As 2,000 runners stood Mel Diab sat in the pace car, ready to lead the pack. They were all here largely because of his work and his passion
"I have been running for over 47 years," Diab said. "It just clears your mind and it is such a great stress reliever. It just makes life easier and beautiful. I just love it."
The First Midwest Bank Half Marathon attracts over 2,000 runners, 300 volunteers and thousands of spectators to the Palos area every May and has in five years raised about $125,000 for charitable causes.
Diab is the owner of in Palos Heights. The shop specializes in specially fitted running shoes and other running gear. About six years ago he had the idea to bring a large scale half marathon to Palos Heights. Working with the idea quickly moved toward a reality.
"I wanted to bring a major race here to the southwest suburbs, we needed it," he said.
Diab also organizes the annual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day in Palos Park. Last year, he estimates between 10,000 and 12,000 cans of food were collected for the Worth Township food pantry.
The half marathon has grown in prestige and size over the years, but its impact on the community is always the central focus. The American Cancer Society for prostate cancer research, the Southwest Special Recreation Association, and are the groups that benefited from the over $25,000 raised at this year's race.
Diab is passionate about what he does. From the detailed attention he uses to fit customers for new running shoes, to the planning of a large-scale athletic event, everything is done with drive.
"Running my passion," Diab said. "I breathe and eat and think about it all the time. It has been with me for 47 plus years and I enjoy seeing other people's accomplishments."
The race relies on hundreds of local volunteers and brings out residents all along its route.
"This has inspired a lot of people to train for this race," he said. "Running is not like any other sport. It is about the masses and anyone can do it if you train properly."
Next year's half marathon is set for early May and it's never to early to start training.