Mary Wittenberg, Carey Pinkowski, photo by PhotoRun.net
This weekend, Carey Pinkowski celebrates his twenty-fifth year as the race director of the marathon that celebrates all things MidWest: The Bank of America Chicago Marathon. I took some time to recollect on what makes Carey Pinkowski so good at what he does….
I have been at every Bank of America Chicago Marathon, if my memory is correct, since 1991. In each of those years, I was fortunate to observe Race Director Carey Pinkowski, and let me tell you, he is a rare sort.
To be a successful race director, one must be, well, several things. Obsessed is a good starting point. Obsession is that trait that allows a race director to realize that one more drive along the course, where some construction was done, must be done to insure that the course has not be compromised.
In the late 1990s, I recall driving back from a party with Jeremy Solomon, the associate publisher at Chicago Athlete. We were driving along the course, and we were shocked to see Carey on the course, checking out some details. I remember telling Jeremy that the late Fred Lebow and his partner in NYC marathon esoterica, Allan Steinfeld, were notorious for obsessing on the course, checking for miscues in the final hours before each race.
I recall asking Carey Pinkowski if he slept the night before the race. Carey told me that he would try, but he did not get much sleep. One can see Carey ramp up during the updates during the marathon morning, and that wide grin when races go well. His concern when races do not, can be seen as well.
Carey Pinkowski was one of the best runners in American high school athletic history. At his high school, three runners, Rudy Chapa, Carey Pinkowski and Tim Keogh all broke nine minutes for two miles in 1975. They were the best of the best. His career at Villanova gave him a further appreciation for the sport.
The years 2007 and 2008 were hell for the Chicago Marathon. I will take a different tact, though. I believe that the character of a man or woman is chiselled by the challenges one faces. 2007 was a nightmare. Everyone was mad and criticizing Carey Pinkowski and his team. There were more than whispers wondering if new sponsors would continue to support Carey Pinkowski.
And this is where you see the real character of a person. Pinkowski analysed and figured out how to 1) make Chicago Marathon a better race, b) be prepared for anything to happen. In 2008, it was hot again, and the Bank of America Chicago Marathon weathered the storm.
The Bank of America Chicago Marathon, now in its thirty-seventh year, is a wonderful celebration of all things Chicago.
A true testament to the City of Chicago’s relationship with the Bank of America Chicago Marathon was when Tim Maloney, Rahm Emanuel and Carey Pinkowski shared the stage on Thursday morning.
Rahm Emanuel is one of the savviest politicos in the country. Mr. Emanuel has a wonderfully crisp sense of humor. The timing of a stand up comic, the Mayor of the Windy City obviously enjoys his job (at times), and was at the marathon to show his support to a four day event that brings in $252 million of economic love to the fine city of Chicago.
Tim Maloney is the Bank of America President for Illinois. Mr. Maloney got his role in this marathon the first time he took the stage for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. And B of A takes that corporate citizen role quite seriously, upping its support of the marathon, and the charities around the marathon each and every year.
Carey Pinkowski is human too. He loves his elite athletes and was particularly close to the late Sammy Wanjiru. His tears at the memorial for Sammy were real, and occasionally, Carey will bring up a memory of Sammy. Those are the things that make him human.
On Sunday, October 12, nearly 45,000 runners will cover the streets of the fine city of Chicago. Running through twenty-nine distinct neighborhoods, these runners will have their own stories to tell, and pictures to share. But, the smoothness of the operation, the support of the sponsors who make the event possible, and the flavor of an event, with world class athletes, and with world class treatment of citizen runners and a Mid-western patina, comes from the top down.
Carey Pinkowski, as both Tim Maloney, B of A President for Illinois, and the city’s Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, would be quick to tell you, is the reason that the Bank of America Chicago Marathon has evolved into such a superb event.
Just think what the next twenty-five years will bring!