More than a thousand runners crossed the finish line Sept. 30 at this year’s Evansville Half Marathon. On the 20th anniversary of the event, I found myself looking back at how it got started.
In early 2002, I received a call from YMCA of Southwestern Indiana executive Derrick “Big D” Stewart and Old National Bank executive Jim Sandgren. They asked to meet with me in Tucker Publishing Group’s conference room at the Old Post Office. Since most of Evansville’s citizenry is in no hurry to meet with me, let alone have to sit down together, I knew they must want something. (I’m not as dumb as I look. Debatable, I know.) But I had no idea why or the lengthy path that meeting would lead to.
To no surprise, they indeed did want something, and it wasn’t my stellar conversation. Despite all appearances to the contrary, I was in the mix of training for and competing in numerous half and full marathons and triathlons all over the country. And while I never have had illusions of qualifying for the Boston Marathon or the World Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii, I had mostly chosen large races in fun, exciting places — think the Chicago Marathon with 40,000 participants. If nothing else, we could draw on my experiences participating in several large-scale events. We didn’t want “just” another race.
Derrick and Jim were asking for my assistance in designing a top-notch community event that also would help fulfill the Y’s mission while raising needed charitable dollars for the organization’s programming needs. Although our collective desire was to establish a first-rate event, we also sought to offer a race that featured a running benchmark of 13.1 miles; would bring in runners, friends, and family members from Evansville and other cities; and included a training program that would offer help in completing a half marathon. Get off the sofa, follow the plan, and you could complete a half marathon. This is where the YMCA excelled in developing the popular Team 13, which now has trained more than 8,000 runners.
The shared goal was to make the course as memorable as possible, starting at Reitz Hill, running through Bosse Field, and finishing right past the Four Freedoms Monument on the then fairly new Riverside Drive streetscape. I am proud of the role I played in helping get the race underway. We had a top-tier committee, and the YMCA is terrific at events. (Shout out to Sally Kroeger and Barb Dykstra.) The first race brought in around 2,300 runners. Over the course of 20 years, 30,235 people now have completed the half marathon.
We faced many initial challenges, including spreading a 13.1-mile race throughout the city; I remember Andy Chandler of the Evansville Police Department being particularly helpful with logistics. The half marathon has evolved over the years: The course has been altered, and the race now is held on a Saturday morn- ing. German American Bank has replaced the inaugural sponsor, Integra Bank, and does a tremendous job as presenting sponsor. But the crowning glory is, in the now two decades of the race, the half has raised more than $1.6 million for YMCA programming. My sincere congratulations to them on 20 great years and to everyone who has participated and volunteered.
One thing is for certain: I had a whole lot more energy back then – and both Jim Sandgren and I had considerably more hair.
As always, I look forward to hearing from most of you.
Todd A. Tucker, President