Race to the finish: Record numbers participate in Arlington Heights' annual Santa Run
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Cari Wilkins' name.
Running enthusiast Jonathan Roberts spent months preparing for the Rotary Club of Arlington Heights' 16th annual 5K Santa Run. And his preparation consisted of more than physical conditioning.
To appear more Santa-like, the Arlington Heights runner spent eight months growing a beard, which he dyed white along with his eyebrows, for the annual fundraiser.
Organizers say nearly 1,900 runners and walkers participated - a record number.
That's nearly 400 more participants than last year, said past Rotary Club President Jim Thomson, who estimated 1,500 to 1,600 people registered for the 5K (or 1K option) and about 300 youngsters registered for the accompanying Reindeer Run.
Thomson estimates the event will raise about $80,000 this year, compared to the $50,000-$60,000 it raised in 2022. According to Thomson, 75% of the proceeds benefit local charities including food pantries, organizations assisting low-income families, cultural organizations and efforts to eradicate polio. The rest goes to Rotary's international charities.
Roberts, 34, was the first male 5K runner to cross the finish line, completing the race in little more than 17 minutes.
"This is what we hoped for when we moved to Arlington Heights," said Roberts, who moved to the village with his wife and kids five years ago.
A member of the Schaumburg High School and Illinois State University track teams, Roberts runs daily not only for his own health but to model a healthy lifestyle for his kids.
"It's a way to lead a healthy life," he said.
Katie Dudek of Forest Park was the first female 5K runner to cross the finish line.
"I love the sport," said Dudek, 34, who completed the race - her first 5K - in 19 minutes, 29 seconds.
She credited DWRunning, a Chicago running team and coaching service, with her success. "They've gotten me this far," she said.
This year's Santa Run marks Michelle Miller's first in 12 years. The Arlington Heights resident, one of many walkers, was accompanied by her rescue dog, Ozzie, and friend Cari Wilkins. All three sported Santa outfits.
"We're just having fun, getting exercise," Miller said.
"It's more fun than going to the gym," first-timer Wilkins chimed in.
While residents of the 200 W. Campbell St., condos watched from their balconies, Santa and Mrs. Claus - Brian and Lisa Totzke - and the Grinch mingled with participants and posed for prerace photographs. With 2 minutes to go before the 10 a.m. start, stragglers hurried to the start line. From the sidewalk, Chris Dimick cheered for his wife Molly along with their four kids who participated in the Reindeer Run.
"It was amazing," said 11-year-old Ella.
Mike Burns was equally enthusiastic.
"Where else do you see hundreds of Santas running down the street?" said the Wheeling grandfather who "finished still on his feet and breathing."
This marks the 16th year Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes has participated in the Santa Run, which celebrates the season while raising money for people in need.
"It's a great community event," he said.