Buffalo and beautiful Delaware Park were at their best as the 38th running of the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge in the Queen City set a city record for overall attendance.

Thirty-eight years old, Buffalo, and you’ve never looked better.

The 38th running of the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge in Delaware Park produced the largest crowd in the history of the event – 14,145 runners and walkers from 391 companies.  And that throng was treated to blue skies, conditions perfect for 3.5-miles of fitness, and the best after-work party in the Queen City.

The crowd was 13-percent larger than the 2017 gathering and begs the question: Why does Buffalo, the second-oldest event in the Corporate Challenge Series behind New York (42 years) continue to grow?

The motivation to many companies is networking – inside and outside the workplace – and the lure of a great night out.

“It is a team building experience like no other as being outside the workplace strengthens personal relationships and friendship amongst our stakeholders,” said Robin O’Brien, team captain for Try-It Distributing, a distributor of beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages.

“Paul Vukelic, our President/CEO, has participated annually,” O’Brien, who registered 39 colleagues, continued.  “We invite every full-time stakeholder to join us and Try-It pays all expenses including our barbecue dinner.”

Another reason for the surge in entries is because Buffalo enjoys a high retention rate among participating companies, including global food service and hospitality company Delaware North, which has taken part for more than 30 years.  And this year, it used the Corporate Challenge to celebrate its own growth in the region.

“We’re excited this year to field a team with associates from not only our global headquarters here in downtown Buffalo, but also from our operating locations throughout Western New York,” said Marc Heintzman, Delaware North’s team captain. “We have more than 3,400 associates throughout the region, so the Corporate Challenge is a great opportunity for our local associates to participate in the event and engage with one another. It’s terrific for team building, good spirited competition and greater associate engagement. Every Delaware North race participant is treated as if they have crossed the finish line first.”

Wegmans was the largest of the 391 companies, bringing an impressive 620 of its employees to Delaware Park.  And there were several other huge supporting organizations.  Ingram Micro registered 518, Kaleida Health 408, the Buffalo Public Schools 366, Fidelis Care 293, and Elderwood 256.

That eclectic group of companies is another illustration for success.  The Buffalo event is all-inclusive for every industry.  It’s truly a coming-together of the full workforce.

“Elderwood has multiple health care communities across Western New York and participating in the Corporate Challenge is a great way for our staff to come together as a combined team, to support each other and the community and catch up with friends from other buildings,” said Anna Bojarczuk-Foy, team captain for Elderwood. “And as one of the first big outdoor events of the season, Corporate Challenge is a great way to start the summer!”

The celebration of summer was front of mind for the dozens of Western New York school districts that took part.  The Buffalo Public Schools, for instance, more than doubled its participation this year – from 176 in 2017 to 366.

“This year we really tried to spark interest among staff who have never done a race,” said Angela Cullen, Principal at the Bennett Community School Campus. “We met with each school's Wellness Coordinator, shared information on how to prepare for a race and encouraged schools to start running or walking clubs.  We wanted everyone to feel welcome, whether they are walking, jogging, or running.

“Since the race comes right at the end of the school year,” Cullen continued, “We look at this as a way for staff to celebrate the end of the year and spend time with their colleagues outside of school - after the race we have great food, music and dancing under our tent.”

Celebrating also on this night were a pair of first-time J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge champions.

The first-place men’s finisher was Alex Simon, representing Erie County Medical Center.  He covered the 3.5-mile course in 18:35 (5:18 pace). Nick Masiello from Wegmans was second in 18:58 and Jay List of Diamond Cutters of WNY was third in 19:00.

The winning woman finisher was Kim Vona of Western Regional Off-Track Betting (Batavia Downs).  Her winning time was 20:22 (5:49 pace).  The runner-up was Kelsey Gratien of Univera Healthcare, with a time of 21:01.  Third was Mary Giza from Lancaster Central School District in 21:50.

The beneficiary for the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge is the event’s long-time host – the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, celebrating 150 Years of Olmsted in Buffalo. Corporate Challenge entrants will see the impact of their run throughout the year, as the Olmsted Parks Conservancy will use the donation from J.P. Morgan for maintenance, turf improvements, trail enhancements, playground surfacing, and the general care of the park.

Bringing a huge event like the Corporate Challenge into Delaware Park raises tremendous awareness for the good work of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.  And it also provides an opportunity for other businesses to showcase their alliances.

For instance, Kathy Gregoire, team captain for Erie County Medical Center, was proud to have her team partnered with others in the healthcare field.

“Although we maintain our autonomy when registering runners, ECMC, Kaleida Health and UBMD Physicians’ Group celebrate our unique partnership at the Corporate Challenge under the Great Lakes Health Systems banner,” said Gregoire. “This year we will have approximately 700 runners donning our team t-shirts, running the race and toasting our partnership.”  Not to mention Simon’s win in the men’s race.

The 42nd year of the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Series now moves on to Boston.  Next Thursday, June 21, a sold-out crowd of approximately 9,000 Beantown runners will share the stage with the best full-time working runners in the world, as Boston also hosts the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Championship, featuring the first-place men’s, women’s and mixed teams from 13 cities and seven countries.