Joe Seeley has been an ambassador for running and youth soccer in Champaign-Urbana. He’s encouraged new runners, provided vital behind-the-scenes assistance with the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon and shown kids how fun soccer can be — all in his laid-back, unassuming kind of way.
More recently, Joe has inspired people with his blog, which has eloquently detailed his battle with leukemia during the past two years, writing with wit and humor about his treatment.
Joe’s wife, Jan, is a co-director of the Illinois Marathon and is often the face and voice of the race for the public. But the marathon would not be what it is without the other Seeley.
Paul Ellinger, a member of the marathon committee and longtime friend of the Seeleys, said Joe is the “technician behind the scenes” of the marathon, managing the race website, monitoring the data coming in and generating reports.
But he isn’t the type to draw attention to himself, Ellinger said.
“He’s sort of your utility person,” Ellinger said. “He’s the solid rock behind all this stuff.”
He’s had input on nearly every decision concerning the marathon, said Mike Lindemann, co-director of the marathon with Jan Seeley.
And in addition to his work on the website and with race registration, “he’s basically our customer service guy behind the scenes,” Lindemann said, adding that after the race, Joe is the one to ensure that anyone with a problem with their race shirt gets a replacement and the one responding to questions from participants leading up to the race and comments from them afterward. It has been key to the success of the marathon, Lindemann said.
“That was just huge for our race,” he said. “We’ve gotten comments from people saying nobody (from other races) has ever emailed back about something. That was one of the things that really helped snowball our race because (runners) know we really have their interests in mind.”
“In a very short five-year period, the race got off the ground because of people like Joe, and now it’s successful because of people like Joe. He did a lot to keep that thing rolling,” said Mark Knutson of Fargo, N.D., who founded the marathon and owned it until it was sold to a group of community members in 2010.
The first year of the race, packet pickup was fairly inefficient, Knutson said. Joe Seeley saw how the process could be streamlined and he took over managing it in the marathon’s second year.
“Five years ago, I barely knew Joe Seeley,” Knutson said. “Since that time, he opened up his house for me to stay. He’d make me supper. He’s a great cook. He organized packet pickup. He ran the race. He did the website. He’d make these great, logical contributions by saying, ‘What if you did this?’ And all along, he was as humble as can be.”
Seeley’s work at Human Kinetics has involved building websites in such a way to make them user-friendly, so it was natural for him to work on the marathon’s website.
“He has a very unique way of looking at things,” said Kim Scott, director of association management at Human Kinetics and a marathon committee member. “When he put his touch on (something), it made it that much better.”
Scott said Joe has improved the Illinois Marathon website each year, from the Q&A section to coming up with a better way to field comments from runners.
“He worked in the nerve center of the race during race day,” Scott said. “There would be teams manning phones, working with people out on the race course. A lot of the people would be inexperienced. He was a calming force. He was the one who would say, ‘OK, we can do this.’
“He’s got one of those personalities. He’s calm. He has a nice soothing voice, and he can take any situation and defuse it.”
Seeley also has managed the finish line and results for the Twin City Twosome — a May race sponsored by Human Kinetics — since its beginning more than 20 years ago. He dealt with any race-related problems the same way, Scott said: with calm, humor and a perspective that allowed him to find a quick solution.
He’s done the same for his family.
Peggy Stierwalt, office manager at Marathon & Beyond, the running magazine Jan Seeley publishes, called Joe “The Man Behind Jan.”
Stierwalt described him as the support network who is a master at making his busy family’s schedule flow. And his easygoing demeanor is a perfect counterbalance to Jan’s fast-paced, take-charge personality, she said.
He’s contributed to youth soccer as well, and has two sons who have played soccer. Robert Baird coached soccer with Joe for many years in the Little Illini Soccer Club (now called the Illinois Futbol Club). Seeley worked with the younger players, and he excelled at it, Baird said.
“Joe is the best our club has ever had at that,” he said. “He’s patient with the kids and fun and knows the sport and how to translate it to that age of kids.”
The players also enjoyed seeing Seeley bicycle to practice at Dodds Park, pulling a trailer full of soccer equipment behind his bike.
Baird added that Seeley helped build up the club and the sport by making it enjoyable for kids and recognizing the potential in players and what they needed to improve. The soccer club just gave him its first service award, created to recognize outstanding contributions of club members.
He’s been just as encouraging to new runners, said Bridget Melton, an assistant marketing director at Human Kinetics. She ran with Seeley and other employees in a lunchtime running group.
He has also helped the training groups for the Illinois Marathon races.
While Joe was an experienced — and fast — runner, he never seemed concerned with pace during their runs, Melton said. He’d take a group of runners through Busey Woods and enjoy nature. And he freely offered advice about training.
Even after his illness prevented him from running, Seeley remains on the company’s running email list, keeping track of the group and offering comments occasionally, Melton said.
“I found it cool that he’d always be really encouraging of people,” she said. “If there were people that were slower in the group, he’d hang back with them. He just wanted everyone to get out there and share this passion of his.”
“He’s almost like an ambassador for the city and the (marathon) event and for running in general,” Knutson said. “I look back and think, ‘It was just cool the way he did things.’"
Joe Seeley’s blog about his battle with leukemia can be found at www.joes-blasts.blogspot.com/.
Photo: Pace runners Josh Saak of Boise, Idaho, (3:15) and Ed Ditmyer of Van Wert, Ohio, wait for runners to join them at the start of the 2012 Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. The pace teams for the marathon are named Joe's Pacers to recognize Joe Seeley and his fight against leukemia. Photo by Darrell Hoemann/The News-Gazette.