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Vanessa Martell wins the female title at the 2008 JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge at Rochester, while Jeff Beck holds off Neal Holtschulte to win the male race by one second in a fast time of 17:11. Photos by Joe Rosen.

18th annual Corporate Challenge features
record crowd, tight race, good times
Photo Gallery | Results

Part of the record crowd of 11,135 winds through some of the 300 corporate tents at Rochester Institute of Technology.

ROCHESTER, May 29, 2008 — The 18th annual JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge here in the Flower City of Western New York had a little bit of everything.

There was a record crowd of 11,135 participants, the closest-ever finish in the men's division, and more hot dogs and burgers consumed than at your typical Fourth of July celebration on Coney Island. All of this in absolutely ideal conditions for either racing or walking 3.5 miles.

“This is Rochester 's biggest office party of the year,” said Bob Ryan, President of Middle Market Banking for JPMorgan Chase. “It's hard to comprehend sometimes how this event has grown.”

Rochester is indeed a tremendous success story in the Corporate Challenge Series. It began humbly with 816 participants at Highland Park in 1991. On this night, the expansive Rochester Institute of Technology campus was bursting with 442 companies, more than 300 of which took tented hospitality space.

In fact, Rochester has the best “per capita” participation rate in the worldwide Series. One of every 19.3 city residents (based on a U.S. census figure of 215,093) take part in this event. For comparison sake, New York City 's per capita number is 232.65.

“It's a celebration that the young and the old, the fast and the slow can take part in,” said Bob Swarthout, a compliance engineer for Redcom Labs. “I love it because there will be people out there that I can actually beat.

“It's also wonderful that our boss signs the check for the event. The company picks up the tab for registration, our tent, the food, everything. Who wouldn't want to take part in an event like that?”

There was a celebration of community and the environment within the RIT boundaries. The JPMorgan Chase Foundation made a donation for each entry to two worthy not-for-profits — RIT's Environmental Science program and the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired - Goodwill. The latter will be using its donation to launch an aggressive recycling program.

All three winning designs in the t-shirt competition sported a “green” theme. Successfully playing off the Corporate Challenge's Teaming Up For A Greener Tomorrow theme paid off for Pittsford Federal Credit Union, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Rochester Software (see photo gallery for shots of the winning t-shirts). They will each receive $500 to donate to a charity of their choice.

“The t-shirt contest drove home to me how important the environmental issue is to people here,” said JPMorgan Chase's Ryan. “I think that had a huge impact on the increase in this race. People are just environmentally conscious.”

The other element that fueled growth of the race, Ryan felt, was the surge in small business participation.

“I think the engine that is not only driving the Corporate Challenge growth, but also that of the Rochester economy, is the small businesses,” Ryan said. “I read a story in the Democrat and Chronicle about a company captain that went to her boss and said, ‘Let's do this race.' The boss said OK, and they have nine people and a hibachi out here tonight. Next year, I bet you, that same company will have 50 and a big tent. The small companies are the heart of this race.”

Pam Kelleher, a Vice President at Conserve, a third-party collection agency, agrees.

“We've been doing this since the Highland Park days when we had 15 people,” she said. “Now we have 57 from all different departments. We're getting to know each other out here. This is an absolutely fantastic team-building event.”

And the competition isn't bad either. In fact, you could argue that it brings out the best in the Rochester racing community.

You would be hard-pressed to find a better footrace than the one waged by Jeff Beck of Medved Running & Walking and Neal Holtschulte of Klein Steel. Beck, the two-time defending male champ, made it a three-peat by edging Holtschulte with a strong finishing kick. His winning time was 17:11, a mere second quicker than the runner-up.

Beck, a collegiate standout at SUNY-Geneseo, flexed his biceps and then growled like a tiger after crossing the finish line. “I'm a Rochester native, and I feel strongly that a Rochester person should win this race,” he said. “It's ours.”

JPMorgan Chase hosts Sandy Wolcott (pinstripe suit) and Bob Ryan talk with champions Vanessa Martell and Jeff Beck.

Holtschulte is employed locally, but is from Columbus, Ohio and prepped at Williams College in Western Massachusetts. He was, in fact, the 2005 Division 3 collegiate national champion in cross country and now is the hottest young face in the Rochester running community.

This round goes to Beck.

On the women's side, Vanessa Martell, a Ready-Fit coach and lifeguard at the YMCA of Greater Rochester, won her first Corporate Challenge title in 20:16. She bested her running club teammate, Trisha Sliker of Genencor, by 41 seconds.

“We were talking the first mile,” Martell, a former star runner at SUNY-Brockport, where she now serves as an assistant coach, said. “I called for her a couple of times in the second mile but don't know where she went. The last half-mile I pushed it because I wasn't sure what I needed to do, and it all worked out.”

Matt Kellman of DPI Commercial Printing (20:48) and Kathryn O'Neill of Monroe Veterinary Associates (24:46) posted strong times in winning the men's and women's Most Senior Executive categories. O'Neill is the defending champion and looks fitter than ever.

But equally impressive were the slowest walkers. Well over three-quarters of the participants will not run another road race this year, so this was there Olympics, and the medal stand was the post-race party in the RIT “Bowl” and other campus green spots.

“This is the perfect opportunity to come out for a great time away from business,” said Wendy Daloia, who works in Human Resources for Wendy's Restaurants in Rochester. “We all work in different stores, so we can mix and mingle, get to know each other, and participate in a worthwhile event with pride. I love it.”

And there was no mixing business with pleasure in the Wendy's tents. No Wendy's burgers or Frosty's were on the menu. “We have Dinosaur BBQ in here,” Daloia said. “It's a night away from work! But it's also back to where we love to work tomorrow.”


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