This year will mark the sixth year of the National AIDS Marathon Training Program in Chicago, a program designed to train people to run a marathon or half marathon, where each participant agrees to raise money for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. During the last five years, thousands of people have participated, and the event has allowed for $3 million beyond costs to go directly to those suffering from AIDS in the Chicagoland area.
If it wasn’t for Landmark Education graduate Mike Dilbeck, the AIDS Marathon Program might not have ever come to Chicago. When Mike Dilbeck did the Landmark Forum in 2002, he came out of the course with a fierce determination to cause new fundraising opportunities for AIDS treatment. He knew that there were AIDS Marathon programs in other major cities, but a proposal to bring the program to Chicago three years earlier had been unanimously declined by the Board of Directors for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Dilbeck’s employer and the potential local beneficiary organization of the AIDS Marathon. The capital investment required to bring a major program like this to a new city are considerable, and the risks are high. An organization needs to know for certain that a new project will succeed to the extent where the vast majority of the money raised goes to the charity it’s intended for. Otherwise, it would be an enormous black eye to the charity.
Dilbeck understood the fundraising concerns about whether the event would have the financial return it needed to have, but he was still committed to making it happen. It may have been voted down previously, but Dilbeck’s thoughts were “Well, they never had me as a cheerleader to make it happen before.”
It wasn’t an easy task. He had to persuade Richard Zeichik, the President of Walk-the-Talk Productions, the for-profit production company that manages the entire process of producing AIDS Marathon programs, to take another shot and resubmit the proposal. And he had to win over the Board of Directors at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and have them listen openly again to the possibility of having the program. Dilbeck kept asserting that he would be the one to take responsibility for the project’s success, and eventually everyone bought into the idea. The entire process took a year, with lots of ups and downs along the way–Dilbeck had to both be patient and unstoppable to see the contract through to fruition. It got complete by the start of 2003, and the fall of 2003 featured the first AIDS Marathon Training Program in Chicago, which was a resounding success.
Zeichik acknowledged Dilbeck profoundly for making it all happen: “Mike is 100% responsible for the AIDS Marathon Training Program being in Chicago and raising millions of dollars for people living with AIDS in the Chicagoland area.”
Dilbeck has since left working on the AIDS Marathon in Chicago, but the program is in good hands. The current director of the AIDS Marathon Training Program for Chicago is Steve Schapiro, another Landmark Forum graduate, who is as excited as Dilbeck about the difference the program makes.
“The program literally changes lives,” Schapiro says, referring not just to the people with HIV/AIDS who are kept alive through the money raised, but to the people who run in the marathon. He relates the story of a 10-year old boy who saw a television program about AIDS and then asked ‘Dad, what are you doing about this?’ The father has now participated in four marathons in a row, and his son, now 16, is running this year for the first time. Another runner began the training program when he had cancer, and his whole life changed–He stopped smoking, got in shape, went from being obese to being fit, and his cancer went quickly into remission.
Schapiro is also excited that this is the first year that some people in the AIDS Marathon Training Program in Chicago will also participate in the Amsterdam AIDS Marathon later this year. All told, the program in Chicago is expected to gross $1.5 million in this year’s events, which now includes the Banco Popular Chicago Half Marathon on September 14th as well as the Bank of America Marathon on October 12th and the Honolulu Marathon on December 14th. Training programs start May 3rd, and Schapiro is quick to point out that 98% of those who take on the training program complete the marathon.