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Year II, Entry III

theHello and welcome back to another edition of The Real Illinois. This week, Monica talks about her move to the Empire State, New York and what is to come, Henry elaborates on some of the new projects he has started to assist with, and a special guest, Michelle Turner, describes her past month in Europe and what her summer is all about. So, since Monica is going first it is only appropriate to listen to this song as you read:


Monica O’Connor

Hey all Monica again. Currently I am sitting in Manhattan on a rooftop looking at the empire state building… so I would say my summer is off to a pretty good start. Today my real summer plans finally began, this morning I left Chicago and arrived at La Guardia airport where I was greeted by my aunt and sister who I will be exploring New York City with for the next week. Tomorrow I will go on my first run in the city (most likely along the river front path) and within a week I leave the city for Southampton where I will begin working at Southampton Fresh Air Home.


The past few weeks have been extremely relaxing, almost too relaxing. Other than a high school and 8th grade graduation my days were empty. Often times running was the only thing on my agenda for the day. However this gave me the opportunity to be very active. I was lucky enough to enjoy a 35-mile bike ride around Chicago and day longs wanderings throughout the various neighborhoods of the city. Topped off with amazing food and good friends my last few weeks in Chicago were awesome.


I am really proud of my dedication to running in the summer thus far. Easy days are finally really becoming easy days and I can feel myself getting back into running shape. One of my biggest worries was that I would arrive in New York not yet in running shape, making it harder to continue my running routine. However, I know this will not be a problem as I have already put in a good amount of miles, building up my summer base. I am also really excited that my health overall is much better. I have been eating healthier and sleeping more and I think this is the result. No longer do my legs or knees ache after or during runs. Hopefully this trend will continue.

In the coming weeks I will meet the people I am spending the rest of the summer with and explore the city more. I am looking forward to hopefully finding new people and places to run and continuing putting in miles for the coming cross season.




Henry Wolf

Well hello. I’ve been working at HDR and living in Chicago for three weeks now. The time sure has gone fast.

My first foray into the structures group has been very enjoyable, but I have not done anything radically new. This is sort of a good thing because it means that I was able to be a productive employee right off the bat. The retaining and noise walls that I was expecting to be working mainly on are being done by a sub-consultant so I’ve been working on a bridge! There are three bridges in our corridor, all of which are for cross roads that go over I-90.

The bridge that I’ve been working most on is Higgins Road (IL 72). Maybe you’ve driven over or under it before. It is a very unusual looking overpass bridge, with enormous steel support systems. While most overpasses run perpendicular to the road they are crossing, Higgins is at nearly a 70 degree skew. Long story short, the skew causes many challenges in the analysis and design of the structure because of the uncommonly high torsional and lateral loads that it creates.



Existing Bridge

My role in this bridge so far has been mainly to quantify the materials that will be used in our new construction. The purpose for doing this is to give the contractors an idea of how much money constructing this bridge will cost. It is very important that these calculations are correct because we could be charged to cover any miscalculations. Some of these calculations are very easy, like counting the number of name plates that will be on the bridge. Others are trickier, like calculating the volume of concrete that will make up the substructure. All in all, these quantities have taught me a lot about all the components that make up a bridge.

I’ve also done some work coming up with a preliminary cost estimate for aesthetic details on the Meacham Road bridge. This estimate will be used by the Village of Schaumburg and will eventually influence the final details of the bridge. This is one of the first times I really feel that my work is truly making an impact on future construction.

I have also done some work on updating drawings of details on a structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridge that our group has been inspecting the past few years. It is alarming to see the state of degradation of some of our nation’s infrastructure. I’m beginning to feel that structural health monitoring work would be too stressful for me.


Sturdy Structure

My co-workers are great! They are very trusting in my abilities and have been very supportive in my development as a structural engineer. Several of them run, and they ask me for advice in racing, shoes, and training. It feels good to be able to help them (even in a small way) back.

My running has been going well so far. At first I was worried about having trouble finding a time and place to do a good run. My first few city runs took a lot of research and planning. I owe a big thank you to my friends Max and Ben for guiding me in this. I had to consider things I’ve never had to consider before, like traffic and the neighborhood safety. I was given the rundown on which streets are notoriously busy or dangerous and told to avoid them.

Fortunately, I barely have to run in the city. There is an awesome trail system that is about a kilometer from the office and I’ve gotten into the habit of running there after work everyday. The trails are nicely shaded with either grass or dirt paths and it runs along the Des Plaines River. Also, my friend Mark just loaned me his bike, so now I can ride to the Lakefront course and get in a good run along Lake Michigan on the weekends.


Another really nice thing about my summer running is some of my co-workers have been joining me. Despite running infrequently due to crazy work schedules this winter and spring, Ben has run with me almost every day after work this summer. As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of interest in running in the office and I always invite people to run with us after work. Some of them have joined Ben and I for runs and I keep pestering others to come. Hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll have run at least once with many of my co-workers.

All in all, my mileage has been in the mid to low 40’s and I feel like I’m doing a good job staying patient in my summer training while also developing as a distance runner. I’ve been hitting core and mobility pretty hard too. I’ve been feeling pretty healthy lately and I think that my core and mobility routine is working.

Anyways, I think that’s all I have for now. I hope I didn’t bore you too much with the bridge info, I’m told people don’t care about it as much as I do…


The next person to write will be our first guest contributor of this session. The contributor is Michelle Turner and she is the Gender Minority Captain for the Illinois Cross Country Club next fall. The past month she has been in Europe for a class as well as some exploring. I thought it would be interesting reading about what she has been up to and she obliged. Anyways, I hope everyone enjoys reading what she has to say.


Michelle Turner

Hi all!! Happy to be a contributor on this great blog J

After two cross country seasons, a first track season and a second one nearing its end, I finally felt proud of the times I was racing.  I had been told when I started competitively running that you see your biggest improvement your second year of racing, and after not seeing it happen in cross, I was getting quite antsy.  Well, not only did I finally break 20 in the 5k, my ultimate goal, I got five seconds away from breaking 19.  To say the least, it was a great season.  My track PRs are now 19:05 5k, 5:49 mile and 11:10 3k.  Cross country PRs are 20:38 5k and 24:36 6k.


I started running my freshman year in college.  To be honest, I did it because I had gained the freshman 15 and I was not about to become a chubster.   Having been an athlete my whole life, coming to college without a sport was pretty hard for me.  I had been a competitive volleyball player year round for 8 years before college, and I had thought a lot about trying out for the U of I club team, but my heart just wasn’t in it anymore.  For some reason, my senior year of high school I befriended a lot of runners from my high schools cross country and track team.  I remember saying to them “I really don’t understand how you enjoy running.  I just don’t get it.  I absolutely hate running, and you’re crazy”.   My good friend John Burch, who runs at Augastana now, likes to remind me of that now. Anyways, I gained the freshman 15, needed a sport, had a lot of friends who were runners, and decided that I should give it a try.  I ran everyday on a treadmill for about 25 minutes, and that was it.  One very nice day I took my run outside and ran into a girl from my high schools cross team, Amanda Zamora.  That moment right there changed the path of my entire life; it’s crazy when you can pinpoint moments like that in your life.  Amanda had told me about this running club that races cross and track, is serious but not too serious, and that I should consider joining.  I’m not sure if she knew how serious I would take her, but the next week I emailed the head coach Jake for training plans, and the rest is history.


After telling that story, it just blows my mind being able to say that I am now the Women’s captain of this years cross season.  I am the only girl on the team, that I know of, who did not race competitively in high school.  But that just goes to show it takes more than knowledge or running to be a captain.  My first year on the team, Jess Mulcrone was girls captain, and Jake was head coach.  Jess showed me the ropes on training and racing.  Jake instilled pride in me for being on a team that meant so much.  He made me want to race fast not only for myself but for representing our team.  Whether or not I was in the top seven meant absolutely nothing, running for this team was about so much more than that.  My second season on this team, I feel as though all of that was lost.  We got a new captain, and a new coach, and adjusting to that was a bit difficult.  The way I thought about racing completely changed, and I was racing my team mates instead of racing for the team. Clearly, racing to be top seven is no way to see results.  I was disappointed in myself at the end of last season, as well as my team, and I wanted to do something about it.  That is why I ran for gender minority captain.  This team needs to get its heart back.  We need to remember what it is we’re running for.  What it is to be on this team.  Where we came from.  Who we are.  It’s so much more than a running club, I think everyone can agree with that.  Somewhere along the way we all just sort of stopped focusing on what the goal is.  I plan to instill that pride and want to succeed in the minds of every girl on my team, starting from day one.  That is why we won nationals my first year, because every single person on this team had a role, whether they were scoring or not, and everyone felt like they deserved to be on this team and say they were part of a national championship win.  That’s what it takes to win, and I can only hope I can instill that in everyone this season.


This summer, I started my training in a foreign country, Italy.  I lived there for just about a month, traveling in Rome, Florence, Sienna and Sorrento.  I was nervous about running in Italy, getting lost, losing motivation, wanting to enjoy my vacation and traveling without worrying about running.  As it turns out, my favorite parts of the entire trip came from my daily runs.  I got to explore so much more than all of my classmates.  I stumbled upon history, statues, paths and culture.  I ended up bringing my camera every time I ran a new path, which was quite often, just because I knew I would discover something.  The weather was absolutely perfect for running: high fifties and sunny every morning. I got to run up a few mountains, and my routes were definitely hillier than back at home, where I’ll be doing the rest of my summer training.  My absolute favorite run was in Sienna.  It was up a mountain, along the Amalfi Coast.  Every where you turned your head was a sight of beauty.  On one side you had the coast, the other you had the rolling hills of Italy.  Running there was truly a wonderful experience, and gave me an hour a day to myself to embrace being in the country and really appreciate where I was and what I was doing.





Now that I’m back at home, get fit plan starts.  It’s time to get serious about this years cross season.  It is my senior year, and I plan to do big things.  I’ll be back in Champaign tomorrow, and am hoping to have a few running buddies to train with for the rest of summer.  As great as running solo was in Italy, running solo in Champaign for anything more than a week sounds like misery.  Hopefully, I’ll get great summer training in and be ready to kill it at the Illini Challenge.  I have a really good feeling about this year, and it’s time to start making that happen.  I can’t wait to get all my girls pumped for this year. We’re going back to Hersey Pennsylvania for nats, and NIRCA better be ready for us. WOO!



Well, that’s it for this week. I hope readers enjoyed what they came across today and if you have any comments, please leave them at the bottom. Next week, Jackie will talk about how she is keeping busy in San Antonio, and I will mention how my stay in Deerfield and job at Takeda are going. Until next time…

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”
–Booker T. Washington