Jonathon Roberts came in at just over 17 minutes on Dec. 2 at the Rotary Club of Arlington Heights’ 16th annual Santa Run, overtaking the hustling members of the Prospect High School boys’ cross country team.
“The weather, the energy at the start and all the people lined up along the route, many with tables, made it great,” said Roberts, 34, of Arlington Heights who ran at Schaumburg High School and Illinois State.
Yet, while most of the nearly 1,900 runners and walkers enjoyed donning the Santa suit, complete with jacket, pants, hat — and a beard attached with an elastic strap — Roberts grew his own.
“I thought it would be kind of cumbersome to wear — and run,” Roberts said, “so I grew my own.”
It took him eight months to grow and he added makeup on race day to make him look more like, well, Santa. Apparently it worked. The speedy Roberts came flying across the finish line as the first overall finisher. Katie Dudek, 34, of Forest Park was the first woman to finish, with a time of 19:29.
“It was super fun,” Dudek said of her first Santa Run. “I ran at Lyons Township (High School), but I was never very fast. Now, it’s become sort of an adult hobby and I love it.”
Rotary members loved seeing the turnout on Saturday. Jim Thomson, a past president, said it drew 20% more participants than last year, when 1,500 runners took part. His favorite part, he says, is seeing the band from South Middle School play for all the Santas passing by the school.
“We’re seeing more people who want to get out there — and there are fewer Santa runs in the area,” Thomson said. “Today’s weather helped. It was a perfect day to run.”
Rotarians also credited the growing number of teams that competed with building the field. Local high school runners came out, including cross country members from Prospect and Saint Viator high schools, as well as teams of local businesses — DKMO law firm, one of the event’s major sponsors, was the largest with 27, followed by Deacon Matthew Hahn’s team from St. James Church with 25.
Other local business teams included runners from the Law Office of R. F. Wittmeyer, Lutheran Home, Northwest Eye Physicians and the Wellness Center, to name a few of the 30 teams that participated.
All proceeds from the Santa Run — which is the club’s largest fundraiser — benefit the Rotary Club’s many community grants and international charity work.
Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes was among the runners. He thanked the Rotary Club and its volunteers, as well as members of the village’s public works, police and fire departments who all helped secure the route.
“We have such a great community,” Hayes said before the start, “with so many people contributing to our great quality of life.”