Back in 1978, the Village’s Recreation Commission was almost totally dependent on tax revenue to fund its various programs. So, programs were somewhat limited and the Commission was looking for new ways to raise revenue. As luck would have it, one of the Commission members, Len Caldeira, had recently taken up running. As a result, he suggested that the Commission hold an annual foot race with a modest entry fee.
The Commission decided to give it a try by holding a 5K (3.1 mile) race and a 10K (6.2 mile) race in June. And, since the start line would be at the historic Water Tower, it was to be named the “Tower Trot”. But, funding was non-existent, so Caldeira (now the race director) searched for a sponsor. The Competitive Foot, the town’s athletic shoe store that had opened just four years earlier, agreed to underwrite the bills. So, the race was on. See second photo.
The first year, fewer than 300 runners participated. But, as time went on, the number steadily increased, reaching nearly 1,400 in some years. However, as more races have come into existence, the level has stabilized to around 1,000 runners or so, many of whom still come from other communities.
The race has not been without problems. For example, in the first year, computers were used at the finish line to time the runners. But, rain ensued, resulting in major computer glitches. Another year, the results of the race vanished from the computer screens and couldn’t be retrieved until 2 p.m.
One of the biggest challenges in the early days was managing the paperwork associated with all of the runners, i.e., sending out entry forms, handling checks, mailing out runners’ packets, and being ready to check in everyone on race day. Len’s wife, Chantel, used to volunteer almost all of her free time to handling these details in the weeks leading up to the race.
According to Len Caldeira, one of the race’s most memorable occurrences was when two runners met at the 1989 Tower Trot and decided to get married four years later. So, they both ran in the 1993 race and then rushed to the church to be married at 11:30 a.m. the same morning.
Although the race is always held Memorial Day weekend, the actual routes of the two races have varied over the years. This has been due to road construction in some years, traffic and safety concerns, and the challenge of providing sufficient parking for participants. Most recently, the races have started and ended at Forest Hills School.
One of the keys to the race’s success is the commitment of the Village’s Recreation Department headed up by Tracy Alden, the Police, Paramedic, and Public Works employees who provide barricades and otherwise insure the safety of runners, and a cadre of 150 volunteers that handle a myriad of duties. See fifth photo.
In 2001, the race partnered with the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation. While entry fees still go the Recreation Commission, a voluntary donation option on the entry form has provided the charity with nearly $100,000 over the past ten years. This partnership has also resulted in more volunteers and sponsorships to support the race.
As one of the first races of its kind in Illinois, and with one of the largest number of runners, the 35-year-old Tower Trot shows no signs of slowing down.