As we complete 2017, I cannot help but feel proud of all that CARA has accomplished this year, our 39th year. Yes, we are about to turn 40 in 2018! This year we look forward to celebrating our history, and most importantly, the members who have made CARA one of the largest and most impactful running organizations in the country.
CARA is unique in the landscape of large-scale running organizations. We do not own or manage a mass scale race like our closest comparators, such as the New York Road Runners, Atlanta Track Club or Boston Athletic Association, yet, through the work of our members, we have developed ourselves into the nation's third-largest local running organization.
We have done this by instead, providing a mass of programming and events, over 700 dates this year alone, that allows the local running community to regularly come together and build what we value most at CARA, community.
The community found at CARA is one that not only inspires participation, it inspires leadership. CARA has a staff of five full-time and three part-time. That, in comparison to the New York Road Runners staff of 235, and Atlanta Track Club’s staff of over 30. So how do we offer more dates of programs and events per year than there are days?
By CARA members this year serving in nearly 10,000 roles, giving well over 42,000 of their hours to volunteer for the running community. This level of member leadership is what makes CARA the organization that it is.
Like many not-for-profits, CARA has regular staff turnover. The last few years, that turnover, has been more than normal. Each time CARA staff has rolled up their sleeves to take on new duties to keep CARA moving forward in times of change. But more than anything, I credit our member leaders for making sure that through every transition, CARA has continued to execute its mission.
Running changes lives, and at CARA we have long understood that through the "Power of the Group" we can make running more than sport. As much as we love chasing personal goals, competing, and working towards fitter and healthier lives, I believe running’s most powerful benefit is its ability to build community.
CARA is and has long been, a community of incredible people and accomplishments. A look around a CARA training site, a Saturday ‘Go Run or a Circuit race starting line can be inspiring. You see crowds of what may appear to be normal people. But they are doing extraordinary things, such as running a marathon, giving back, or racing their way to new achievements. But through it all, they are together and finding community through running as they work towards their common goals.
One of the extraordinary people at CARA is Chuck Aron. Chuck received CARA’s Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year. Chuck is what CARA is all about. He not only achieves incredible feats, like running 73 races last year at the age of 70 to fundraise for Alzheimer’s, he also gives back his time throughout the year as a volunteer group leader for CARA training, leading other runners to their own accomplishments.
In October we honored several impactful CARA member leaders with Special Recognition at our Volunteer Party. One of those was Evelyn Cato who gives her time at Humboldt Park for CARA’s ‘Go Run program. There she sets up the course each week for these free timed-runs. This year we celebrated our 100th free ‘Go Run. ‘Go Run began in May 2016 with a goal of removing barriers to involvement in organized running, to connect people to their neighborhood parks, and to build community in underserved areas of Chicago. With the support of the Chicago Park District, the City of Chicago Mayors Office, and 100’s of volunteers, we have already seen over 5,000 runners take part in these free timed running events.
Earlier this year we also honored training program site coordinators Darren DeMattoff, Jim Murphy and Betsy Balgoyeen-Keller with Special Recognition. These special site coordinators play an impactful role at CARA. They are just a few of the many that dedicate their time to change lives through CARA training. Through Darren, Jim and Betsy's leadership, they show the power of what our CARA community can do for others. They selflessly give their time throughout the year to inspire local runners to accomplish their goals.
CARA training’s impact is extended through our partnerships that make your miles more meaningful. This year CARA partnered with almost 50 charities to provide subsidized access to training programs. Nearly 800 CARA runners ran for charity this year and as a result, CARA runners were able to fundraise approximately $1-million for their causes!
CARA leaders have been active this year in Chicago's efforts to separate the Lakefront Trail for pedestrians and cyclists. Board member Tom Klimmeck and CARA staff members have attended near-weekly meetings with the Chicago Park District and our friends at the Active Transportation Alliance to ensure that the project represents the needs of runners. The construction process has seen its challenges, and runners have had to and will continue to need to, be patient as work continues, but we look forward to the completion of this project that will provide a safer and more accessible Lakefront Trail by year's end.
In February we will come together for the CARA Awards Party, where we will celebrate 2017 Runners’ Choice Circuit individual and club winners, Hall of Fame inductees and this year’s CARA Lifetime Achievement Award honoree to be announced soon! One of the highlights of this year’s Circuit was the club competition. Six different local clubs, led by the Oak Park Runners Club, broke into the top three in various categories. Watching these clubs use the Circuit to rally their club’s membership around a common purpose is exactly what we look to the Circuit to provide the local running community.
Outgoing CARA President Anne Baker and her fellow volunteer board members have pressed CARA forward to renewed growth and stability this year. In 2018, CARA will welcome a new President and Vice-President to our volunteer Board of Directors. I am excited about the leadership new President Chris Hennessy and new Vice-President Kerl LaJeune will bring to CARA. The Board of Directors serves to provide the work and wisdom needed to keep CARA running smooth. Chris and Kerl bring valuable skill sets and experiences to the board’s top spots. The organization has a lot to look forward to with the attention to detail and high standards they provide to CARA.
CARA, and the Chicagoland running community have come along way since our first days in 1978 when runners gathered wearing black armbands to chant "10 o'clock too late, $10 too much" over late start times and then high costs to run the Mayor Daley (Chicago) Marathon. Now CARA is America's third largest local running organization and we are fortunate to have one of the greatest marathons in the World, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, right in our own hometown.
We live in one of the greatest running communities in the World. We enjoy World Class races; robust training programs, incredible trails and greenways, and a race circuit other communities envy. And, let us not take for granted all of our local running clubs, running stores and races that are among the best in the country. Resolve to support local running this year by doing business with these running community drivers.
From our early days, CARA leadership has worked hard to serve Chicagoland running. As we move into another year our principle of "member-driven" will continue to be our identity and our strength! I look forward to all we will accomplish together this year, and that when people say who is “CARA”, they know it is our members. We are “CARA” and I am so proud to together be part of the amazing and caring community of runners we have become over the past 40 years.
Chicago Area Runners Association