Naperville man runs first marathon to honor his brother
Even before it became the day Steve Dobes of Naperville will run his first marathon, Nov. 10 was a significant date in his family.
Dobes' father, Charlie, died on that day in 2009, followed seven days later by Dobes' youngest brother, Jim.
Both had been sick, with 80-year-old Charlie suffering from mesothelioma and 39-year-old Jim from ALS. Dobes says his two family members had been declining together, wondering who would die first.
For Dobes, who has completed several half Ironman triathlons, the opportunity to run his first marathon in his hometown on a date marked by sadness made signing up for the 26.2-mile race a done deal.
"I don't believe in coincidences," the 55-year-old Dobes said. "I definitely don't."
When Dobes signed on to the Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon website the first morning registration opened for the inaugural event, it was down. By the time he checked again later, all 2,900 spots not reserved for charity runners had been taken.
But that, too, was not a coincidence. It was a sign. Dobes would run his first marathon not only for himself but for his late brother, honoring Jim by raising money for the Les Turner ALS Foundation through his participation in the race.
"I just decided this was meant to be," Dobes said. "It was exciting that I was going to run on the same day my dad passed away, raising money for the foundation my brother was part of."
When Dobes called the ALS Foundation to sign up as a charity runner, the staff member who answered knew of his brother from a charity telethon where Jim once spoke. The connection gave Dobes further encouragement as the challenge of his first marathon approached.
Many novice marathoners may be excited about Nov. 10 -- a date later than most races in the Chicago-area running season -- simply for the cooler temperatures. That's not lost on Dobes, who said he's aiming to run the first half of the marathon at a 10-minute clip, faster than the 11-minute pace at which he has been training.
"It all depends on the weather," he said. And he predicts temperaturewise, race day should be "really nice."
But for Dobes and his late brother's wife, Kelly Dobes of Downers Grove, the marathon date's significance is more important than its weather.
"The event is so close to Jim's heavenly birthday, which is Nov. 17. I thought that was pretty cool," his wife said. "Jim will definitely be there in spirit."
Dobes and others running a marathon or half marathon for the first time Sunday will line up to race among a field capped at roughly 3,500 participants.
The half marathon course is relatively flat, a plus for runners completing the distance for the first time, but the full marathon course adds some hills in Greene Valley Forest Preserve.
The challenges of the route are fine with Dobes, who has been running course previews and track workouts with a training group from Dick Pond Athletics in Lisle. Dobes always has been athletic, playing basketball and football as well as running track at Benet Academy in Lisle. Now, he's considering running a "rim-to-rim," an ultramarathon of roughly 50 miles down into the Grand Canyon, up to the rim and all the way back.
"My goal, Lord willing, is to live to be 90 and active," Dobes said.
Jim Dobes enjoyed being active as well, playing basketball and golf in high school and continuing to hone his golf game into adulthood. When Jim's golfing ability declined and his speech started changing in 2001, family members took it as a sign something was wrong, his wife said.
"He would carry his own bag and had a really low score and all of a sudden he could barely swing the club," she said.
Two years after those changes, Jim was diagnosed with ALS, which his wife, a nurse at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, knew to be devastating. The degenerative disease affects the motor neurons that carry signals from the brain to the muscles, telling them to move. When the disease causes motor neurons to die, muscles waste away, but mental function remains intact.
"It's a very sinister disease," Kelly Dobes said about the condition that affects about 35,000 Americans at any given time. "We call it the equal opportunity destroyer."
Jim Dobes raised funds for years for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Les Turner ALS Foundation, focusing specifically on the latter as his condition worsened. His wife said the family would sell tickets to charity nights at Cubs games in addition to participating in walks and other events.
Steve and his family were always there, supporting Kelly, Jim and their children, Andrew, now 13, and Madelyn, 12.
That's why Kelly is not surprised Dobes is looking to far surpass his charity runner goal of $400 before lining up to race Sunday morning. He has a fundraising page on the foundation's Run for ALS website and has been handing out mail-in donation forms the past several months featuring a family photo of Jim, Kelly, Andrew and Madelyn in Bears gear.
Dobes said faith and endurance helped carry his family through Jim's illness and death in November 2009, just a week after their father's death.
He expects those same attributes -- along with the support of cheerleaders like his wife, mother, daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren -- to carry him through the 26.2 miles he's soon to run.
Not for himself, and not by coincidence.
"He's very into fitness, and this was one way that he felt like he could really bring attention to the disease that took his baby brother," Kelly said. "Jim wasn't a runner, so the fact Steve is using his body to raise money for this disease that just robs people of the ability to do anything like that -- he's certainly not taking it for granted. Jim would really love that."
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