Jeffrey D. Nicholls/Post-Tribune Post-Tribune sports writer Michael Osipoff
5k Run around the lake
When: 7-8 a.m. registration; race start: 8:30 a.m. 7.2 mile run around the lake; 8:40 a.m. 5K race begins Where: Hanover Central H.S., 10120 W. 133rd Ave., Cedar Lake
For information or to register: Go to www.johnwillemsun.com or contact Doug Willems at 730-8275, Elsa Willems at 730-3561 or Suzie Willems at 730-8273
Updated: September 19, 2013 10:16AM
One of the late John Willems’ favorite expressions was, “It’s a start, let’s keep it going.”
Doug Willems, his younger brother by 16 months, applied such a sentiment to the John Willems Memorial Run.
Last year’s inaugural event attracted 350 participants. The second annual event, which is scheduled for Sept. 14 and again includes a 5K race and a seven-miler around Cedar Lake, figures to draw an even larger turnout.
“I’m pretty excited,” Doug Willems said. “The first race was the hardest, because we were in the deepest mourning. Everybody still misses John terribly. We’re just happy to get so much support. It really speaks volumes about how many lives John touched. He’s gone, but not forgotten.”
On Dec. 29, 2011, John Willems, in his eighth season as an assistant wrestling coach at Hanover Central, suffered a fatal heart attack in a hotel room during the Wildcats’ trip to Lafayette Jefferson’s Broncho Holiday Duals. He was just 42 years old.
An array of people — family and friends, members of their extended wrestling family, Cedar Lake town officials, the Hanover school board and athletics department — have continued to amaze with their generosity, in terms of time and material and money.
The plan is to use part of the proceeds from the races to establish the John Willems Foundation, which will award an annual scholarship to a Hanover Central student-athlete. He wrestled and ran for the Wildcats, before attending Northern Illinois, walking on the wrestling team and becoming a two-time captain; he graduated with a degree in economics.
“He really pushed both academics and sports,” Doug said of John, who also completed seven Chicago Marathons. “He believed both were really important.”
Part of the proceeds also will go toward Hanover’s fledgling refounded football program, returning this season (with a junior varsity schedule, before moving to varsity in 2014) after the Wildcats last played the sport in 1971.
“John was really excited about football coming back to Hanover,” Doug Willems said. “Football and wrestling go hand-in-hand, they complement each other. At other schools, they cross-train, and he was looking forward to that. He just thought it was going to be good for the community, his hometown.”
Neighbors continue to show their caring for Elsa, John’s wife, and their two sons, Johnny and Joey, on a daily basis. Guys on the wrestling team often stop by the family’s house, on occasion pitching in to do some landscaping.
And the John Willems Memorial Run could serve as a broader means to honor his memory.
“After last year, John’s friends put together a survey of the runners, and you always want to do better, but we scored pretty high in all the categories,” Doug Willems said. “There was one question on the survey that was 100 percent — yes, they’d do it again. So that was really encouraging. We want to keep doing this, and we want it to keep growing. We think this is a great way to carry on the message about the type of man he was.”
For more information, visit johnwillemsrun.com.