September 22, 2015
The 25th running of the Community First Fox Cities Marathon presented by Miron Construction ended up a walk in the park.
A few of the final finishers walked instead of jogged to the finish line in Neenah’s Riverside Park where they were greeted by a clapping corridor of volunteers, including many Community First employees, who helped make it the special community event it has become.
As Cathie Tierney, Community First President/CEO, told The Post-Crescent about the end of race ritual where she hands out flower bouquets to the final finishers, completing the 26.2-mile race is an important personal achievement for all marathon participants, not just the fastest runners. It’s a small part of what makes the Community First Fox Cities Marathon – our flagship community event – a world-class but small-town experience for all.
Not long after the final race of the Guardian Kids Fun Run finished Friday night a light rain started to fall. But, the skies cleared overnight and it wound up a glorious September weekend enjoyed by about 7,000 participants, a small army of volunteers and thousands more spectators.
A few minutes prior to Sunday morning’s 7 am start, Dean Basten of presenting sponsor Miron Construction thanked the roughly 5,000 Sunday participants for being involved and wished them well. “This race is one of the true gems of the Fox Cities,” he said. “It helps bring the entire valley together through its great corporate sponsors, its awesome volunteers and all the community members that come out to help support it.”
Overall, more than 7,000 people participated in Marathon Weekend events, including 1,000 youth in the Guardian Kids Fun Run on Friday and over 1,200 in the Affinity 5K on Saturday.
“Hosting the Community First Fox Cities Marathon and 5K at Riverside Park is one of those quality of life things that just makes Neenah so cool,” said Neenah Mayor Dean Kaufert, who has also volunteered as an emergency medical technician the past few years, assisting Gold Cross Ambulance personnel. “It’s a great event. We’re glad to be part of it.”
Mason Grundy of Kaukauna and Sara Kontos Weitz of Menasha finished first in the men’s and women’s divisions, respectively, of the 25th Community First Fox Cities Marathon.
Marathon, course changes praised
“I’ve done many marathons or ultras around the country and a few overseas, and this one ranks up there in organization, logistics, water stations, etc.,” said Doug Osterberg, 57, Menasha, a member of the 50 States Marathon Club with 135 marathons overall. “I personally liked the new course, as it had more residential and trail mileage and kept us off the busier streets. Thank you to Community First for their continued sponsorship!”
Marathoner Jorge Garcia of Glen Carbon, IL, who has run 62 marathons, had high praise for the event coordination and hospitality shown to participants. As usual, he had his iPod and headphones with him but surprisingly “never turned them on” while enjoying the scenic course, vocal volunteers and energetic spectators.
“Running through the paved trails, parks and water was very nice – much appreciated,” he said. “The aid stations were extremely helpful. I specifically enjoyed the enthusiasm of the volunteers, especially the Minions and Green Bay Packers water station crews! I also enjoyed the many bands/cheerleaders on the course.”
From the convenient expo parking, vendor lineup, 25th anniversary gift socks and beanie, shuttle buses, availability of port-a-potties and the opportunity to wait, warm up and stretch inside UW-Fox Valley prior to the race, Garcia complimented the entire weekend experience. “The finisher’s area – photo, medals, shirt, blankets, food and massage – were more than anyone can expect! Oh, let’s not forget about the 25th anniversary cake as well – delicious!! Again, thank you everyone for a great event, marathon and memorable, fun experience! Volunteers rock!”
“It was wonderful – the cheerleaders were awesome and all the fans out there were great,” said Peter Goetsch, 48, of Sun Prairie, who returned for the first time since the 1991 inaugural event. “It was really well supported and all the water stops helped. It was really well organized. I like the course. It was a great finish coming down from the trestle bridge to here.”
“The volunteer and audience participation is amazing,” said Mike Schlaak of Appleton, who ran the Half Marathon for the first time since walking it more than a decade ago. “Many of them playing music along the way or providing support through verbal encouragement, clapping or cheering. It’s hard to believe how many people are involved far beyond just those who run the course – the volunteers, the organizers, the businesses who sponsor, the police and municipal officials who secure the course. It’s a great event which benefits many areas of our community.”
Most participants enjoyed the new route with more paved trails and scenic waterfront vistas but several mentioned that a few hills provided an unexpected mid-race challenge.
“I really liked the new course,” said Brian Gruender, 40, of Appleton. “I found it challenging, fun and a welcome change.”
Inspired by co-workers
A number of Community First employees who participated in either the Half Marathon or Full Marathon Sunday credit the support of volunteers, including many CFCU co-workers, for inspiring them to finish with enthusiastic support throughout the course.
Sarah Dunbar-Hester, our assistant Darboy branch manager, finished her first ever marathon last year with a flood of emotions for her “momentous achievement.”
She had another emotional experience Sunday, completing the race with her husband, Juan, who ran his first marathon. “It’s so amazing to see everyone – there is no other high like it! I love seeing the other employees out there, so I try to know where some people are and say ‘Hi’ when I pass them,” Sarah said.
After 18 years as a race volunteer, Amy Ratliff, our Darboy branch manager, fulfilled her pledge to finally run. She completed her first Half Marathon alongside colleague Kelly Bond, who encouraged her to run.
“It was such a great day – the weather, the spectators, the runners, the course – everything was great,” Amy said. “All of the volunteers and spectators along the course really give you that extra push to keep on going.”
Amy still volunteered afterward, too. “My favorite part of the entire weekend was being part of the group to welcome back the last marathon finisher – such a cool experience! It was great weekend!”
Kelly, our travel team MSR who ran her fourth Half Marathon, agreed. “The new course was a lot of fun and the residents who set up on their driveways and make a day of being trapped were amazing,” she said. “Getting to be a runner and see so many of your co-workers along the way also makes you appreciate what we have here at CFCU. The entire community comes together and it just shows what a great place we have the privilege of calling home.”
“It’s a real family event,” said Craig Gloudemans, CFCU accounting manager, who ran the Half Marathon. His wife and father also participated Sunday. “I think it brings the community together,” he said.
Jesse Kohn, CFCU staff accountant, had a lot of fun completing his third Half Marathon. “It’s an awesome competition,” he said. “It’s inspirational seeing all the people out on the course cheering you on and keeping you moving.”
‘This is very special’
Former Calumetville resident, Syl Groeschl had run in every Community First Fox Cities Marathon until 2014 when his streak was derailed by two hip surgeries. He came back Sunday and struggled but finished. Crossing the finish line with his wife, three daughters, and a niece was emotional as it marked his 100th and – possibly last – marathon.
“I love this course, I love this marathon,” said Syl, 62, who lives near Janesville and is a high school boys and girls cross country coach. “I’ve done marathons with 40,000 people in Chicago and Phoenix but this is still my favorite and it will always be my favorite.
“This is very special – this is the one I started with (in 1991) and I said I was going to end it here with my 100th. I was going to finish it no matter what it took. It was a real struggle but I had such a support group.”
Special Club Holds Reunion
On Saturday, 47 members of the 50 States Marathon Club held their fall reunion at UW-Fox Valley as part of the Network Health Expo. The 47 members combined have completed 8,158 marathons worldwide.
Many club members praised the event. One member, Evelyn Smith, 55, of Rockford, Ill., said afterward that it was a wonderful weekend.
“The marathon was great,” said Evelyn. “I got a little hot at the end but really enjoyed the scenery and the volunteers. I use marathons as a way to relax during the weekend and this marathon really helped me to do that. I will do this marathon again.”