Postcard from the Chicago Marathon

Photo by Andrew Carlin

A wave of bodies flooded west toward Union Station as we, single file, pulled our suitcases through the swell, east to Michigan Avenue. They apparently escaping. We entering.

Athletes populated the Hilton lobby—some real, others full-size color images on twelve elevator doors. American favorite Jordan Hasay. An age-grouper in helmet and goggles crouched low to propel his wheelchair. Female runner #22,218 celebrating her finish. The space pulsed, buzzing with competitors preparing to join 45,000 others in a 26.2-mile run from Grant Park through Uptown, the Loop, Chinatown and back. The race would unite thousands—each unique in background, appearance and motivation—to set goals, test limits and raise awareness. A continual stream of spandex-dressed athletes sprinted out the entrance’s revolving doors. It felt like an alternate world, every body fit and trim.

On Friday, two days before the race, authorities advised Chicagoans to leave the city early. Police feared a protest when jurors announced the verdict of Jason Van Dyke, a white police officer on trial for killing a black 17-year old. A reaction could unite thousands—each unique in background, appearance and motivation—to test the city’s limits.

On our way to lunch, the happy smells of stone-fired pizza contrasted with the serious expressions of stone-faced police officers. In the sports bar, CNN crawled updates about Chicago, the city focused on a potential throng of protesters. I remembered demonstrations in the 1960’s—frightening, dangerous, violent. At 1:45 p.m., the judge announced a verdict—guilty.

Despite fears, an urban calm prevailed and the city returned its attention to the other throng—the runners.

On Sunday morning, 6 a.m., we babysat our grandson, 1-year-old Stanley, in a Grant Park hospitality tent. “Look, Stan, there’s Mama,” we said as announcers on the giant screen mentioned Gwen. She stayed with the leaders for a while, but her ill-timed fever and the pouring rain sabotaged her race. She finished 11th in 2 hours and 36 minutes—several minutes off her goal.

For hours after the race start, sidewalks overflowed with finishers hunched in silver mylar blankets. We wove the stroller around puddles, rain water sloshing our shoes. We navigated crowds, hurrying when a traffic light changed. We pushed past behemoth trucks—apparently preventatives against terrorism—as we followed Google Maps to meet family for lunch. Thirteen of us shared small plates. I nibbled a steamed bun, salty duck stuffed inside; crunched cabbage and brussels sprouts coated in oil; sipped a sparkling sake that reminded me of pears. Everyone wanted to hold the baby so we passed him from one to the next.

We talked about the marathon—the winners. With an average time over four hours, tens of thousands raced for a goal, a charity, or just to say they finished. Mo Farah, in 2:05, and Brigid Kosgei, in 2:18, finished first and took home $100,000 each. Daniel Romanchuk and Manuela Schär won the wheelchair races for $15,000 each. The third-largest city in the U.S. united to demand justice and then ensure order.

Later, we returned Stanley to his parents, packed our soggy clothes and dragged our luggage west to the Hiawatha at Union Station.


by Nancy Jorgensen


Nancy Jorgensen.jpg
Nancy Jorgensen
is a musician and writer. Her choral music education books are published by Hal Leonard Corporation and Lorenz Corporation. Her fiction and essays appear in Prime Number Magazine, Smith Magazine, With Painted Words, The Milwaukee Journal, and elsewhere. She is currently marketing a memoir of daughter Gwen Jorgensen’s journey to 2016 Olympic gold.


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