As the first morning’s light peeked over the treetops, Flossmoor residents began appearing on porches and sidewalks. They staked signs and hung buntings and balloons, all in preparation to cheer on runners in the Hidden Gem Half Marathon.
The 13.1-mile race course took runners through several Flossmoor neighborhoods, where residents set up cheering stations that offered water, food and moral support.
Streets were lined with pink flamingos and everything beachy was on scene, keeping with an island luau theme.
As runners passed their home on Sterling Road, Aimee Matthys cheered and waved flower leis while her husband, Mike, rang a big bell. The couple set up a stand with a large sign to welcome runners, along with an amplifier blasting out island music.
“It’s a great day for Flossmoor, and we want to be part of the excitement,” Aimee Matthys said. “I ran the first Gem two years ago, and I want to be part of the cheering now. It meant a lot to the runners to have people cheering for them, so I want to be a part of that.”
Flossmoor resident Sugar Al-Amin volunteered for the Hidden Gem with her mom, Rochelle, and the two were cheered the runners as they came down Sterling Road. Al-Amin called out runners’ numbers, telling them they were near the finish line and urging them, “You got this!”
“I’m excited to be here to serve my community,” said Al-Amin, who is Clerk for Rich Township. “Flossmoor! The Gem!”
Along the route, people showed support in both very vocal and more quiet ways. Many homes were decorated with streamers and balloons. A group of young girls set up an impromptu Popsicle stand. One man sat in a chair set up in the shade right near the road, and read a book.
Sterling Road resident Riley and his son, Sterling — just a coincidence — set up a hot dog stand for runners, volunteers and anyone else passing by. Riley said he was happy to support the community event in a simple way, with one of his favorite foods.
Along the course route, runners could make a pit stop at any of nine official water stations, each of which featured a cheering section. Amy Kent, Flossmoor communications manager, visited several of the cheer stations, and said she was impressed by the neighborhood involvement.
“I’ve been out taking photos. The neighborhood groups are incredible. I’ve made it to almost every one, and the energy is really high, the decorations are awesome,” Kent said. “It really shows how connected we are.”
Early in the half marathon route, runners passed through the Ballantrae neighborhood near 197th Street and Pulaski Road. A group of about a dozen neighbors gathered outside their homes to cheer them on and pass out provisions.
“We were giving out Rice Krispies Treats and bottled water,” said Larry Echols, who was standing outside the home of his neighbor and friend James Jones.
Jones, whose group gave out four cases of water in 45 minutes, said he just wanted to be a nice guy by helping the runners. He and Echols are part of the original Ballantrae neighborhood group, they said, living there for nearly 25 years. Both families moved to Flossmoor for its school system, especially Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
When asked what he likes about living in Flossmoor, Jones paused and furrowed his brow. Then he broke out into a wide smile and said, “Maybe you should ask me what I don’t like about Flossmoor. It’s a much shorter list.”
Photos by Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle.