Thousands of athletes will descend on Chicago’s lakefront this weekend for the Chicago Triathlon, each with a different motivation for racing. For those participating with Elim Team Tri, the race represents a chance to make a positive impact on thousands of local lives.
Elim Team Tri formed last year as the brainchild of Elim Christian Services board member, KC Hagstrom. Hagstrom, whose family has been involved with Elim for generations, was inspired by the success of endurance sports fundraising teams like Team World Vision and used that idea to form a similar concept for Elim.
“I always wanted to do triathlons but hadn’t had a good opportunity to try it out,” Hagstrom says. “I really liked the idea of using the Chicago Triathlon as a vehicle to raise money. It takes place in Chicago, Elim is a Chicagoland organization and HOPE Packs give school supplies to kids in Chicago. I liked how that all fit together.”
Elim Christian Services provides resources for children and adults in Chicagoland with disabilities, including educational, vocational and recreational opportunities. In 2007, the organization began creating HOPE Packs: school supply kits assembled by adults in Elim’s program that go to children in Chicago who don’t have the resources to purchase their own supplies.
“Our adults love to do work and get paid for that work, but the most purposeful and meaningful work is when they get the chance to serve others in the community,” Bob Stine, manager of community engagement with Elim, says. “It means the world to them.”
The money raised by Elim Team Tri members goes to the creation of HOPE Packs distributed to students in the Chicago area. Last year, the team raised enough money to create 3,500 packs, and this year surpassed its goal of 4,000 packs.
“Last year we went with [Elim] adults to give the kits to the kids, and the way their eyes light up: it’s like Christmas in August,” Hagstrom says.
The mission of Elim Team Tri, however, is two-fold.
“My true goal when we started this process, after getting approval from the Chicago Triathlon, was that we would be able to allow people with disabilities to participate in the race,” Hagstrom says.
On Saturday, 12 adults from Elim will participate in the run leg of the SuperSprint Relay. Those participating began training in April with weekly sessions designed to help them prepare for the event.
“At our Palos Heights campus, there’s a walking area that goes around an open field, and I’ve found that to be the best place [to train] because then they can all go as fast or slow as they want,” Stine says.
While this will be the first triathlon for these Elim adults, many of them have participated in Special Olympics over the years and love to wear their medals after events, Stine says.
“It’s one thing to say it’s a fundraiser for school kids, but it’s another thing for it to be an opportunity for [Elim adults] to participate in a triathlon,” he says. “It’s learning to stretch them, to reach their highest potential, and to achieve something that they in their wildest dreams never thought they could. That’s what the families get excited about and what they get excited about.”
A variety of people involved with Elim, including Stine and Hagstrom, will fill out the remaining spots on relay teams. Elim Team Tri will also have a presence at the race on Sunday, with athletes competing in both sprint and international distance races.
“We have a few board members participating, a few employees participating, families from Elim: it’s really brought people together in a different way,” Hagstrom says. “It’s really neat to see how successful it’s been.”