Thanks to entrants like this and amazing company captains, Chicago is now top of the charts as the largest single-night J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge ever held in the United States.

During a typically relentless Midwest winter, Jenny Murtz eagerly looks forward to the opening of registration for the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge.

“It represents the glimmer of hope that summer might really come to Chicago,” Murtz said. “It’s our light at the end of the winter tunnel.”

Indeed, the Corporate Challenge has become one of Chicago’s most-anticipated spring events – a true harbinger of the celebratory days of summer ahead.  Positioned perfectly on the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend for the last 14 years, the event has more than doubled in size, and now has become historic nationwide.

A total of 27,175 runners and walkers from 620 Chicagoland companies descended on Grant Park this evening, making the 36th edition of the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge in Chicago the largest single-night Corporate Challenge ever held in the United States.  The only Corporate Challenge city in the world – and there are 13 of them in seven countries – to boast larger crowds is Frankfurt.  The German city holds the all-time attendance record with 73,719 entrants on June 11, 2008.

Chicago’s success is because of hard-working captains like Murtz, who efficiently organize employees and generate excitement for a 3.5-mile road race that promotes workplace fitness, camaraderie and teamwork.

“Anixter has been participating in the Corporate Challenge for more than 20 years.  It’s a tradition we are proud to be a part of,” Murtz explained. “We celebrate 60 years in business this year and we are excited to celebrate our anniversary in Grant Park and share our excitement with the business community in Chicago.”

Murtz organized an impressive Anixter team of 111 entrants.  The record-breaking crowd was fueled by these large companies: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (962 entrants), CDW (417), Capital One (368), United Airlines (356), TransUnion (334), Morningstar (300), Molex (297), Wintrust Financial (250), Citadel (245), and Crate & Barrel (235).

Bob Holzer, company captain for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, has created a dynasty of sorts.  For over 10 years, BCBSIL has had the largest team in the event, outside of event owner and operator J.P. Morgan, which this year had a staggering 2,535 entrants.  Holzer said the Corporate Challenge is a perfect fit for the BCBSIL mission.

“For more than 80 years, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois has been committed to improving the health of our communities, and the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge is a great way for our leaders and employees to ‘walk the talk’ and lead by example,” Holzer said. “For our team, this event is about fitness, but also so much more.  It’s about celebrating the wonderful city we call home.”

Building a team of nearly 1,000 employees can’t be done in a vacuum, and Holzer got some great help this year from senior colleagues.

“Our Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Nazneen Razi, and our Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Steve Betts, acted as our event champions, encouraging employees to get involved,” Holzer said. “We also have a core group of employees that led the planning efforts, taking care of all logistics, coordinating volunteers for race day, managing t-shirt orders and, best of all, the post-event party!”

Ah, the party.  More than 400 companies pitched hospitality tents throughout Grant Park and celebrated their achievement as the Chicago skyline glistened in the background.

Sue Skarbek, company captain for CME Group, noted that her company’s hospitality tent had a bit of a spa feel to it, with a masseuse provided to “Help runners work out some of their sore muscles before and after running.

“At CME Group, wellness is a big part of our culture,” Skarbek, who registered 157 colleagues, noted. “The Corporate Challenge is a great fitness-focused event that supports that emphasis on wellness.  We link it to our ‘Race for a Reason’ wellness challenge, and employees receive points for participating.  Many of our employees run the race year after year and clearly enjoy the friendly competition and camaraderie.  They’re great ambassadors and keep spreading the word and growing our team in Chicago, as well (at Corporate Challenge events) in New York, London and Singapore.”

It was a beautiful night to run – race-time temperatures in the high 50’s with clear skies and light winds, and proved to be very much to the liking of Brandon Mull and Chirine Njeim.

Mull, running for TransMarket Group, earned his third consecutive Chicago J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge title, breaking the Balbo Avenue finish-tape in 17:16.  Bobby Hartnett repeated his 2016 runner-up status in 17:29 with Kevin Hejtmanek of The Burke Group third with a time of 17:35.

Njeim, an employee at Livongo Health, is one of the most unique, decorated athletes to ever compete in the Corporate Challenge. She has competed in four Olympics for Lebanon – the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Winter Games in Alpine Skiing, the 2016 Summer Olympics in the Marathon.  Now she is a two-time Corporate Challenge women’s champion.

Njeim won her first Corporate Challenge title last May, months before leaving to compete in the Rio de Janeiro, clocking a 20:15.  She improved markedly this year, crossing the line in 19:48 (5:39 pace).  She defeated second-place finisher Heather Prekop of Euromonitor International (20:52) and bronze medalist Erica van Heerden of Exelon (21:16). 

For the fourth consecutive year, J.P. Morgan celebrated the Corporate Challenge by donating to Get IN Chicago, a collaborative effort dedicated to reducing youth violence through funding, research and systems change.

“Currently, we are launching Strengthening Youth through a Network of Care (SYNC), an initiative designed to provide supportive services to acutely high-risk youth in seven Chicago communities hardest hit by violence,” said Dr. Toni Irving, Executive Director, Get IN Chicago. “Funds donated from J.P. Morgan will help us continue coordinating SYNCE case management, mentoring, and cognitive behavioral therapy programs and partnerships with juvenile justice agencies to ensure our highest-risk young people receive the support they need for success.”

It's on to New York City for two nights of racing next Wednesday, May 31 and Thursday, June 1 as the 41st season of the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge Series continues.  Central Park will host the events, just like it did on July 13, 1977 – the night of the first-ever Corporate Challenge.  Only 200 hardy souls took part that night.  And look what it has become, with more than 27,000 in Chicago.