Volunteers sign up in droves, saving first Illinois Marathon

Volunteers sign up in droves, saving first Illinois Marathon

CHAMPAIGN – On Monday, Mark Knutson was in a bind.

The Fargo, N.D., resident is executive director of the company that is organizing the first-ever Illinois Marathon. Scheduled for April 11, the event has drawn strong interest, with more 7,600 registered entrants in three different races: a marathon, a half marathon and a 5K.

But one part of the race planning wasn't going as well. Knutson had only 150 or so volunteers to work traffic control and, late last week, city officials informed him that if he didn't come up with about 200 more volunteers by April 1, they would cancel the event.

Knutson's plea became public Tuesday, with a front-page article in The News-Gazette and television and radio reports. By Thursday morning, the marathon had more than 500 traffic-control volunteers, and officials say they don't need any more.

"It's just amazing how the people in the community came together," he said. "Within four days, we had 350 more people. I was just blown away."

Knutson said the number of volunteers – who will provide traffic control at 241 intersections – is now high enough that he'll probably have a pool of about 50 volunteers who will gather at the marathon command center and will be assigned to locations where the volunteer doesn't show up or calls in sick. Local police will control traffic at the 70 busiest intersections along the 26.2-mile route, which will wind through Champaign, Urbana and the University of Illinois campus.

Mary Anderson, volunteer coordinator for the marathon, called the response "overwhelming." She means it, as Anderson's cell phone number was published for people to contact and she fielded dozens of telephone calls.

"We're a great community," she said. "Now I know why lots of people choose to make Champaign-Urbana their home."

A number of church groups, banks, high school clubs, Boy Scout troops and fraternities and sororities helped supply volunteers, Anderson said. The marathon will pay $18 to a designated not-for-profit or church for volunteers who agree to work a six-hour shift.

Mayor Jerry Schweighart and his wife, Kim, were among those who volunteered. Schweighart also issued a pitch for volunteers at Tuesday's televised city council meeting, as did council member Deborah Frank Feinen, who is running the half marathon.

Knutson said he's especially impressed with the outpouring of volunteer support because the marathon is being held on Easter weekend, something he said he didn't realize until after the date had been selected and publicized.

"A year ago, when I realized our date fell on Easter weekend, I was sick to my stomach," he said. "I thought no one would run on Easter weekend."

No such worries. The marathon already has 1,752 entrants and will stop accepting entrants at 1,900. There are 3,708 people registered to run the half marathon and that race will be capped at 3,900. There are also 1,352 people registered for the 5K race, and 200 four-person marathon relay teams, he said. The marathon relay is now closed.

"It's going to be a big inaugural marathon," Knutson said. "Across the country, it doesn't usually happen that way."

The marathon could use a few more volunteers for other activities, Knutson said. People can volunteer or register to run a race via the event's Web site at www.illinoismarathon.com.

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