Carey Pinkowski (copy)

Chicago Marathon director Carey Pinkowski is a Hammond High School graduate.

George Castle, File, The Times

Marvel Comics called Carey Pinkowski. They needed another action super hero.

How about Magnificent Marathon Man?

He wanders the universe, promoting the sport, recruiting world-class runners to Chicago each year and adding millions to the city's coffers.

Oh. Wait. The Hammond native has been there, done that, as race director for today's 40th Chicago Marathon, a marquee event in the world of running.

This is Pinkowski's 27th year in the director's seat.

When he first took over in 1990, there were 6,168 runners who finished the race. Today, a record field of 44,000 runners from all 50 states and more than 100 countries will be competing.

Pinkowski and his staff also provide training for the average runner, regardless of age, to tackle the grueling 26.2-mile course -- which he designed -- through 29 neighborhoods.

In their minds, he's always been a super hero.

Chicago loves the former Villanova star, that's for sure. He even has a street named after him.

A study by the University of Illinois found that the 2016 race had a total economic impact of $282 million on the city, which included $115 million to the main sectors of the tourism industry.

In 2005, the marathon generated $96 million. That's quite a jump, thanks to Pinkowski.

Despite long hours, countless meetings and endless preparation, Pinkowski has kept a sense of humor.

He recalled the night before the 1990 race when he and a staffer went out at 1 a.m. to check on the Porta-Johns -- and discovered some of them had been dropped a half-mile too far north.

Pinkowski and his helper had to push 10 of them, two at a time, down Lake Shore Drive.

Now that's a hands-on race director.

It's unfortunate that security again was a hot topic following the mass shooting in Las Vegas last Sunday. In June of 2016, it was the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando that stunned the nation.

Pinkowski understands, reluctantly.

"It's where the world is in 2017, really, in the last 10 years," he said. "Security has always been a pillar of what we do — the safety and security of our participants, our volunteers, our staff and everybody involved.

"It's changed dramatically since 9/11 and has been a primary focus of ours. It really takes a lot of planning and preparation."

A crowd of 1.7 million fans was expected today and security significantly increased.

"It's a daunting task but something that's essential and we obviously put the resources on it," Pinkowski said. "I'm so impressed with how law enforcement has embraced this."

I wondered if the city's much-publicized gun problem and the environment today throughout the country might affect participation in large-scale events like the Chicago Marathon.

Pinkowski, 60, recalled scouting the 2013 Boston Marathon, which he left shortly before two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three and injuring hundreds.

Upon arriving home, along with several runners who had competed at Boston, they told Pinkowski they would run Chicago or work as volunteers.

"That was probably the most re-enforcing example of our participation," he said. "There's nothing casual or impromptu about running a marathon at any level. These individuals are committed and dedicated."

This year's field is a testimony to that.

In 1984, Steve Jones broke the world record in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 5 seconds at Chicago and four-time winner Khalid Khannouchi set the mark of 2:05:42 in 1999.

The women's record was broken in 2001 by Catherine Ndereba in 2:18:47 and the following year by Paula Radcliffe in 2:17:18.

All four have returned this year, plus defending champions Florence Kiplagat and Abel Kirui.

"It's a celebration of humanity and that transcends anything," Pinkowski said. "This is an example of the human spirit at all levels and it's not going away, it's not going to be intimidated.

"That's the rewarding part of my job."

Spoken like a true action super hero.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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