||In a series of stories leading to the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge Championship in Johannesburg on March 4, teams from Chicago are profiled. Above, Christina Overbeck wins at Chicago to help her Sargent & Lundy team (inset) to victory.
Chicago's top teams share excitement
of testing their talent at Championship
CNA runners set a pace at Chicago in May that resulted in four of its teams finishing in the top 5 in their categories (below).
CHICAGO, December 9, 2009 — The three teams that will represent Chicago in the first JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge Championship held outside of the United States share stories with common themes that go to the heart of why the world's largest corporate running series has not only endured, but thrived, in its 34 years.
By winning team titles at the Chicago's Corporate Challenge last May, General Electric, CNA and Sargent & Lundy earned trips to Johannesburg, South Africa, where they will compete with the best corporate teams from five continents on March 5.
The first, and most obvious, thread tying the teams together is the striking talent they share.
General Electric surged to the Male team title in Chicago on the strength of a winning 17:05 effort from Todd Ptacek and a 17:44 third-place finish by David Wheeler. Sargent & Lundy got the majority of its three-minute winning margin in the Mixed team category from individual Chicago women's champion Christina Overbeck. And CNA won its fifth Women's team title at Chicago in the last seven years.
The two individual champions — Ptacek and Overbeck — came to corporate running after hugely successful college careers in running. ”
Ptacek, a systems engineer for GE Transportation, began running in the seventh grade and went on to Notre Dame, where he competed in cross country and track. He earned All-American honors in the steeplechase in 2007 and just missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Overbeck ran cross country and track for Calvin College, where she was an All American. She also holds the school record at 10,000 meters. Now active in the Chicago running community, she won the Overall Female Chicago Area Runners Association award this past season
But true success in the Corporate Challenge takes more than talent. It also takes being a team and enjoying the unique out-of-the-office camaraderie that the series promotes. That, too, is shared by these three teams.
“One might think that GE's greatest asset is the size of our company,” said Amy Horst, the company's long-time captain. “I feel, though, that it's the unique family feeling that we have amongst our running team. There is a great feeling in performing well while representing GE, but also to be able to reconnect with great friends.”
Wheeler, whose sub-18 minute effort was a key to GE's latest victory at Chicago, put it another way.
“The best thing about corporate running has to be the friendships you make,” he said. “Going to work is more fun when you have friends you can run and chat with. The GE Running team and corporate running in general has made me a happier, healthier, and more efficient GE employee.”
Added teammate Matthew Edwards: “We've established a good tradition and that builds upon itself. There is a lot of camaraderie among the GE Runners, which provides motivation to make time for training and getting to events.”
Likewise, Marie-Eve Vesel, an assistant vice president and actuary at CNA, says her company's Corporate Challenge team played a major role in helping her reach her potential as an athlete. She started running in 2001, she said, but didn't have great success until she teamed with fellow workers during CNA's lunch time workouts.
Talent and teamwork: Todd Ptacek wins in Chicago in 17:05, left. In right photo, David Wheeler, third at Chicago, hands off to Ptacek in a track event.
“With the help of the CNA running team, I learned how to train for various distance races and got into speed workouts,” said Vesel, who soon branched out to longer races such as marathons, started cycling and swimming, and eventually entered triathlons. She was part of the CNA team that competed in the Corporate Challenge Championship in New York in 2003, but then put running on the back-burner for several years because of the birth of two daughters.
“It's hard to get back to the level I was at pre-motherhood,” she said. “Camaraderie from the CNA running team was key in motivating me to run again.”
Now that they're headed for Johannesburg, the teams share another common thread. They all want to do as well as possible against the 33 other top corporate teams, and then experience some of the unique attractions of South Africa.
“The whole team is looking forward for a brief escape from the cold, windy Chicago winters,” said Sargent & Lundy's Robert Young. “The team is also looking forward for the chance to enjoy the natural beauty of the area and wildlife and to sample local cuisine.”
That will be a long, welcome journey for Sargent & Lundy, whose staff is predominately professional engineers, designers, and technical specialists who specialize in providing professional services for electric power and energy intensive clients. The company traces its roots to 1891, when electrical engineer Ayres Lundy teamed with mechanical engineer Frederick Sargent, a top associate of Thomas Edison, to found the firm.
Sargent & Lundy's engineers also happen to be fast runners. Overbeck, for instance, is a mechanical associate in the Fossil Power Technologies business group at Sargent & Lundy. She is joined by Young, a marathon coach for Team in Training and an active marathoner/triathlete in the Chicago area; Ashleigh Brubaker, who ran high school track and cross country and became an avid runner in college; and Mike Marohl, a fixture in Chicago-area races throughout the year.
Championship is a "once in a lifetime opportunity and honor" for CNA
At CNA, company captain Angelina Anliker says that the trip to South Africa for her and her team “is a once in a lifetime opportunity and an honor.”
It is especially gratifying for Anliker because she didn't start running until she joined CNA in 2002 and was talked into running with some of her CNA co-workers during a regular lunch-hour run. She found a hidden passion, and since has completed marathons in Chicago, New York, Paris, Boston and South Bend. Her personal best marathon time came in Paris in 2009 where she was the 28th woman in a time of 3:00:38.
Now, her passion for running will be taking her all the way to South Africa.
“We have all had the privilege of racing in the Championship in New York City, so it will be fun to run a different course. It is also a very humbling experience when competing against the world's best corporate runners. A few of us plan to travel with our families and visit other areas of the country. Trips to Cape Town and Kruger National Park have been planned,” she said.
Accompanying Anliker will be Vesel; CNA attorney Carolyn Null-Anderson, who, like Vesel, credits CNA's facilities and encouragement with her ability to stay in good shape as a working mom with two children; and Cindy Traczyk, a senior vice president and actuary at CNA.
The story is much the same at GE, which has a long history of competing in the Championship.
Joining Ptacek, Wheeler and Edwards on the South African-bound team is Tim Donahugh, a design center manger for GE Healthcare.
“I think the team is thrilled to have the opportunity to fly to South Africa and compete,” said Ptacek. “Although several of us are at different locations we keep in touch and continue to be motivated to train. We're thankful for the chance to compete and we'll be sure to give all we have in Johannesburg.”
Visit www.jpmorganchasecc.com often in December, January and February as we provide a feature look at the participating companies from each city.