014

Adler, who was featured in last summer's Harper College Alumni Spotlight series, competed for the Hawks in 1973 and 1974. After graduating from Harper, he received an athletic scholarship to Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago and ran cross country for the school.

Following his time at Northeastern, he spent 14 years in the hotel business in food service and served two presidents as well as a number of famous athletes. He currently works as a GM in the food service industry in Phoenix, Arizona and also stays active in the sport of running to this day.

Men’s Soccer Tryouts Being Held August 3-7

PALATINE, Ill. – The Harper College men's soccer team is holding tryouts beginning  Monday, August 3 for those interested in playing for the fall 2015 team.

Here are the tryout dates/times:

Monday, August 310 AM-12 PM
Tuesday, August 410 AM-12 PM
Wednesday, August 510 AM-12 PM
Thursday, August 610 AM-12 PM
Friday, August 710 AM-12 PM

After the tryout on Friday, August 7, the team will likely be finalized.

All interested student-athletes will need a current physical and must have it completed prior to tryouts. The paperwork can be picked up in the Athletics office in M Building (M219) or found here: Athletic Physical Packet Student Checklists. Interested student-athletes can also fill out the Prospective Athlete Form.

Men's Soccer: Juan Hernandez 2014
The Harper College men's soccer team will hold tryouts beginning Monday, August 3. (Jim Cummins)
Please contact head coach Dan Klaus ( or 847-925-6467) for more information.

The Hawks finished with an 8-6-2 record in 2014 in Klaus' first year as the head coach. Harper finished as the runner-up to Rock Valley College in the Region IV Tournament. This year, the Hawks open regular season play on Tuesday, August 25 at College of DuPage.

Chaires, Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Honored by NJCAA

PALATINE, Ill. – Harper women's cross country and track and field student-athlete Stephanie Chaires (Palatine, Ill./Christian Liberty) and the Harper College women's outdoor track and field team received honors for their academic success during the 2014-2015 school year.

Women's Track and Field: Team Photo 2015
Chaires (bottom row, middle) and the Harper College women's outdoor track and field team received honors for their 2014-2015 academic success. (Jim Cummins)
Chaires received an NJCAA Award for Exemplary Academic Achievement. This award is given to student-athletes who have a GPA between 3.60-3.79 on a 4.00 scale.

The women's outdoor track and field team earned NJCAA 2014-2015 All-Academic Team Distinction for maintaining a team GPA above 3.0.

Women’s Soccer Practices Start August 3

PALATINE, Ill. – For those interested in playing on the fall 2015 Harper College women's soccer team, the team will begin practicing on Monday, August 3 at 2 PM.

Women's Soccer: Kristen Serviss 2014
The Harper College women's soccer team starts practicing Monday, August 3. (Jim Cummins)
All-interested student-athletes will need a current physical and must have it completed prior to practicing. The paperwork can be picked up in the Athletics office in M Building (M219) or found here: Athletic Physical Packet Student Checklists Interested student-athletes can also fill out the Prospective Athlete Form

Please contact head coach Dwayne Cruz ( or 224-381-2832) for more information.

Women’s Basketball Signs Five Incoming Players, Six Returners

PALATINE, Ill. – The Harper College women's basketball program bolstered its team for the 2015-16 season by signing a five-player recruiting class. Additionally, the Hawks had six returning players who signed their NJCAA Letters of Intent to play another season for Harper.  

The incoming group of players who signed their Letters of Intent includes: Mary Saitta (Hoffman Estates), Jaclyn Stroud (Ridgewood), Ayana Johnson (Normal Community ), Sarah Lucansky (Jacobs), and Jasmine Munoz (Dundee-Crown).

Women's Basketball: Recruit Signings 2015
The Harper College women's basketball team signed a five-player recruiting class and had six returners sign to play another season for the Hawks. (Bill Smith)
Saitta was a three-year letter winner in basketball and played for coach Mike Koester. She captained the team in 2014 and 2015 and earned Daily Herald All-Area Honorable Mention. Finally, she has ability as an outside shooter, as she competed in the 3-point contest at the regional and sectional level in 2013 and 2014. Saitta also competed in track and field for two years and was a sectional medalist.

Stroud brings a wealth of high school experience to the table. She was a four-year letter winner for the Rebels under coach Amanda Timothy. She also earned All-Conference honors twice, and her team won the regional crown in 2012. Additionally, she was voted Team MVP all four years and holds school records for most points in a game, most points in a season, and most 3-pointers. Stroud also played softball for a year at Ridgewood.

Johnson comes from a Normal Community program coached by Marcus Mann. In her time with the Ironmen, Johnson earned a Scholar Athlete and Sportsmanship Award.

Lucansky was a four-year letter winner for the Eagles who played for coach Joe Benoit, and she won a Sportsmanship Award. Lucansky also competed for the Jacobs track and field and tennis teams.

Munoz played for the Cougars and won a Sportsmanship Award. She also competed on the track and field team.

The six returning players who signed their Letters of Intent include: Kim Herzog (/Buffalo Grove), Ashonte Sims (/Normal Community West), Lane Winkler (Arlington Heights, Ill./Rolling Meadows), Nastia Solsaa (/Menomonie ), Sarah Nelson (/Warren Township ), and Shannon Koch (/Prospect).

Herzog ran the point guard position for Harper during the 2014-15 season and started 28 games. The 5-foot-3 guard was second on the team in scoring at 9.8 points per game (PPG) while averaging 4.0 rebounds per game (RPG) and 4.0 assists per game (APG). Herzog scored a season-high 27 points in a home contest against Wilbur Wright College.

Sims played in all 29 games for the Hawks as a freshman and made 28 starts.  The 5-foot-8 forward averaged 9.0 PPG and 6.2 RPG while logging 37.7 minutes per game.  Sims notched a season-high 18 points at Oakton Community College and reached double figures scoring 13 times.

Winkler was a staple in the Hawks' lineup, starting all 29 games for the team. The 5-foot-6 guard averaged 7.2 PPG and 7.1 RPG (second on team) in 38.5 minutes per game and scored a season-high 18 points in a win over College of DuPage. She also led the team in 3-pointers made with 43.

Solsaa started nine games for the Hawks before an injury ended her season. The 5-foot-3 guard averaged 9.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 3.3 APG in those contests and scored a season-high 14 points two times.

Nelson began playing for Harper at the beginning of the spring semester and appeared in 15 games, making 14 starts. The 5-foot-4 guard averaged 4.1 PPG and 2.6 RPG in 37.1 minutes per game. She scored a season-high 12 points and hit four 3-pointers at Wilbur Wright College.

Koch played in 27 games for the Hawks, making nine starts. The 5-foot-5 guard made her biggest contributions on the defensive end throughout the season while logging 19.5 minutes a game.