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posted: 11/16/2017 10:12 AM

Former St. Charles runner competes in global marathons

Former St. Charles runner competes in marathons worldwide

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  • Greg Birk, right, and former St. Charles track star Rick Wohlhuter were together last year to watch the 2016 Olympic Track Trials in Eugene, Oregon.

    Greg Birk, right, and former St. Charles track star Rick Wohlhuter were together last year to watch the 2016 Olympic Track Trials in Eugene, Oregon.

  • Greg Birk finishes the 2011 Jungfrau Marathon in Switzerland. Birk, a member of the St. Charles High School cross country team in the 1970s, now lives abroad and competes in marathons around the world.

    Greg Birk finishes the 2011 Jungfrau Marathon in Switzerland. Birk, a member of the St. Charles High School cross country team in the 1970s, now lives abroad and competes in marathons around the world.


Those who know Bill Warner certainly understand that his positive outlook on life and kindness toward others clearly defines who he is now and who he was as a teacher, coach and administrator at St. Charles High School during the 1970s.

That has something to do with why Greg Birk, from the St. Charles High School Class of 1973, thinks Warner has "overinflated my accomplishments -- because he is so kind."

Maybe so. But Warner also remains extremely proud of his former students and, especially, the children of his close friends.

Greg Birk falls into that category because he is the son of Herb Birk, a former St. Charles educator and principal who developed a lasting friendship with Warner.

As such, Warner was quick to tell me that Greg Birk has made a name for himself by running marathons in the same manner many of us might walk from a couch to a refrigerator. In other words, he does it a lot.

Birk, who lives with his wife Carroll in Lugano, Switzerland, made the decision in 1970 to take his 115-pound frame onto the cross-country course as opposed to a football field, where he had played through middle school and early high school.

Warner was the cross-country coach when Birk first started, then Birk ran for the late Trent Richards. By the way, he made it to the No. 1 spot on the varsity team as a sophomore.

Birk knows his accomplishments as a runner can't match a fellow St. Charles runner named Rick Wohlhuter, who graduated in 1967. Wohlhuter forever changed the running landscape in the city by making a name for himself with a bronze medal in the 800-meter run in the 1976 Olympics and establishing the U.S. record for the 1,000-meter run.

Birk had the pleasure of being with Wohlhuter at the 2016 Olympic track trials in Eugene, Oregon, last year.

Still, Birk has never stopped taking part in his passion. After running four years at Wabash College, he ran in the Madison Marathon in Wisconsin shortly after graduating in 1977.

"I was one of the last finishers," Birk said. "But I made a goal of qualifying and running in the Boston Marathon in 1978."

He made that goal with a qualifying run in the Atlanta Marathon, and it pretty much kick-started what would be a lifetime of taking on these 26.2-mile events.

A couple of months ago, he ran a marathon in Kiev, Ukraine, -- the 54th of his career. During that span, he has completed a marathon in Athens, along the original Olympics route, and so many others in interesting places around the world it could fill this whole column.

"I still have a long list of races I hope to run," Birk said, some of which include the 100th anniversary of the Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa, the 50th New York City Marathon and the 50th Chicago Marathon.

Not bad for a skinny fellow from St. Charles who is fondly remembered by his former coach.

Ready for the run:

Speaking of running events, we'll be lacing up the shoes for the TriCity Family Services' ninth annual Snowflake Shuffle, this year taking place at 9 a.m. Dec. 2 at Royal Fox Country Club in St. Charles.

We've never missed this event, but in the interest of total disclosure, I've never run in it either. I'm with the walkers -- happy to donate and take a nice stroll on a chilly morning in an area subdivision.

For the longest time, that was Mill Creek in Geneva. Now we get to check out the lay of the land in the Royal Fox area.

Those interested in signing up for the 5K run/walk or the 10K run can do so at Nov. 20 is the last day for the early-bird rates, so I'd hop on the registration form quickly.

This has always been fun for entire families, as well as serious runners, with prizes going to top runners, including in three categories for children.

Those who wear clothes displaying holiday spirit would be in the running for the best costume prizes.

Solid leaders:

An attendee at the annual Leadership Breakfast at Geneva High School last week mentioned that she wished everyone in the community could come to the event.

That would be nice, but not practical, of course. But to hear the young members of student councils at all of the district's schools talk about their views on leadership and how they engage in volunteer projects for the schools and community is both refreshing and uplifting.

We're too easily convinced that today's kids simply have their noses plastered into their phones and are heavily tarnished by the nonsense that takes place in Washington, D.C., and along social media channels.

Not true -- at least not with this large group of positive students. And they may not know it now, but the messages they were sending will resonate far beyond anything negative going on around them.

To keep supporting that message, the Geneva Academic Foundation made its annual check presentation at the breakfast, handing over $26,672 for the schools to use for supplies and projects.

As I have done each year, I want to mention the members of the Geneva High School String Ensemble who entertained the attendees. They were Alex Cordogan and Claudia Wilkie on violin; Kristina Sutterlin on cello; and Fionnuala Cottrell on viola.

The crafters' zone:

It's that time of year in which women hunt down cute holiday crafts to decorate homes and offices. I say women because, well, it seems to be a sport more suited to the female species.

Having said that, I did accompany my wife to the popular Geneva Women's Club holiday craft show fundraiser last weekend at Geneva High School.

I enjoy the holidays, so it is fun to look at this stuff. Plus, it was apparent that the Chicago Cubs becoming World Champions a year ago has translated into all sorts of Cubs-related holiday crafts. Those caught my eye.

And I wasn't the only man checking out the wares at this event, which fills the high school gym, a few hallways and the cafeteria.

Some of the men found a place to sit down and wait for their wives in the cafeteria. The blank stares and wide eyes of these fellows indicated they possibly wanted to be someplace else.

They looked like guys waiting for their parole hearings after being told by their lawyer not to count on anything good coming of it. Or, guys who just put in their last-meal order with the warden -- and realized at the last second they actually felt more like a Reuben sandwich than the cheeseburger they ordered.

But, hey, I'm not one to walk out of these sorts of things empty-handed. A box of red velvet brownies at the bake sale portion of the event made my day.

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