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Second Hidden Gem Half Marathon sees more runners, two records fall

The second Hidden Gem Half Marathon on Saturday, Sept. 11, saw two records fall, one local and one national, and again received accolades from runners, who came in greater numbers to compete.

More than 800 runners lined up for the start of the race at 7:30 a.m. on Flossmoor Road, about a third more than ran the inaugural race in 2019. The race was canceled last year because of the pandemic.

Residents staked signs and hung buntings and balloons, all in preparation to cheer on runners.

Along the 13.1-mile race course there were cheering stations that offered water, food and moral support.
As runners entered the Homewood-Flossmoor High School campus from Kedzie Avenue they were greeted by cheerleaders and then heard the Viking band near the football field.

On Sterling Road where the theme was an island luau, pink flamingos and everything beachy was on the scene. Aimee Matthys cheered and waved flower leis while her husband, Mike, rang a big bell. The couple set up a stand with a large sign to welcome runners, along with an amplifier blasting out island music.

James Jones, whose group in the Ballantrae neighborhood gave out four cases of water in 45 minutes, said he just wanted to be a nice guy by helping the runners.

The course record was broken by the men’s division winner Colin Mickow of Oswego with a time of 1 hour, 3 minutes, 48 seconds. Mickow placed second in the division at the first Hidden Gem race in 2019.

The winner in the women’s division was Chirine Njeim of Chicago with a time of 1:16:53. The four-time Olympian, who has competed in downhill skiing and long-distance running, placed third in the inaugural running of the Gem.

But the most attention was lavished on Dave Walters, the 66-year-old from Lisle, who broke the Guinness half-marathon record for American men aged 65 to 69. The record was 1:23:50, and Walters crossed the finish line with a time of 1:22:31.

“I’m ecstatic. This has been a goal of mine for a long time,” he said a few minutes after setting the new record.

Walters said he has been running for 51 years, but he has been pursuing the Guinness record for six years.
He had good things to say about the Hidden Gem race, expressing appreciation for the volunteer and fan support, as well as the course.

“The fan support is just unbelievable,” he said.

He said the shady neighborhoods helped keep runners relatively cool.

“There’s a lot of turns on this course, but to use them to accelerate out of them actually works better,” he said. “It’s a runner-friendly course.”

Organizers were pretty happy with Walters’ performance, too. The Gem will be listed in the record book as the place the new best time was set.

“We’re so glad he chose this event to set this record. It was a very special moment for all of us,” organizer Tom Dobrez said.

Alan Peterson of Niles took second place in the men’s division with a time of 1:04:48. Peterson took first in the men’s division in 2019. Oscar Medina of Chicago took third place with a time of 1:06:43.

Rachel DaDamio of Chicago took second place in the women’s division with a time of 1:18:36. Third place went to Polina Hodnette of Chicago, with a time of 1:19:30.

Eric Crump and Carole Sharwarko contributed to this story.

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