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Issue Date: February 2009
Yearly Event Planner , Posted On: 6/3/2009


Paolo Tiongson, Jeff Jonaitis,
Claudia Becque & Becca Mann

2008 Athletes of the Year



Paolo Tiongson


Paolo Tiongson, a fourth-grader at Thomas Edison School in Skokie, started running at 6 years old when his father, a trainer at Lifetime Fitness, entered him in a 5K race just for fun. From that day on, he has been hooked on running and hasn’t stopped to catch his breath.

Paolo runs three to four times a week all year long. In the cold winter months when weather forces his quick legs to stride indoors, he might take it easy and run twice a week. Still, depending on his race schedule, Paolo averages 12-20 miles per week.

Now a veteran at 10 years old, Paolo has already racked up some impressive personal records that he hopes to improve on as he gets older. He ran his best 5K in 20:07. He completed his best 10K in 43:35 at the Sycamore Pumpkin Festival. For fun, he gave the Hot Chocolate 15K a shot, crossing the line at an impressive 1:05:46.

“The longer the race goes, the better he does,” says Paolo’s father.

While training with the team at Lifetime Fitness in Old Orchard, Paolo also trains with the Niles West Oakland Running Club. Members from both teams are extremely supportive of Paolo’s running, cheering him on at races and spreading the word about his nomination for this particular award. His favorite parts of training are the long runs and the tempo runs he spends with these teams.

In addition to being named the Chicago Athlete of the Year for 2008, CARA also awarded Paolo with Junior Runner of the Year in 2007.

Paolo looks forward to a bright future and hopes to continue improving upon his times, become one of the top 5 runners in his high school and score a college scholarship. He’s even mentioned the prospect of a marathon, even though his father has said that particular goal will have to wait until he is 20.

Despite his young age, Paolo’s father describes him as a very intelligent racer. “He is a very relaxed runner. He’s very competitive but knows when to speed up…he has a very good kick," he said. “This kid doesn’t want to stop. When we are about to finish an eight-mile run, the first thing he says to me is, ‘Can’t I do ten?’”





Jeff Jonaitis

Jeff Jonaitis of Tinley Park is your average Chicago runner. Well, kind of. A few injuries here, a few medals there, throw a handful of marathons into the mix and lace it all together with a will to constantly improve upon himself, and that’s Jeff. Oh, and to top it all off, he’s wicked fast.

Jonaitis, who started running cross country in junior high, left the world of running to explore baseball and basketball his freshman year of high school. But it wasn’t long before his junior high running buddies coaxed him into coming out for the team.

“And what 15-year-old doesn’t fall victim to peer pressure?” Jonaitis said.

Fifteen years later, he has gathered all sorts of accomplishments, from cross country championships and placing eighth in the 2007 Shamrock Shuffle 8K (24:07) to winning the Universal Sole Lakefront 10 on three different occasions and being the first to cross the line in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon in 2008 (2:19:47). Yet the moment that rises above all the rest is Jonaitis’ appearance in the 2008 U.S. Men’s Marathon Olympic Trials.

“It was a special thing to run with the best runners in the country and something I have never really experienced before,” he said.

While Jonaitis fell short of the Olympic standard, the glimmer of the 2012 Olympics are enough to fuel Jonaitis’ fire for round two.

“It is a long road from January 2009 until fall 2011. I have to improve quite a bit to even get the standard and then I have to beat guys who are already running that time and are capable of much faster,” Jonaitis says. “So, realistically, I will be happy just to place in the top 20 at the next trials.”

Regardless of his success in the running world, Jonaitis holds relatively modest goals and
only hopes for (and works his rear off to achieve) quicker times.

“Most runners are never satisfied with their goals, we always want to reach higher. I am no different. I want to continue to improve myself and be competitive until I can't do it anymore.”

Jeff’s Training Tip:
“Become a student of the sport. Just like a young football player or baseball player watches the games or reads about their favorite players, young runners can do the same.”





Claudia Becque

Endurance athletes are known for their large appetites. Claudia Becque has a hunger that just won’t stop and can’t be satisfied by carbs alone. She got a taste at the 2008 U.S. Marathon Team Olympic Trials and can’t wait for seconds.

Becque, who came to running only after trying every other sport imaginable, gathered four All-State titles in both cross country and track while attending Palatine High School. A former runner for Marquette University, Becque continued her running career after graduation by joining the Fleet Feet Racing Team of Chicago. 

Becque had a very good 2007 season. She won the Chicago Distance Classic (13.1 miles) in a time of 1:21:20, was sixth overall at Grandma’s Half Marathon (1:22:45), tied for first at the Nike Women’s 5K Race (17:23), was fourth overall at the Soldier Field 10 Mile (1:02:20), was the first American female at the Park Forest 10 mile (1:00:56) and placed fifth at the Shamrock Shuffle 8K (29:39). She was also the first female American finisher at the Berlin marathon, with a time of 2:58:25.

Knowing that her Berlin time was not fast enough to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Trials, a goal she had since graduating from college in 1998, Becque also ran the Napa Valley Marathon, finishing in 2:44:52 and earning a spot at the trials’ starting line.

“I just wanted to experience the whole thing, toe the line with my running idols,” says Becque. “Standing at the back of the pack and staring at the back of all of these fast women, I was honored to be there.”

With only a short seven weeks between crossing the finish at Napa Valley and taking her mark at the trials in Boston, Becque pushed out a time of 2:49 on tired legs. She looks forward to another opportunity in 2012.

“I can’t wait to see what I can do out there with proper training, proper rest and the experiences I have had,” says Becque.

Of course, like any other Chicago runner, Becque battles the winter “blahs” and their ability to suck every ounce of motivation out of training, but staying focused on the trials keeps Becque on track.

“Having a goal in mind is what gets me out the door,” says Becque. “If I’m tired one day, I tell myself, ‘Okay, you are doing this to improve your time for this race and to improve your place in the trials.’”

Becque’s story embodies how addicting running can be. With a team to keep her motivated and her goals to keep her focused, Becque shows no signs of stopping until she gets her fill.

“Having been a part of the Olympic trials, I want to do it again. I still can’t believe I was there, it was an amazing experience,” says Becque. “I just want to be back again.”

Claudia’s Training Tip:
“Don’t get frustrated with a rough run here and there. Really listen to your body. If your body is saying, ‘I need to rest,’ then rest.”




Becca Mann

Becca Mann of Homer Glen is a straight-A fifth-grader at Noonan Academy Elementary. But her domination extends further than academic pursuits. Starting off in the pool at age 5, Mann has since expanded her habit of setting records and winning championships in both open water and the triathlon course.

Mann is the top 10-year-old and under in the country in the 400m freestyle (4:56.37), 800m freestyle (10:10.72) and 1500m freestyle (19:29.41). She’s top five in the country in six other events and in the top 25 or 50 in almost all the rest. She’s a state record holder in the 400m and 500yd freestyle. As far as triathlons go, Mann is the youngest swimmer to complete the Maui Channel swim — an 11-mile open water swim that she completed in 6:26:46, earning her a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. She’s also won the Open Water Mega-Zone championship and the Miami Open Water Swim in the 5K (1:31) and 10K (3:21).

What is most impressive about Mann - in addition to holding national records in the pool, being in the Guinness Book of World Records and winning various championships in the pool, in open water and out on the triathlon course – is how those close to her describe her, not only as an athlete, but also as a person.

“She is a very spiritual person and a very good friend,” says Mann’s mother.

"For her, at 10 years old, to have the type of determination to say 'I am going to do this' — I don't know where it comes from,” says Keith Dickinson, Mann’s triathlon coach, in an October interview with the Homer Horizon.

“She is able to pull off these accomplishments and still be a supportive, everyday kind of girl,” says Eileen Kanute, Mann’s land section triathlon coach of two years. “She is always trying to better herself by being a good teammate.”

Mann also takes initiative in becoming an active member of the athletic community, networking with those from whom she draws inspiration. Before swimming the Maui Channel, Mann read Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox. She has since been emailing and exchanging stories with the author and open water swimmer.

Shortly after becoming the youngest person to complete the Maui Channel swim, Mann contacted the oldest person to complete the Maui Channel swim. The two plan to swim another channel together in the future.

Being an active member of the larger athletic community has also encouraged Mann’s competitive nature. While most kids look at record-holding Michael Phelps in awe, Mann looks at him as the standard to break. She plans to beat “Michael Phelps’ record by getting one [gold medal] in every swim event plus triathlon and open water,” she said in an interview with Chicago Athlete Magazine in November.

We’ll be watching, Becca.

Articles/Archives:
  • James Akita & Jennifer Garrison
  • Emil Bojanov & Laura Batterink
  • Jason Ream & Fiona Carlon
  • Eric Wallor & Maria Lindberg
  • Steven Bugarin & Emily Jurlina


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