By Anthony Caciopo
Regional News Editor
Runner Cynthia Chibe will soon take a trip of more than 5,400 miles for an even more important journey of 26.2 miles.
The Palos Park athlete is training for a marathon she’ll run on Nov. 11, a “marathon in Marathon,” if you will, where she’ll follow the footsteps of the Greek soldier Pheidippides who ran 26.2 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce victory over the Persian military in a battle more than 2,000 years ago.
“It’s one of my bucket list items,” she said about running a race in the ancient land where marathons began. “If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.”
And it’ll be a homecoming, of sorts, because Chibe’s heritage is part Greek. Her maternal grandparents were born there and Chibe’s mother was one of 16 children in the family.
“I hope to honor my family’s name and do well,” she said, “and I’ll be thinking of that when I cross the finish line, for sure.”
Her journey from Palos Park to Greece began in 2005 when, at age 48, she took up running.
“I’ve always been a walker,” she said. “I love the outdoors.”
But when she asked a friend how that friend was in such good physical shape, Chibe was told “I run.”
Intrigued, she took her friend’s advice and checked out a Monday-evening running group based at Running For Kicks in Palos Heights, the athletic apparel and activewear store owned by Mel Diab, a marathon runner and fitness advocate.
“They’ll help you learn how to run,” her friend said. “After eight weeks, you should be able to run a 5K race.”
“I liked it and I’ve been running ever since,” said Chibe.
She soon ran a neighborhood 5K race—“I got a little trophy,” she says with a smile—but bigger aspirations?
“I never thought I’d run a marathon, but after a few of those 5Ks I thought ‘I wonder if I could run a half marathon?’”
She trained and eventually took part in the well-known Southwest Half Marathon, founded by Diab and Jeff Prestinario.
“I really liked that, but what I liked even more was the training—physically, emotionally, just in so many ways. The race itself was just icing on the cake but the training is what changes you from the inside out,” she said.
Still, the prospect of running for 13.1 miles was daunting even for someone who relished the challenge.
“When you look at your training schedule, you say ‘Oh my God, I could never run 13 miles.’ But how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Chibe has a wall covered with training schedules from races she’s run.
“I’m a little bit competitive,” she admits. “I wonder if I could do this, I wonder if I could do that.”
Born and raised on the Southwest Side of Chicago, Chibe (nee Noble) lived in Oak Lawn after she married and later moved to Palos Park. It’s a community of forest preserves and woodland trails, lots and lots of woodland trails. Chibe enjoys running there.
“It’s like a cathedral out there,” she says. “It’s just so beautiful. I love it.”
As her running experience and desires grew, Chibe hit a serious stumbling block—a “life-changing event” as she prefers to privately refer to it—that almost dashed her confidence and feeling of self-worth.
“I was very distraught,” she recalled. “As I would run through the woods, there were voices in my head saying, ‘You can’t do this, you’re not good enough.’ I would just keep running and running and running. The stronger I got, the quieter those voices got.”
Her life-changing event helped prompt her to train for a full marathon.
She ran it in Grand Rapids, Mich. in 2011.
As she neared the completion of the race, at about mile 25, she recalled, she was exhausted.
“I didn’t know if I could go on. My youngest son jumped out on the course with me and said ‘Mom, you’re going to finish this race.’ He held my hand and ran with me until we crossed the finish line,” she said.
There, the second of her three sons stood with a teddy bear in his arms.
“I balled like a baby,” she said.
And coming off her first marathon, she said, she decided to give college a try for the first time, enrolling at Moraine Valley to train as a medical assistant.
Chibe has taken on only one other marathon since then, last year in Indiana, but she’s now training for the marathon of marathons in Greece. She began on July 10.
“I run on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays,” she explains. “I cross train on Mondays and rest on Tuesdays and Saturdays. I go to church Saturday so I can run on Sunday,” she said, with a laugh.
Chibe, who home-schooled her sons, said that they’re each a part of her, fueling her with unique aspects of their personalities.
“I look back at who I am and I can see I have something of each one of my boys in me,” she said.
From her son Ross, on officer with the Palos Park Police Department, she has courage and fearlessness.
From Drew, competitiveness and drive.
And from Elliot, a sense of adventure. Elliot will travel with her to Greece where he will compete in a 10K race.
“I’m going to take a little bit of each of my boys on that race course,” Chibe said. “I’m going to be fearless, competitive and adventurous.”
“I’m so excited. This is like a dream come true to me. We’re never too old to try something a little bit out of our comfort zone,” she said.