Todd Ptacek greets GE teammate David Wheeler (9470) after Ptacek won the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge in Chicago in a 2008 Series-leading time of 16:03 and Wheeler was fourth in a fast 16:43. Photos by Aynsley Floyd.
The good times, and fast times, roll
in cool Chicago Corporate Challenge
Results | Photo Gallery
|Matt Gray, president of Graycor Construction, chose a Hawaiian theme for his company's tent - one of more than 500 that dotted Chicago's Grant Park. Below, some of the record crowd of 23,603 participants gets refreshments after the race.
CHICAGO, May 22, 2008 — A cool breeze whipped in off Lake Michigan, but Matt Gray, the president of Graycor Construction, couldn't have been happier to be in Grant Park in shorts, t-shirt and a Hawaiian lai.
“You see all these happy faces in this tent?” Gray said, pointing to 50 of his colleagues who had come out for the 27th annual JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge in Chicago. “This is a great morale booster. We promote wellness and we encourage our people to have fun. Participating in the Corporate Challenge each year creates a good, positive culture for our organization.”
Graycor chose a luau theme for its company tent — one of more than 500 pitched throughout the softball fields and emerald expanse of Grant Park. It was an unintended juxtaposition on a night where the unseasonable temperature barely reached 50, but it captured the spirit of a record-breaking event.
A record total of 23,603 entrants from 632 companies kicked off the long Memorial Day weekend in style with a 3.5-mile run/walk on Columbus Avenue, in the heart of downtown Chicago. Three television network affiliates captured the action as the corporate community invested in wellness and the community.
“We work right above Union Station and we love to walk down to this event every year as a group and then compete,” said Gina Elmore, company captain for Synovate, a market research firm. “Some of us run, some walk, and we're all eager about it because we know it helps a good cause.”
Elmore's CEO, Bob Skolnick, didn't have such an easy commute to the race site. Based in New York City, he flew in for the event.
“He's a big supporter of us doing this, and very much on board with us being involved in several Corporate Challenge cities — Boston, New York, even Singapore,” said Elmore.
The throng of participants bested the previous Chicago record of 22,766 set in 2007. The Corporate Challenge has grown nearly 70-percent the last five years after a move from sweltering August to a more runner-friendly May.
The football weather on this evening was appropriate as the beneficiary was Bears Care, the charitable arm of the Chicago Bears football team. The JPMorgan Chase Foundation made a donation for each entry to Bears Care, which focuses primarily on improving the quality of life for disadvantaged children and their families.
But there was more giveback to the community. The Corporate Challenge's Teaming Up For A Greener Tomorrow initiative had a measurable impact on the environment. Through online registration, thorough recycling and conscientious use of environmentally-friendly suppliers, the Corporate Challenge and its participants conserved enough energy to light Soldier Field for seven Bears home games this coming season*.
That news resonates with Mike Brossman, company captain for Bovis Lend Lease. Team Bovis ran in t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “We Work For Trees.”
“Sustainable projects have been a huge initiative for us,” Brossman said. “We're a construction company and when we work on a project the trees that are removed are recycled in parks. We wanted to design a shirt that showed what was important to us as an organization.”
Every participant had their own personal motivation at the event. Paylocity CEO Steve Sarowitz — the winner of the Most Senior Executive category in an eye-catching time of 20:20 — was running for his mother-in-law.
“Her name is Ellie Duran and she turned 65 today,” Sarowitz said. “Not only is she the best mother-in-law in the world, but she was also one of Paylocity's first employees.”
Nell Shields wins the female title in 19:09 as Staley Da Bear (mascot of the Chicago Bears) and Amy Fahey, President of Commercial Banking, Midwest Region, for Chase, do the honors of holding the finish line tape.
Just getting his career started is Todd Ptacek of General Electric. A 2007 graduate of the University of Notre Dame — where he excelled in cross country and track & field ( 1:51 in the 800, 4:04 in the mile) — Ptacek was the first overall finisher with a sterling time of 16:03, easily the fastest to date in the 2008 JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge Series. Ptacek will be a tremendous addition to the General Electric team, one of the most decorated squads in Corporate Challenge history.
On the women's side, Nell Shields of Grant Thornton, LLP — a former University of Michigan standout — successfully defended her individual title with a time of 19:09, 14 seconds faster than her effort in 2007.
“I'm coming off a bad hamstring injury I first sustained at the Chicago Marathon,” Shields said. “I took it slow with physical therapy for a while, and I'm just getting confident enough now to really let it go. It was great to run fast again.”
Shields represented DePaul University in her 2007 win. This time she wore the colors of her new employer, Grant Thornton, and had a large handful of her colleagues with her at the awards stage.
“That's the great thing about this race,” Shields said. “You're not just running for yourself. You can make your whole company proud.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois won the largest participation category with 662 entrants. Those numbers — along with the passion displayed by the entire community — brought a lot of pride to Amy Fahey, President Commercial Banking Midwest Region for Chase, and the host of the evening.
“This is one of the ways that we can show how committed we are to this city,” Fahey said. “It's thrilling to see what an important part of the landscape this event is.”
* - Energy measurement provided by ERG, official environmental advisor for the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge Series.