Why They Ran: Three Stories from the 2012 Chicago Marathon

A 72-year-old on his 35th marathon, a novice wheelchair racer, and a young man with an epiphany

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Joe AntoniniThe 2012 Chicago Marathon celebrated its 35th anniversary on Sunday, with 45,000 runners participating. Here are three stories from race day.

As he’s continued to age, Joe Antonini has come to expect the same question each year: is he going to run the Chicago Marathon again?

Each year, Antonini’s answer has stayed the same.

“I tell people that I’m going to start it,” he said.

And Antonini has continued to finish them—all 35 Chicago Marathons, in fact.

Antonini knows this is not a given. For starters, he’s 72 years old and quick to admit he probably should have had a hip replacement three years ago. When he crossed the finish line on Sunday, he became one of eight Chicago area men to have run in every Chicago Marathon. He also walked with a noticeable limp. What’s most baffling is that Antonini has improved his time in each of the last three years, finishing this year in 6 hours, 41 minutes and 50 seconds—nearly a half hour faster from a year ago.

But this comes as no surprise to Antonini, a mustachioed, heavy accented Italian immigrant and retired mechanical engineer, who reasons that the improvement in time likely had to do with both the cool weather conditions and his weight loss; he dropped nine pounds from last year and is down to 180.

While he used to run sub-four hour marathons in his younger years, Antonini said he’s only ever run for fun. But he also thought his first marathon would be his last. Now, because of his age, he’s found it difficult to let go.

“Once you give up something, there’s no going back,” said Antonini, who lives near University Village. “If it hurts I slow down, and then I slow down more. I learned from other things that giving up on something isn’t always the best thing. Luck plays quite a role in this situation, of course.”

Antonini’s first love has always been soccer. He played semi-professional soccer in Chicago until he was 38 and has refereed high school games ever since. For Antonini, soccer will always come before running. When he’s not officiating games he likes to run seven to ten miles along Lake Michigan. The long-distance running is still a huge psychological and physical release—he calls it getting all the poisons out—and the Chicago Marathon itself has allowed him to see the city evolve over the last three decades.

“The more I run the marathon, the course is always the same, but it always seems like I see some new buildings or see how the city has modernized,” Antonini said. “So I actually enjoy it.”

Antonini also takes pleasure in the crowd support and clever signs he’s come across. Two handmade signs in particular stood out to Antonini on Sunday. The first one read: “Someday You Will Not Be Able To Do This.” Right next to it, the second sign read: “Today Is Not That Day.”

NEXT: Kelsey LeFevour »

Photograph: Chris Silva

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