Today is the day that the Illinois Marathon weekend is descends upon Champaign-Urbana. Some may be slighly irritated by this massive event, as streets all through Champaign and Urbana are blocked to accommodate the thousands of runners who will hit the pavement in 4 different races. However, there’s no denying that it has a huge economic impact on our area, and has really become a pretty giant deal over it’s 9 years of existence. Runner or not, it’s hard not get wrapped up in the excitement...so many people coming together to achieve something whether it be as a volunteer, runner, or just a spectator cheering on the throngs as they run by (as you secretly smile and sip your coffee since you’re not the one huffing and puffing).

Some of these runners are in the race for more than just exercise and personal glory, they're supporting a local charity as well. Participants this year could choose from 16 different organizations, then register as a fundraiser for their chosen charity. Here are just a few of C-U's “Runners with a Cause”:

Runner: Beth Peralta

Occupation: Registered Dietition and Media Communications Specialist for University of Illinois Extension's Illinois Nutrition Education Programs

Race: Mini-I Challenge (5K and 10K).  “I've run a race nearly every year since the Illinois Marathon began -- took off two years when I had my children. I did the same Challenge last year! I love Illinois Marathon weekend and look forward to it every year.”

Charity: Eastern Illinois Foodbank

“I've worked my entire life after college as a registered dietitian and had many clients who utilized food pantries and needed assistance to have enough food in their homes to feed their families. I have seen how much that means to someone -- to know that there is someone there who cares, will help them through a tough time. I now work with the Illinois Nutrition Education Programs with University of Illinois Extension, and we provide high-quality nutrition education to families all across the state, many of whom are food insecure. I see the impact every day that nutritious foods can have on a family. When students have enough to eat and they are not hungry, they have much more energy and focus at school. The Eastern Illinois Food Bank was a natural partner for me in fundraising for the race.”

Personal Goal: “I've been struggling with some knee issues in training for this race -- I am happy to simply finish this year!”

Runner: Sarah Spizzirri

Occupation: Foot and Ankle surgeon at Christie Clinic

Race: The Half I Challenge (5k and half marathon). “This will be my third Christie Clinic half marathon but the sixth year I have participated.”

Charity: God's Littlest Angels Haitian baby ministry in Fort Jacques, Haiti (founded by former Monticello residents)

“Last year I had the amazing honor of spending one week at GLA with 11 remarkable women through That’s What She Said. The trip was truly life-changing. Dixie and John Bickel, the founders of GLA, as well as all the missionaries and volunteers every day affect the lives of orphans in Haiti And serve the Haitian community that they live in. In a country where there is often times very little hope, GLA offers hope for a prosperous future for these children. GLA holds a special place in my heart and there is not a day that goes by where I do not think about them, their work and the children's lives they affect. The ministry is solely funded through donations and their need is always great. Every single dollar that can be sent to GLA goes towards saving the lives of these children.”

Personal goal: "Well...let's just say I am not a profession runner...lol..but I always aim to beat my times from last year."

Runner: Dave Sherwood

Occupation:  Retired University of Illinois Professor of Physiology

Race: 10K. "This will be my sixth year of participation in an Illinois Marathon event.  In the past I have run a 5K, two 10Ks and two half marathons."

Charity: Prairie Rivers Network

“The availability of abundant clean water is essential for all plant and animal life.  Additionally, humans use water for energy production, transportation, manufactoring and many forms of recreation.  Prairie Rivers Network plays a major role in protecting the rivers and lakes in Illinois for the present and future generations.”

Personal Goal: "At age 81, I expect to finish well up in my age group if a pulse can be detected after crossing the finishing line!"

Runner: Sheila Gillette

Occupation: Nurse Practitioner

Race: Mini I Challenge- 5K & 10 K. "I walked the 1/2 marathon several years ago, then ran the 10K for 2 years, got injured and was on the Medical Team one year, then ran the 5K for 2 years and now trying 2 races."

Charity: Family Services of Champaign County

"I am on the Board of this wonderful organization that offers Meals on Wheels, counseling for families, investigates Elder Abuse, helps educate divorcing parents on how to help their children, has a senior resource center and offers rides for seniors to their medical appointments. My cancer patients benefit from the rides."

Personal goal: "To finish both races."

Runners: Emma Flosi and the members of Kappa Alpha Theta

Occupation: Student, Service and Philanthropy Director for Kappa Alpha Theta

Race(s): 5K and half marathon. "This year, our sorority has teamed up with the Illinois Marathon for our Spring Philanthropy, and our entire freshman class will be participating in the 5k.  Many other girls in our house will be participating in or attending the 5k and the half-marathon to support our friends and spread awareness for our charity."

Charity:  CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates)

"CASA is important to all of the members of Kappa Alpha Theta.  For years, we have dedicated our philanthropic events to supporting and raising money for this amazing organization.  We focus our efforts on the Champaign County CASA, which hits close to home for all of us.  We feel that we are truly making a difference in the community that we live in while we are here at the University of Illinois."

Personal goal:  "Our goal is that we spread awareness about CASA to the community.  We will be holding signs with facts about our charity while our friends and family participate in the races."

Runners: The Marching Illini Sousaphones (plus some piccolo players, trumpet players, drum majors, and more...over 40 band members. Throw in Band Director Barry Houser if they reach their goal of $5000). 

Occupation: Students (and musicians)

Race: 5K (pretty sure you wouldn’t want to go any farther with a 30 lb instrument on your shoulders). “This is the third annual ‘Sousaphone 5K’.  A few years ago, a former member of our section had the idea that the section should hold some kind of 5K fundraiser where we would run a race with our horns on. Two years ago, in 2015, our inaugural group of 11 sousaphone members and alumni ran in the event, and we raised over $2,500.  After seeing how successful the first year was, we knew we needed to "up" our game last year.  We asked our director, Professor Barry L. Houser, to join us, and he said he would, on the condition that we raised $5,000 for charity.  Last year, we exceeded that goal and ended up raising over $5,600 for charity.”

Charity: Crisis Nursery

“We chose the Crisis Nursery because we strongly support their mission to create an island of safety dedicated to helping children who are neglected by providing 24-hour emergency care and their goal to prevent child abuse. Lastly, we have a close tie at the Crisis Nursery.  Stephanie Record, who is the Executive Director of Nursery is also the Head Varsity Cheerleading Coach here at the University.  We are big fans of the work she does both with the team and at the nursery.  She knows our work both on and off the field and is fun to work with because she is so supportive and incredibly appreciative of our 5K endeavors.”

Personal Goal: "The goal is that everyone finishes and has a fun time. We have a number of people running in our group who do not play sousaphone and are in different sections of the band, so for these people, it might be a little more shocking to run with 30-35 pounds of metal on their shoulders!"

As a bonus...here is their official training video:

If you feel so inclined, head out to cheer on these and the thousands of runners that are taking to the streets this weekend. The 5K begins at 7:30 tonight, and the 10K, half-marathon, and marathon will start between 7:00 and 7:30 Saturday morning. You can find course info here.
 
To find out more about the non-profit organizations that have partnered with the Illinois Marathon, or to contribute to these or any other campaign, you can visit the Illinois Marathon fundraising page. Photos from Facebook or provided by participants.