Friday, March 30, 2018

The Green Guys

If you've run the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle in the last 11 years, chances are you've seen one of the infamous Green Guys running through The Loop.  Confused? Let me enlighten you:

Yea, I wasn't kidding. All the G R E E N 💚
I'm very proud to state that these incognito people are my friends, one my brother. In reality, I envy them and their courage to run the streets of Chicago in March half naked. 

But Megan.. What? Why..? I'm so confused.. Just.. huh? 

Right, I know. I was in the same boat the first time I saw these guys floating across my TV screen while I sat on my bike, pedaling away on a Sunday morning training for Ironman Wisconsin circa 2014. 

Let's back up. I met John Atchison and his wife in 2015 at the Egg Shell Shuffle, all of us volunteering our time for good friends Jacqui and Ryan (Mr. And Mrs. Speedy). Less than 3 months later, we were signed up to race across the country together in Lake Placid, New York. In reality, I had "known" John for a while, I just had no idea. John proposed to his wife Brittany the morning of my first Ironman in Madison, Wisconsin. John and I were both racing. I got out of the water and proceeded to my bike. John got out of the water and snagged a ring from Ryan and popped the question to Brittany on the helix. Ryan had told me about the plan millions of times. "I'm sorry I can't see you before the race starts, I have to save a spot on the helix!" Fast forward to the run and I remember seeing a guy running on the course wearing a tuxedo. Oh, that's Ryan's friend John. He proposed this morning! This guy, I knew before I "knew" him. He's all about the fun and makin' memories. And his large heart was clearly evident. It should have been no surprise to me that this was the same guy I saw running across my TV screen in March, completely covered in green body paint at the Shamrock Shuffle. 

Back in 2008, John convinced long time friend Ryan to invest in an $8 container of paint, a green afro wig, and a pair of green tights to run the Shamrock Shuffle. I can't tell you if it was a long conversation or not, but I can tell you that that's how the Green Guys were born. 

Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 2008
And the rest is history. Over the years, John has recruited a few of his closest friends to run alongside him during the kick off to Chicago's racing scene. The only constant over the years has been John himself. 2009 resulted in blizzard-like conditions, easily the worst weather he's ever had to run {naked} in. 

RJ Pucci, Oscar Munoz, John Atchison, Ryan Giuliano
The Green Guys multiplied over the years, the painting got a little easier each time, and the look started to make a name for itself. They began to be noticed as "The Green Guys." Walking around before or after the race proved to be difficult, photo opportunities aplenty with every stranger they encountered. 

In 2014 the first Green Girl was added to the lineup. John will tell you this might have been a turning point for The Green Guys. At the time, John had convinced his princess to paint herself green and run the streets of Chicago. 

RJ Pucci, Oscar Munoz, Brittany Sorensen, John Atchison
Little did she know she'd soon be married into this crazy tradition. 

2015, just a few months prior to the Wedding Bells!
At some point during all of this Green, The Bank of America noticed The Green Guys. Enough so that this happened: 

Yes, that is the entrance to Shamrock Shuffle expo. And yes, those are my green friends faces greeting every.single.person that walks in the door. 

2016 - John, Brittany, RJ
I mean, how cool? 
I guess you could say this was practically a dream come true for John. What you don't know is that he's a physical education teacher in the Chicago Public School system. He spends day in and day out trying to make America's youth as active as he can. For years, he had painted himself green to run a race and maybe just inspire a student or 2 along the way. "Green means go! Go out, have fun, be healthy and enjoy life!" Yea, that's The Green Guy's motto. 

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better, 2017 happened. It made the papers and John still raves about it to this day: 

"GUYS! I was the first to the Pedestrian Bridge! Photo proof!"
2017 Shamrock Shuffle starting line
Cruisin' with the elites 🏃
And that brings us to present day. John convinced a few others to join his posse, my brother included. When I found out that the Mark was joining in the fun, I decided to sherpa/spectate/document this Green Guy process. I pulled out of my driveway at 4am, parked my car at 5am, walked into The Chicago Hilton at 5:15am, knocked on The Green Guys door at 5:17am, and by 5:30am the painting started.

5 people in a tiny Chicago hotel bathroom
Good thing we're all friends

Somehow these 2 snagged their own bathroom?
I learned a lot in the hour and a half it took everyone to get ready. I learned that 3 fingers dipped into a cup of water works best to moisten the paint. I learned that circular motions make for the most even green appearance. I learned that this process is one of the cleanest.

And to think... John used to do this at his own house!

It's like a leprechaun peed everywhere!
Finally, it came time to head down to the race start. John huddled everyone together and said, "Alright, here are the rules!" Rules? What's he talking about? "When we get into the lobby of the hotel, you can take pictures with people if they ask. At some point we'll have to leave, but some pictures are ok right now." You gotta be kidding me smalls, this is gonna be like walking around with a celebrity. And that it was.

Because they're classy
I couldn't believe how people swarmed them. "Can I have a picture with you? Oh please, one more! This is so cool!" I stood in the background and watched as the 6 of them entertained the guests of the Chicago Hilton. Eventually it was time to depart. We had to make our way to the Elite tent and meet up with newest Green Girl Amanda McGrory, 7x Paralympic Medalist. Yep, this just got REAL. 

Once again, John had to lay out the rules. "Alright, as soon as we walk out the doors, we BOOK IT to the tent! It's COLD! Stop for no one! Take no pictures! JUST GO!" 

And that we did. We walked outside and the wind cut through me like a knife, and I was wearing all the layers. Shrieks filled the air on Michigan Avenue as we all sprinted down the street and played frogger the entire half mile to the tent. Once inside, I immediately started to sweat bullets while everyone else hugged the heaters that were keeping the tent warm. We found Amanda, said hello, and then made our way to the start line for our photo opportunity. 

They're all muscles in a heated tent.
Caveat, I was nervous as soon as we left the hotel. I didn't have a race bib. I didn't have any official credentials. I was just their sidekick. After the Boston Marathon bombings, race security it always very tight and I was convinced that I would be held back at some point. Except, security allowed me all the way to the starting line, hassle free.

Once more, because it just makes me smile so💚💚💚
Eric, Brittany, Mark, RJ, John, Matt and Amanda in the front!
They even let me sneak in for a group photo!

"Hey coach, is this aero?"
The originator and his beautiful Green Bride 
Mark and I 
Brittany christened me with Green war paint

Eventually, it was time for me to say my goodbyes and find my spot on the bridge for the starting line photo. I was a little happy to be moving, but not so happy to be in the wide open wind. I got to my position at 8:15, plenty of time to spare (and for my fingers to go numb). Soon the gun went off and the wheelchair athletes took off first, followed by the elites. It was time to play where's waldo! 

Amanda, leading the wheelchair race!


This was an event I wasn't 100% sure I'd attend when Mark made plans to race. Rob and I had originally tried to look at wedding venues that weekend, but the plans fell through. So off to the race I went. And after witnessing what I saw, I couldn't imagine missing it. 

I've heard about The Green Guys a lot, seen all the pictures, and laughed at every story over the years. But it wasn't until I SAW the process, the enthusiasm they have, the joy they ooze, and the memories they create for thousands of people. It wasn't until then that I truly understood The Green Guys. They're a passionate bunch that lace up their shoes and paint themselves green year after year for the love of the sport. They reminded me that this sport and community is one not to be reckoned with. To them, Green means Go. So let's all pull a Green Guy today and GO.


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