Jacquie Huben of McGuire Development Company joyfully breaks the finish-line tape held by Buffalo Mayor Brown (left) and David Mauricio of the Buffalo Public Schools.

They say summer doesn’t officially arrive until June 21, but it came nearly a week early in this Western New York City.

Beach weather descended upon Delaware Park for the 37th running of the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge in Buffalo – temperatures in the 80’s, mostly clear skies, comfortable breezes.  And a near-record crowd of 12,508 entrants from 359 companies came out to celebrate.

“We have participated in the Corporate Challenge for years.  Our employees love the opportunity to spend time together outside of the workplace,” said Tracey Miller of New Era Cap Company, a proud Buffalo-based company. “We have an amazing hospitality tent and provide a shuttle to and from the race for employees’ convenience.  It really is a great time.”

Over 300 companies took hospitality space within the brilliantly green Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park and all the Buffalo television stations were there to chronicle the action.  The Corporate Challenge is part of the landscape in Buffalo.

“The staff that helps coordinate participation in the Corporate Challenge has a pretty easy time of it,” noted Megan Hoare of NOCO Energy. “We have several employees that just wait for the yearly registration notification and sign up right away.  With the active element of the event, along with the notion that you’re supporting a helpful and local cause, our employees are quick to join Team NOCO.”

Out on the race course, Jacquie Huben of McGuire Development Company and Ridge Robinson of Bryant & Stratton College were the first-place individual champions in the women’s and men’s divisions, respectively.  Both were visiting the Corporate Challenge winners’ circle for the first time.

“I had never done a road race before,” Huben told Budd Bailey of the Buffalo News moments after crossing the finish line.  “I ran cross country and track in high school and college (locally at Clarence and Geneseo, respectively). I didn’t know what to expect.  I started out a little fast.  I just tried to join in with a big pack of guys and hang as long as I could and see what I had.”

Once in the moment, Huben’s athletic ability kicked in.  The 2016 NCAA Division III champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, Huben ended up being a comfortable winner in 21:45 over the 3.5-mile Delaware Park course.  Mary Giza of Lancaster Central School District was second in 22:18 and Jillian Kosinski of Excelsior Orthopaedics was third in 22:44.

For Robinson in the men’s race, it was a case of keeping a promise.  Even if it took a little longer than expected.

“Last year I told them at work that I was going to win it for Bryant & Stratton, and I got second overall,” Robinson told Bailey with a smile. “They never let me live it down, but they were all super-supportive this whole year.  They have been awesome to me.  The work schedule there allows me to (train) for this.”

Robinson ran collegiately at Ohio University and coached at Buffalo State.  He set a goal for himself to run 18 minutes flat in the race, and came real close.

“When I got to the starting line, I was a nervous wreck,” he said to Bailey. “I went out too fast, but I held tough and made it through the race.”

Robinson’s winning time of 18:05 left him with no challenge at the finish line.  Runner-up Robert Swick of Watts Architecture was second in 19:08, with Ryan Bierl of Moog third in 19:28.

Wegmans Food Markets easily had the largest number of participants, registering a massive 707.  Nine other companies entered 150 or more employees, including Ingram Micro (532 total entrants), Tops Markets (384), Kaleida Health (325), Fidelis Care (283), HSBC (277), Buffalo Public Schools (176), M&T Bank (169), Elderwood Administrative Services (166), and Citigroup (150).

Michele Mehaffy, Consumer Affairs Manager for Wegmans, explained the thoughtful methods used by the grocery chain in encouraging its employees to sign up for the Corporate Challenge.

“Wegmans Food Markets has a commitment to helping our employees live healthier, better lives, and it’s important to provide them with opportunities like this,” Mehaffy said. “We’ve created ‘Get Moving’ teams in each of our stores, where those employees wear their race shirts, and make it easy to sign up runners, stopping by each department with their iPads and registering them on the spot.  We also allow employees to train for the race through a program with a running coach.  The group meets twice a week for eight weeks to get employees ready to run, even if they’ve never been a runner before.”

JPMorgan Chase donated in celebration of the Corporate Challenge to the Strong Community Schools initiative of the Buffalo Public Schools system under the New Education Bargain with Students and Parents.  The donation will be ear-marked for the 13 strategically-placed Community Schools throughout the second-largest urban school system in New York state.  Designated Community Schools are open to everyone on evenings and Saturdays to build bridges between families and communities, leading to improved student learning, increased parent involvement, and healthier communities.

Emphasizing the partnership, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and David Mauricio from the Buffalo Public Schools greeted the runners at the finish line.

With summer indeed arriving in the Northern Hemisphere, the 41st year of the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Series takes a short break for rest and relaxation.  The Series resumes on Wednesday, July 5 with the first of two nights of competition and camaraderie in London’s Battersea Park.