The Power of Community

By Chris Quick, Distance Night in Palatine Meet Director

Over the past year, I have thought about community a great deal. The lack of vibrant, physical community seems to be related to so many ills in modern society. Too often, we outsource our need for others to a virtual connection on a screen. Researchers are working overtime to understand this shift in human relations, to weigh the impact on both our individual and collective psyches.

In this context, I put forth Distance Night as an intentionally designed reaction to the outsourcing of community to virtual sources. I may hype the meet online via Twitter and send out information via email and other channels, but the intent of all that virtual communication is to gather all of us in one spot, for one night. In such a space, genuine connection occurs. We have only done this four times, but my favorite part each year has been the reactions of our newcomers. People I know, many of whom love track and distance running fervently, are just aghast at the energy, the excitement, the joy, the fun, and the tactile intensity of it all. Here, in congregation, the distance running community comes together and celebrates what is possible through physical communion. We meet up with old friends, make new ones, celebrate victory, console defeat, and best of all…have an incredibly good time at a track meet.

I try to spend as much of my night watching races and being as gracious and grateful as I can. You all chose - some at the cost of great time and distance - to come and build an incredible event with us. We set out a template for what might be possible, but it is the physical commitment of each athlete and coach that makes it reality.

And the most important reality is the athletes themselves. We all know what is possible when the right field is brought together with the right set of motivations. We want to come out and RUN FAST. And when the weather cooperates, we can achieve a sense of collective liftoff that is nearly impossible in the other constructs within which we conduct our track seasons. It is the kind of construct where dreams come true, where school records are broken, and where everyone leaves with a sense of awe at what just happened. Try having that experience on a screen. It is too full body, too immersive to be possible any place but at an actual track with all of your friends.

I thank all of you for making this particular reality with me.

And boy did we do well last Saturday night. We did over $5,000 at the gate. After expenses we donated more than $4,000 to Special Olympics. Last year, we did 10-11 boxes of shoe donations. This year, we had 20 full boxes. Our kids from Youth Hunger Opposition in Palatine doubled their donation total from the previous year. Making our event a charitable community endeavor is the best thing we ever did, and I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for your donations. On to some commentary…

Boys 1600 Results in 7 of the Top 14 Times Nationally

Everyone knew the Boys 1600 Main Event was going to be fast. The assembled field was just unbelievable: Drew Bosley (WI), Caleb Easton (WI), and Carter Cheeesman (TX) were all NXN qualifiers. Bosley and Easton broke 9:00 at Arcadia this year with Bosley going 8:49. Cheeseman had just finished 31st at World Junior Cross Country. Add into that mix Andrew O’Keefe (IL) and Thomas Shilgalis (IL) were the co-favorites for the Illinois state title, and you had quite the potential for speed. The weather cooperated, and we got a classic race.

After the race was re-started due to early jostling, Bosley put the hammer down, bringing the field through 400 and 800 at a sizzling 62-2:03 clip. It slowed just a bit in lap 3, and Zack Albrecht (Jacobs) made a huge move to put himself in contention at 300 meters to go. At that point, O’Keefe exploded and opened a commanding 10 meter lead at 200 to go. His explosive move caused an audible gasp in the crowd…but had he gone too soon?

Watching the race I saw shades of his bold charge to the lead in the 2018 Class 3A state 1600 final. In that one, Dylan Jacobs from Sandburg caught him at the wire for a state title. As O’Keefe faded badly in this one too, Bosley caught him from behind at 100 meters to go and looked like he would power to the win. But O’Keefe is a tough customer, and he rallied one last time, diving at the wire to take the win by .04 of a second - 4:08.98 to 4:09.02. He led seven athletes across the line in 4:11.44 or better. Those times were good for 7 of the top 14 marks nationally in the 1600. What a race! In total, 16 athletes across our three sections ran better than 4:20 for 1600 meters.

Youth is Served in Girls 1600

Pretty wild to have a race feature five girls under 4:55, and have the top three be freshmen, right? This one was a clash of youth throughout, especially between Roisin Willis (WI) and Katrina Schlenker (IL), and could be a preview of the national scene in years to come. Willis came to prominence with a stellar indoor campaign where she upset Atheng Mu to win the New Balance Indoor Nationals title for 800 meters in 2:05.90. Schlenker qualified to NXN in the fall and gave two time defending Class 3A CC champion Katelynne Hart all she could want in the state cross country final. She finished that race in 16:07 before claiming 27th in the national final. Add to that mix Chicago Latin’s Ava Parekh and a star-studded field and you had all the makings of a classic.

Willis led throughout much of the race before the real fireworks began on the backstretch of the last lap. Willis’ height provided a marked contrast to Schlenker’s small stature as the two dueled down the backstretch before the Batavia athlete drew away to win in the final 100 meters. She led five girls under sub-4:55 with eight total running 4:57.81 or better. The top four all broke the previous meet record, and we should have quite a race the next few years if these girls return.

Josh Methner’s Charitable Surprise

I have never missed an opportunity to talk up Class 3A Illinois state CC champion Josh Methner (Hersey, IL). Not only is he an excellent representative of our conference, but he is also a fan’s dream as a racer. He races so methodically and intuitively and always seems to have another gear. He displayed that talent in placing second this year at Distance Night in a new personal best of 9:02.54.

But even more impressive throughout his career has been his character and leadership. I know from talking to his Coach Kevin Young that Josh is a strong student, and he helped prove his leadership this fall by aiding his teammates to a 2nd place team finish in Class 3A state CC and a NXN berth. But his most gracious action of all has to be donating $1,000 to Special Olympics at Distance Night. As Gatorade CC Athlete of the Year for Illinois, Josh gets to donate $1,000 to a charity of his choice, and he surprised me at the event by giving his entire amount to Special Olympics. I was incredibly surprised and emotional and cannot thank Josh enough for thinking first of our meet and our cause. What an incredible moment!

Right on Track and Scholarship Times

One of my goals this year was to begin turning Distance Night into a collegiate showcase event. Most other sports have a place where athletes can go and showcase their skills in front of college coaches, and I want Distance Night to be that place for distance runners. To that end, we formed a partnership with Andrew Novelli of Right on Track. Andrew provides consulting services to athletes seeking college scholarships and athletic placements, but he was also able to bring a network of college coaches to our event. All athletes were able to sign up for his spreadsheet so that their information could be marketed to college coaches. We hope to extend this partnership in the future and draw even more coaches to see these incredible athletes perform.

The Redemption of Jared Kreis

Jared Kreis (LincolnWay Central, IL) has clearly been on a mission this track season. You had to look deep in the Class 3A CC results to find his name, and I am sure that finish has been a prime motivator in what has become a phenomenal track campaign. He won the Illinois Prep Top Times 3200 in 9:10 to announce his emergence. That time is great, but he followed that up with a 9:02.47 PR and a huge win at Distance Night. In the process he held on in a kick to beat defending state CC champion Josh Methner. It will be exciting to see how Jared continues to develop, but this race certainly put him on the national map as a force to be reckoned with.

Girls 3200 Field Smashes the Meet Record

I knew going in that our meet record of 10:40 was rather soft and just awaiting the right field. We certainly got the right girls with the right weather, and they did damage to all of our previous 3200 meter bests. Alex Morris has been an All-American for Naperville North and lead them to second at NXN as a team each of the past two seasons. Having she and her friends commit to running in our meet was huge, and they did not disappoint. Alex battled a number of challenges from Abby Lopez, Fatima Giron, Emma Watcke, and Leah Kralovetz and knocked our record down to 10:25.95. In all, five athletes ran 10:35 or better. We had 12 athletes break 11:00, and my dream of having a midwestern alternative to the Arcardia 3200 took another small step forward. I’m so excited to keep building this field in the coming years.

Alyssa Norris Demonstrates Depth of Girls Running

We are fortunate to have incredible coaches and athletes in the Mid-Suburban League conference, and our primary rivals on the girls side are the Barrington Fillies coached by Jody Gitelis and Debbie Revolta. They have won Class 3A state in both cross country and track and field since I came to Palatine, and they always have a ton of talent on hand. Even better, their girls are tough. How tough? Both Molly Fitzpatrick and Alyssa Norris went on the morning of Distance Night and competed for their team in the 4 x 800 and 1600. But they wanted to run in our meet so they came home, grabbed some food, and drove over to Palatine. The payoff? Norris ran 4:59.88 to win The Undercard. She is a massive talent, for sure, but her battle with Downers Grove South’s Kennedy Warden also proves just how deep girls distance running is becoming. We had a girl break 5:00 that wasn’t even seeded in the fast heat! Talk about evolution. Our initial vision was that all heats would be fast heats. Norris helped us prove it.

Wisconsin Athletes Excel

It is one of our sincere wishes to turn this meet into a showcase of distance running talent throughout the Midwest. We haven’t been able to get neighboring states like Iowa, Missouri, and Indiana on board YET, but we certainly have something going with Wisconsin. Participation from Wisco began in year two of Distance Night with Finn Gessner (who ran 4:12.14), but it has exploded in the past two years. To meet so many great coaches and athletes from our neighbors to the north has been a pleasure, and I am glad that traveling to our meet always provides them with better weather, no matter how terrible it gets near Chicago. Few Wisco athletes get the opportunity to run indoors so we have been happy to provide an early season showcase for their abilities.

Some notable performances this year included Roisin Willis placing 2nd in the girls 1600 in 4:53.26, Adam Rzentkowski running 9:08.81 in the boys 3200, Leah Kralovetz setting a new 3200 PR in 10:35.63, and seeing Drew Bosley, Rowen Ellenberg, and Caleb Easton run 4:09.02, 4:11.00, and 4:13.78 for 1600. We hope to continue drawing Wisconsin’s best, and I think it is safe to assume that the word of mouth is strong in Wisconsin. Thanks so much to all the coaches and athletes who have spread the word about the opportunity we can provide.

Fatima Giron 11:17.45

I love distance running stories of persistence. I was announcing the IHSA 3A Girls Sectional that we hosted last year, and one of the unmistakable stories from my perspective was watching Fatima Giron of Round Lake go for the time standard in the 3200 meter run. She ran with desperate courage, but qualifying wasn’t meant to be. She finished in a time of 11:17.45 but came up short.

That strong attempt must have fueled her fire because she came to Distance Night this year and laid out one heck of a race. She left with a new PR of 10:32.68 (which I am guessing was also a huge school record) and newfound confidence. Champion distance runners know that the only response to an obstacle is building more fitness and becoming more prepared. Fatima obviously did both and reeped the rewards.

Junior High Races

We added junior high races last year with the hope that our footprint with young athletes would grow. It certainly did. We had 45 athletes total in our three open races last year (youth 800, junior high 1600, and adult 1600). This year we doubled that to 88 participants and were able to run two heats of the junior high 1600. Even better, our incoming freshman, Andrew Jordan (St. Thomas), ran 4:51 to win the faster heat. It was so exciting not just to see the young talent that is out there, but also for it to be OUR young talent. So many incoming runners from St. Winling (that’s our aggregated name for our Catholic schools, Winston, and Sundling) participated and set new lifetime bests. Our hope is to continue to grow this as a fun and affordable opportunity for little kids, junior high runners, coaches, and adults in the running community.

Lane Tech Wins After Late Entry

Lane Tech made a snafu on their entry and didn’t estimate a fast enough time. As a result, we initially didn’t have them in the meet as they didn’t make the Top 12 cutoff for the distance medley relay. Estimating those relay times is an imperfect science, especially considering coaches don’t know who is going to make the individual races when they enter their times. However, after a late scratch, I added Lane Tech into the meet and they did not disappoint. They ran 10:30 to crush the field and all was right with the world. Glad it all worked out.

Ailey Mitchell - Another Small Town Athlete 30 sec pr

Each year in this space, I like to highlight a small town athlete who gets an opportunity to race strong competition and runs the race of his or her life. I grew up in a small town and know that it is hard to find a race for elite distance runners. So my short story this year is about Ailey Mitchell from Shelbyville, IL. She is a strong athlete to begin with and had placed 10th in the Class 1A state meet in the fall, but her best time ever in the 3200 prior to Distance Night was 11:29. That time got her seeded into our Undercard, and she used the opportunity to destroy her personal best. She won that section in a new personal best of 10:57.66 and blew some minds in the process. Helping a small town kid get a marketable scholarship time like that has been a mission of the meet from the start. Giving an athlete like Ailey Mitchell some confidence that she can run with the big dogs is also invaluable. I am so excited that the Shelbyville boys and girls came up and got in on the action.

Family Commitments

There is no way we could put on Distance Night without support from my family. My wife, Meredith, is a librarian at Palatine and has been tireless in her support of me and this meet. She works the registration desk each year with my daughter, Madeline, and my mom, Penny Quick. Mads and my boys, J.J. and Christopher, ran in the Youth 800 as well. My dad, Jeff Quick, once again helped set up for the event, and my brother Chad was on hand to cheer on the athletes and represent our mission of supporting the Special Olympics. Our extended family of Moline cross country athletes was also instrumental. Rob Harvey is as much family to me as my own brother, and it means so much to me that he times the meet for us and puts countless hours in during the entry process. No other timer would go above and beyond to curate the meet the way he does. I also want to shout out Moline alum Jessica Hopkins and her husband Roland for attending for the first time to support the Minooka girls. My dad walked Jessica down the aisle at her wedding and getting to reconnect with true distance fans like she and Roland was great.

Thank You

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank all of my Palatine friends, family, alums, athletes, and parents who help us put this event on. Our girls coach Joe Parks is a constant presence in the brainstorming and execution of the meet, and I cannot thank him enough for helping with all the extra work this meet puts on his plate. I cannot thank our athletic director Jerry Dobbs, our athletic secretary Sonnya Lozano, and our athletic coordinator Patty Leaf-Burke enough for letting me host this meet. Patty in particular has been an advocate since this idea was just a seed. She has helped it grow immeasurably through her support. I would also be remiss if I didn’t thank Al McAlister and his grounds crew for doing the dirty work to get the stadium set up on time and then cleaned up afterward. My old partner in crime Fred Miller announced the meet from the booth while Hall of Fame coach Steve Currins ran the finish line with longtime friend and volunteer Jim Briggs. Rob Harvey, Matt Schefler, and his Wheaton South timing crew did our timing and results. Special shout out to Matt for making sure that our Special Olympians got entered and that everyone got a time. Palatine track and cross country coaches Mike Nigliaccio and Kevin Conway were our clerks of the course who kept the event firing on all cylinders. Our distance coach and my partner in coaching Alex Soto ran the registration for the open races and ensured that all results were recorded. Girls coach and Palatine special education teacher Ruth Allen served as our Special Olympics clerk of the course. Longtime Palatine friends and alums Patrick Carpenter and Rich Roeser ran the awards area all night. I want to thank Carp once again for bringing in Craig Virgin not only to hand out awards, but also to speak with our distance runners on the Thursday night preceding the event.

I’d like to thank Mike Newman from Runnerspace for once again promoting our meet every step of the way and for filming all of the races. No version of this event would exist without the incredible mind and partnership of Nick Hurley at Dick Pond. I value his creativity a great deal and enjoy every minute of our discussions when framing the meet. My friend, Eric “Sterner” Blyth, worked hard to redesign the Distance Night logo and to ensure that all the graphic design work for the meet was of high quality. We brought Andrew Novelli and Right on Track on as partners this year and watching the college recruiting aspect of our meet grow in the coming years will be exciting. Our longtime program partner Michael Davenport and his Running Iron Performance crew were on the infield all night giving massages and meeting athletes and coaches. Many thanks as usual to Dr. D for keeping all of our kids healthy and performing. Student council president Jamie Henning and the YHOP (Youth Hunger Opposition in Palatine) crew were on hand all night raising donations for our local food bank. Jordan Feldman is the area director for Special Olympics, and he once again got us his banner and served as our contact there. My longtime friend and colleague Erika Varela made sure that the concession stand was stocked and ready to go all night long while our school cashier Marilyn Wolter took care of creating and processing all of our cash boxes and gate receipts.

Our parents also stepped up big time this year. Special shout outs go to Claire O’Sullivan, Carla McClanahan, Michelle and Charles Johns, Brooke Hjelm, Don and Sandy Izewski, Dave Cameron, Michelle Mabry and more for running our merchandise table, the concession, and gate security. Many thanks are also due to all of the Palatine boys and girls distance runners who worked tirelessly throughout the day to setup the meet, sell concessions, fill orders at registration, serve as spotters and technical operators in the booth, and so many more odd jobs throughout the day. Special thanks go to Mukal Verma for starting our own in house web cast. It wasn’t pretty in year one, but we have big plans for what our students might provide in the coming years. I also have to give it up for Shrey Parikh, Shamoun Daudi, Zach Cherian, Tyler Perry, Tyler Murphy, and Connor Hjelm for once again helming the FIBO news crew. Their spirit is such a genuine part of the meet, and I am proud that we will keep this award-winning broadcast going in the years to come. I’m sure I missed somebody in here somewhere. If I did, I apologize and thank everyone so much for making another night of incredible racing and charity possible.

Last but not least, I know I shouted them out above, but I cannot thank my family enough. Meredith lets me run this meet with no profit for ourselves because she believes as well in the power of community. I cannot thank her enough for putting up with this dream meet that really does not need to exist. I am so grateful to have Madeline, Christopher, and J.J. be a part of it as well. I hope they see that dreaming big and serving others can be all or part of their life’s mission.