This is one of a series of profiles on runners training for one of the Illinois Marathon races.
Name: Jean Driscoll and Sam Morse
Hometown: Savoy for both
Age: Driscoll, 43, and Sam, 12
Occupation: Driscoll, associate director of development for the University of Illinois College of Applied Health Sciences, and Sam, sixth-grade student at Franklin Middle School
Talk about your dream coach.
When 12-year-old Sam Morse runs the 5K at the Illinois Marathon in May, he’ll have Jean Driscoll — the eight-time Boston Marathon champion in the wheelchair division, who set a world record at that race five times, and Paralympic Games gold medalist — by his side.
Driscoll encouraged Sam to run a 5K. Last year he did his first 5K at the Illinois Marathon events, and Driscoll raced with him.
Boston, it was not.
“I’ve never really been out in the crowd before, so that was different,” Driscoll said.
Sam ran and walked the 5K, so they’d be moving along well for a while, then slow for a while as other runners passed them. Then they’d have to get by those runners again as Driscoll and Sam speeded up.
“When you’re in the crowd, you just go with the flow,” Driscoll said.
She used her everyday wheelchair rather than a racing chair. Because of its smaller front wheels, she had to pay more attention to uneven surfaces in the road.
Then they got to Memorial Stadium, where the race finished. Driscoll’s competitive juices started flowing as soon as she saw the finish line. But her chair held her back. Rolling across the artifical turf was like pushing through mud.
She watched Sam sprint to the finish ahead of her.
“He was gone. And so was my ego,” she said.
Sam is the son of Driscoll’s former coach at the University of Illinois, Marty Morse. The elder Morse could see his son had the body type to be a good runner and thought it would be the perfect sport for him. Sam’s older brother also runs.
“I want it to be fun,” Marty Morse said. “It needs to be something he wants to do.”
Driscoll suggested the 5K last year.
“We’ve always been very close,” she said of Sam. “It was an activity we could do together, and a nice community event.”
After the Illinois Marathon race, the two did the Freedom 5K on the Fourth of July together, and Sam ran cross-country last fall.
As the weather warmed up this spring, he and Driscoll have done some training together, around his neighborhood and at Meadowbrook Park. Driscoll motivates Sam, and pushes him.
The goal for this year’s Illinois 5K is for Sam to run the entire race and improve on his 5K time.
“His goal is to beat me,” Driscoll laughed.
“You took off on me last year in both races,” she told him.
For her, the fun is encouraging her good friend, and being part of a community event.
“When I was winning Boston, I always came back to do the Christie Clinic 10K on the following Saturday. It was so fun to come back here and share the excitement of those victories with this community,” Driscoll said. “One of the biggest honors of my career was coming back and sharing that with the community.”