Final preparations are being set for Southwest Half Marathon

  • Written by By Dermot Connolly

“We’re coming down the home stretch,” said Jeff Prestinario, co-director of the 9th annual Southwest Half Marathon and 10K, encouraging his team of organizers at one of their last meetings before the races are held on Sunday, May 1.

After months of preparations, going back to last fall, the annual race on Route 83 that Prestinario founded nine years ago with Mel Diab is about to begin.

“It’s finally here. We couldn’t have done any of this without you,” Diab told the organizers, noting that the event falls on his father’s 93rd birthday this year.

The organizing committee is in charge of making sure everything runs smoothly at the Half Marathon and 10K, as well as Palos Area Chamber of Commerce’s Health and Business Expo being held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Shepard High School, 13049 S. Ridgeland Ave., Palos Heights.

As usual, runners will visit the Expo to pick up their race numbers, T-shirts and goody-bags put together by volunteers.

“I think things will work out well,” said Prestinario, as he pointed out that registration has picked up after a slow start early in the year. As of last Friday, there were 1,083 registered, including 788 for the half marathon and about 300 for the 10K.

The events on Sunday will begin with a non-denominational service led by Pastor Ryan Hall of Harvest Bible Chapel. Local mayors, including Jerry Bennett of Palos Hills, John Mahoney of Palos Park, and Bob Straz of Palos Heights will also address the crowd before the races get started.

Straz is also local market president of CNB Bank, one of the principal sponsors of the event this year, along with Palos Community Hospital.

Wheelchair racers competing in the half marathon will get rolling at 7:25 a.m. at the starting point at 7600 W. Route 83, with the runners starting at 7:30 a.m. Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), is the grand marshal, will fire the shot to get them started, followed by the 10K runners at 7:35 a.m.

The route takes participants mainly through forest preserves, with the turnaround point near Archer Avenue.

A half-mile walk, run and roll race for the developmentally disabled clients of South West Special Recreation Association will then start at 7:45.

“We’re always very grateful that since its inception, you have always included everyone in your community in this great event,” said Lori Chesna of SWSRA.

In addition to having two new principal sponsors this year, Palos Community Hospital and CNB Bank & Trust, this is also the first year the Expo is being held in the Shepard High School gymnasium, which affords more space for vendors than was available at the previous venue, Moraine Valley Community Church.

Organizers said more than 40 local businesses and agencies have registered and will have tables at the Expo, up from 36 last year, making it the biggest expo ever.

The additional space will allow the health-oriented vendors to be on one side, with the businesses being on the other.

Palos Hospital will be offering blood-pressure screenings at its booth, and physical therapists from the hospital are going to be performing fitness stretching exercises with the runners before the races on Sunday.

Race participants will also be stopping by the Expo to pick up their numbers, shirts, and goody bags packed by volunteers.

“Before you know it will be all over,” said Prestinario, pointing out that the race officially ends at 10:30 a.m., with the awards ceremony scheduled for 11. Route 83 will reopen at 12:30 p.m.

Palos Hills approves funds for MFT Street Project repairs

  • Written by By Michael Gilbert

More than 30 streets in Palos Hills are to receive crack sealing work this summer and another five are due for paving and patching work as the city last week approved the roads in the 2016 Motor Fuel Tax Street Project.

City officials voted unanimously April 21 to appropriate $475,000 in MFT funds for this year’s project, which was expected to go out for bid this week and could begin in around two months, according to Public Works Commissioner Dave Weakley.

The city is estimating the work will cost around $468,880, but Ald. Mark Brachman (2nd Ward) said after talking with Weakley they were optimistic the bids will come in under the estimated cost.

A few of the roads slated for crack sealing, which is a preservation technique designed to prevent water from penetrating into the roadbed, are 97th Street from Roberts Road to 82nd Avenue, Wood Lane from 82nd Court to 100th Place, Charles Avenue from 103rd Street to 82nd Avenue and 104th Street from 81st Avenue to Roberts Road.

Weakley said public works rates all of the city’s roads on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being those in the best shape to 5 being those in the most need of repair.

“We classify the roads and then see how best we can make our money go,” he said of determining which roads are included in the annual project.

A majority of the money in this year’s MFT Street Project has been earmarked for crack sealing, Weakley said, as only about $100,000 of the $475,000 is expected to be spent on paving and patching work.

“[The roads designated for paving and patching] are little short segments of road that add up to about $100,000, but they are sorely in need of being repaired,” he said.

The roads slated for paving and patching work are 84th Avenue from 102nd Place to the intersection; 84th Avenue from the curb replacement west side to just south of 99th Place; 86th Avenue from 107th Street to Sunvalley Drive; 99th Place from 84th Avenue to the dead end and 96th Street from 87th Avenue to the dead end.

Palos Hills currently receives 19 cents from every gallon of gasoline purchased in the city. That money then goes in to the city’s motor fuel tax fund for various road projects. The cost of fuel at a given time has no bearing on the 19-cent figure, Weakley said.

“When people are buying lots of gas we reap the benefits,” he said.

Weakley said the influx of electronic and hybrid cars could “certainly” pose a problem for the MFT fund in the future, but as of now has not caused any issues or prevented the city from undertaking road improvement projects.

The crack sealing and paving work is not expected to create much of a nuisance for motorists, Weakley said.

“The crack sealing will take maybe a week to a week and a half at the most and the paving project will take around a week,” he said. “There will be very little inconvenience for drivers. We work with the traffic so there may be momentary closures but only for minutes.”

In other news, Ald. Joe Marrotta (4th Ward) reminded the council and a handful of residents in attendance that the fishing ban at Pleasure Lake remains in effect this year.

The 8.1-acre lake located at 10801 S. Roberts Road is only six feet at its deepest point and during the winter of 2013-14 froze solid, killing all of the fish. In October of 2014, the council approved an immediate and indefinite fishing ban in order to restock the lake.

Marrotta said there are “rumors going around” of people fishing at the lake but the police have been unable to catch the culprits.

“Every time our police get back (to the lake the fishermen) are not there,” Marrotta said. “There is evidence that people are fishing and they are just going to ruin it for everybody.”

Around 20 months ago the city spent $1,300 from its park development fun to purchase 1,500 blue gills, 325 bass and 300 catfish. Marrotta said those fish are doing well but they need time to grow and reproduce.

“We want to restock the lake and we’re in the process of doing that now but we’re just fishing it out before we get a chance to restock it.”

Those caught fishing at the lake can be fined, Marrotta said.

Moraine Valley welcomes new student trustee

  • Written by By Kelly White

The Moraine Valley Community College Board of Trustees said farewell to its student trustee during the April 20 meeting.

The 2015-16 student trustee Karim Awwad’s term came to a close this month, as he continues on his educational journey, leaving Moraine Valley with a major in economics/finance and a minor in political science. He is heading to the University of Illinois to earn his bachelor’s degree and then pursue an MBA.

“My day has come and gone as student trustee,” Awwad said. “I am beyond honored and privileged to have served on the board of Moraine Valley. Last year I spent more time here at the college than I did at home. Moraine has always been my home away from home.”

Like many Moraine Valley students, Awwad says he wishes the community college were a four-year university. However, he is happy for his time spent there.

“At Moraine, students are given skills and knowledge to move on after they complete their associate’s degrees,” he said.

Awwad said he has hopes to serve on Moraine Valley’s board of trustees again in the future.

“I really enjoyed my time here and I hope to see you all again one day,” Awwad said.

David Shpyor, 23, of Justice, has been elected by the college’s board of trustees and will be replacing Awwad.

Shpyor was sworn into office by board secretary Susan Murphy. He promised to support the U.S. Constitution, the state of Illinois and discharge the duties of student trustee of Moraine Valley to the best of his ability.

“It is with great pride to be elected to the position of student trustee,” Shpyor said.

Shpyor was born on Chicago’s Southwest Side near Midway Airport. He joked if you look out a plane window while traveling from Midway, you can see his house.

He was raised Christian and attended St. Laurence High School in Burbank, where he participated on the school’s bowling team, yearbook committee, computer lab associate and peer ministry program. Upon graduating from St. Laurence in 2010, Shpyor decided to take a three-year break from his education.

“I started working and moved to Justice right after high school,” Shpyor said. “I always knew Moraine Valley was an option to me and because of its convenient location and many educational opportunities, I knew I would attend there some day.”

Shpyor has been taking classes at Moraine Valley for the past three years and has nothing but good things to say about the college.

“My experience at Moraine Valley has been great,” he said. “This college has helped me to grow as a person in more ways than one. It has shaped me academically and paved the way for my educational career. It has also helped me to grow socially as a person. I have met so many new people and made a lot of friends right here on campus.”

Shpyor is majoring in politics and plans to one day become a politician.

“I know politics are seen as dirty work right now, but I love my country and I would like to change the world for the better,” Shpyor said. “Politics are my passion.”

A buzz at Moraine for new hoops coach

  • Written by Anthony Nasella


Despite the fact that the men's basketball head coaching job at Moraine Valley Community College is a part-time position, athletic director Bill Finn was amazed at the level of  coaches who applied for the open job.

But the candidate who was chosen by Finn and search committee as the program’s new head coach possessed one quality – full-time availability – that set himself apart from the others.

Moraine Valley named long-time community college head coach Tony Amarino as its new head coach this past week. Amarino spent 15 years as the head coach at Morton College and more recently seven years at Harper College before retiring in 2014.

“Tony will help navigate the academic and athletic part as well as the recruiting to the four-year school,” Finn said. “We’re think we have the best of all worlds in our hiring of Tony. He’s a great gentleman and a competitive coach with proven success. There’s a buzz around the school. We’re moving ahead.

“I was shocked at the high level of coaches who applied,” Finn added. “Any of the four finalists could have done an amazing job in this position. It was extremely hard decision for us as committee; we couldn’t have gone wrong with any of the candidates.’’

Amarino, who replaced David Howard, said he applied for the Moraine Valley position after a time of rediscovering that his interest in coaching had not waned after two years off.

“I started to get the itch again when I went to games this winter,” he said. “I knew that I wanted to get back into it. If I didn’t have 100 percent desire, I wouldn’t get back into coaching. Luckily, the job opened up and I was chosen.

“This is a nice area to coach at. There’s about 15 high schools to draw from in the area to get kids from. I met with the team last week. They’re all freshman, about 10 or 11 of them, so this is already a good start before we get going.”

Coaching in the Skyway Conference is nothing new to Amarino, having led his teams to a pair of conference titles over 15 years at Morton and where he also coached against Finn.

“I’m excited because I know the league,” Amarino said. “The interview was good because Bill knew everything about me. Baseball and basketball were my inspiration during my high school years at St. Ignatius, but I especially loved the fast pace of basketball.” 


Gift of Hope donors help provide gift of life

  • Written by By Joe Boyle

Gwendolyn Westlund views life as a special gift and that every day should be treasured.

Westlund, 34, speaks from experience. She is both a cancer survivor and heart transplant recipient. Facing death on several occasions, Westlund devotes her days giving back.

She spoke to about 100 visitors Saturday at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn about her ordeals and accomplishments. She was among several speakers at Advocate’s Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network event.

The celebration honored the legacy of donors who offered life through donation. The Gift of Life organizers also mentioned those people who are still waiting for organ transplants.

“I was fortunate in some ways,” said Westlund. “I was on the waiting list for just six months. It was crucial that I got a heart in that time. There are other patients who have to wait years. Some die before a donor can be found. That’s why it is so important to have donors.”

Westlund’s health issues date back to 2002 when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 21 years of age. She was treated with radiation and the cancer went into remission a year after the initial diagnosis.

But five years later, Westlund was told that the radiation that cured her cancer also caused scarring around her heart.

“It was very stressful,” recalls Westlund, a Willowbrook resident. “I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. I had some broken valves and I was treated with medication. I made sure that I followed all the rules.”

Westlund said with the assistance and advise of physicians she was able to keep her heart problems in check over the next five years. She was taking her medication and was diligently following a healthy diet.

But after five years, Westlund suffered another setback.

“I remember one day during a work day, suddenly I felt awful,” said Westlund. “Sometimes you just have a moment where you know this is not good. I was transported to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. My fingers were tingling and there was stiffness in my arms. The next thing I remember back in May 2013 was that I woke up eight days later in the hospital.”

Westlund had gone into end-stage heart failure. Her health had taken a turn for the worst. She had to undergo numerous surgeries and blood transfusions. She received both a left ventricular assist device and a temporary external right ventricular assist device.

After waking up after eight days, Westlund learned that she needed a new heart and had been placed on the transplant waiting list. Westlund said she never gave up and kept a positive attitude. She then received the call that October that a donor had been found for her.

The transplant surgery was successfully performed by a team of physicians at the Advocate Heart Institute at Christ Medical Center.

“I had to figure out how to eat and learn how to walk again,” said Westlund about her recovery. “This was a slow process. It was tough for my family to see me like this. But I was determined to get better. My family has given me great support.”

Westlund was married a year before her heart transplant. She and her husband, Bob, went on a trip months after her operation.

“My husband is tremendous,” said Westlund. “He is my caregiver. I think that caregivers don’t get the attention that they deserve.”

Orland Park resident Anita Tracy also spoke Saturday at Advocate Christ Medical Center on behalf of the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Network. Tracy, along with her daughter, Patsy, speak at seminars and programs about the importance of organ and tissue donors.

Anita has been a member of the Donor Family Advisory Council since 2002. Her son, John, died in April 2000 but he gave life to others as an organ and tissue donor. Since then, she has supported the Gift of Hope’s mission of helping others gain a better understanding of donation. She talks to various groups and shares her views on donation-related issues.

“By donating my time and ideas, maybe more people will become donors,” said Anita, who has lived in Orland Park for over 40 years and is a member of St. Michael’s Parish. “Being on the Donor Family Advisory Council has helped me grieve peacefully and has made me a stronger person so that I can share my story and connect with other donor family members to help them through the grieving process.”

Patsy joined the Council in 2002 after witnessing “the beautiful outcome” of organ, tissue and eye donation that occurred through her brother becoming a donor.

“I couldn’t say no when asked to share our insights with others as a donor family,” Patsy said. “I knew nothing about donation and the transplantation process, so I needed to learn more so I could reach out to other people who had been involved on both the donor and recipient side of donation.”

Patsy, an active Girl Scouts member when her brother died, applied the knowledge she gained about donation to earn her Gold Award — the highest award a Girl Scout can earn — by sharing her personal story to educate the public about the importance of donation.

Anita, who is bilingual, talks to various groups. She has been able to reach out to Spanish-speaking residents.

“We encourage everybody to become a donor,” added Anita. “We are going to continue to speak and get as many donors as possible. We don’t want anyone to go without an operation because there are not enough donors.”

Westlund now spends her time participating in cancer walks or through her group, Recycled Life Warriors, by mentoring other transplant patients and their families and organizing community events that promote organ, blood and tissue donations.

The Advocate Heart Institute at Christ Medical Center recently launched a cardio-oncology program that aims to prevent or minimize heart complications that may be caused by cancer treatments.

“I’m feeling good,” said Westlund. “I’m still not back at work. I’m somewhere in the middle. But I am grateful to be alive. I want to help others and that continues to drive me.”