Students, staff, parents in vital cleanup role
URBANA — Sally Walker played a round of golf with Jan Seeley a few springs ago.
The University Laboratory High School athletic director had recently stopped umpiring area softball games. She wanted to fill the void.
She knew Seeley played a prominent role in the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, serving as the race's co-director with Mike Lindemann, and figured she could contribute, in some way.
Little did Walker know Seeley had just the area of expertise Walker could help with — albeit an area of expertise Walker didn't necessarily think of right away.
"That wasn't exactly what I had in mind, to say the least, but in typical Jan fashion, she had pretty much figured out how I was going to mobilize all the people to make that happen," Walker said. "I was going to use the Uni High community."
Garbage collectors is the broad definition for what Walker and boatloads of Uni High students, staff members and parents of said students will find themselves doing this weekend.
They've had practice, too.
For the fifth straight year, roughly 240 volunteers from Uni High will work together to literally clean up the course once the marathon starts. And by clean up, they take the task to heart.
"She always tells us to leave the course cleaner than when we found it," said Sam LeRoy, a Uni High senior who will work his fourth Illinois Marathon as part of the cleanup crew. "It doesn't matter if it was there for the marathon or not. If there's trash, you pick it up."
Which can get a little dicey at times since the course runs right through the heart of the University of Illinois campus. Let's just say some unsavory items off Green Streeet have ended up in trash bags throughout the last four marathons.
"The team that works the mile through Campustown ends up picking up a lot of stuff that isn't race-related," Walker said. "They pick up some beer bottles and beer cans that I certainly don't think were left there by any marathon runner. At least that early in the race."
Each group of volunteers works a 1-mile stretch of the course. All 12 athletic teams at Uni High are involved in the process.
"About 70 percent of our students are on an athletic team," Walker said. "If you're an athlete, you're probably helping out."
The same holds true for parents and coaches.
"We have at least one adult as a crew chief for every mile," Walker said. "In some cases, we have two or three. At the start line, we have several adults on that crew. For the half-marathon, we have groups of anywhere from eight to 12, and then when we get to the full marathon, our crews go down from between four to eight."
Uni High's Beth Geistlinger, a sophomore who plays volleyball and basketball and is in her fourth year helping these efforts, said working with her teammates makes the process go faster.
"It doesn't take very long, around 20 minutes or a half hour," she said. "You joke around, but we like to get the job done. It's always fun to be there."
LeRoy, who plays basketball at Uni High, said having the marathon come to town is one of his favorite weekends of the year.
"Even though you're picking up trash," said LeRoy, who plans to attend Illinois in the fall and major in business. "It's like a home Illini football game because there's a buzz about it by having so many people from across the country. You're cheering on your friends. You're cheering for complete strangers. You've got festivities by the stadium. It's great."
The crews will have two bags nearby on Saturday. White bags are for trash and black bags are for clothes left along the course. Once the bags are full, they are left on the side of the road and Reynolds Towing comes behind to pick up the bags. The first group of cleanup volunteers, ones stationed near the starting line, usually arrive by 6:45 a.m. It's an all-day effort as well, with the trash taken to Reynolds Towing around 3 or 3:30 p.m. where it is deposited. Walker also gathers a group to help collect any signs related to the marathon along with picking up parking cones set throughout C-U.
"The first year that we did it, I think it's safe to say, I had really no idea what I was getting into," Walker said. "It's now become a thing to be in the last crew that gets to pick it up because we go out afterwards and celebrate. That's a lot of fun. It's just fun being out there. I get to be there at the start, and that's probably the coolest thing with the big American flag and the national anthem with some 20,000 runners."
Walker said cleaning up the course is a way to give back to area runners who have supported Uni High throughout the years with the Uni High 5K, a race every Uni High student is required to run.
"I actually went to the Second Wind Running Club (in Champaign-Urbana) to figure out how to do the 5K," Walker said. "Jan was a part of that, so for about 18 years, the Second Wind Running Club pretty much helped us run the Uni High 5K. We really felt like Uni High owed the running community a lot of thanks for all the help that they've provided for us."
People in Champaign-Urbana and running aficionados know late April brings about the Illinois Marathon. Just like Uni High athletes know it's time to pick up some garbage. And why they'll continue to do so in the future.
"Most of them understand the significance of the marathon," Walker said. "It's something I always tell them that every person that's out there running has a story as to why they're doing this, and most of them are pretty significant stories."