Former Illini returns for another Illinois Marathon

Former Illini returns for another Illinois Marathon

CHAMPAIGN — Aaron Heumann thought his first and only time running the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon would take place in 2013.

The 45-year-old former Champaign native — who calls Littleton, Colo., home these days — didn't think he'd cross the finish line at Memorial Stadium again after dealing with cramps on a humid day four years ago before he finished all 26.2 miles in his Illinois Marathon debut.

But his late father inspired him to give the race another try. Leonard Heumann died last September, the 75-year-old former University of Illinois professor and community advocate passing away from a rare form of cancer called mycosis fungoides.

"When I was in Champaign back last September to see my dad for the last time and then attend his funeral," Aaron said, "I decided that I would run the Illinois Marathon in his honor."

Along with the inspiration from his father, Aaron has another reason to run: He wants to qualify for next year's Boston Marathon.

"Whether I accomplish my goal and qualify for Boston or not," Aaron said, "I know my dad will be in my thoughts and watching over me throughout the race."

Leonard worked as a UI professor in urban and regional planning for more than 30 years, and helped start the Homestead Corporation, a nonprofit organization that builds affordable housing and rehabilitates deteriorated housing for homeless and low-income families in C-U.

Along with those duties, he was president of Champaign's Sinai Temple, president of the board of Family Services of Champaign County and chair of Champaign's planning commission.

"My dad did not just like living in C-U," Aaron said. "He loved the community and was dedicated to helping improve the living conditions for everyone any way he could."

Aaron, a Uni High graduate who then received a civil engineering degree from the UI, said his father wasn't much of a runner, but he shared his love of sports with his son — tennis, baseball, basketball, football and even badminton.

Aaron ran cross-country for the Illineks and competed in triathlons while in college, but he didn't take up marathons until earlier this decade.

"I decided I wanted to be in better shape heading into my 40s," Aaron said. "I identified a goal to run a marathon before I turned 40, started training and have been running ever since."

He began training in earnest for this year's marathon in C-U this past December, when he was home visiting family for the holidays. A 15-mile run around town, past State Farm Center — where he went to Illinois games with his father — and his father's old office on the UI campus, reaffirmed to Aaron why he was going to run the Illinois Marathon again.

"I really enjoy the flat course and the benefits of running close to sea level after training in high altitudes and on hilly terrain in Colorado," Aaron said. "But the attraction I have to the Illinois Marathon goes way beyond the physical course. The race represents to me where I started and what I have accomplished in my life. The entire run is a nostalgic tour of my childhood and a special reminder of the place that helped form who I am today."

Aaron, the city traffic engineer in Littleton, a suburb of Denver, will have his wife, two sons and mother, cheering him on during Saturday's race, which starts just after 7 a.m.

With a special assist from his later father, too.

"I try my best every day to follow my dad's example of embracing the community in which you live and volunteering your time where possible to help others," Aaron said. "I will never be able to live up to my dad's legacy, so I keep it simple: one day at a time to make as much of a difference by paying forward his influence to my two boys, by trying to set the best example I can for them."

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