When brothers Mike and Matt Sawyers crossed the finish line of the 5K run, they were thinking about a girl they had never met.
The Carl Sandburg High School junior and sophomore participated on Sept. 5 in Erin's Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM) for Change 5K Run/Walk. About 700 people joined the race held at Centennial Park in Orland Park.
The event honors the memory of Erin E. Olmsted, a Sandburg High senior who died as a passenger in a car crash in March 1997, at the age of 17. The driver of the car was intoxicated. The Olmsted family works with AAIM, an Illinois based non-profit organization that supports victims of drunk driving.
The Sawyers brothers, who are cross country runners, said promotion of the event and information about drunk driving has made them think more seriously about their choices.
"I've heard about this (the event for Erin Olmsted) since freshman year," Mike Sawyers said. "They showed us a video the family made. It's sad. She went to our school. I'd hate to know anything like that would happen to any of our friends."
Paul Otto is one of the dozens of friends who helps the Olmsted family organize the event each year since it was first held four years ago. The 5K's first year brought out about 400 participants.
"When Erin passed away in a drinking-related single-car accident—it's important to note that—a group of the Olmsted family's friends wanted to make sure Erin was never forgotten," Otto said.
The girls swim team from Sandburg also participated in the Sept. 5 event. The group of girls said it was a great way to help honor Erin, with Sandburg junior Margie Yassen adding that Erin is remembered fondly at the high school where her portrait hangs.
"It's a really good cause," Sandburg freshman Haley Robin said. "It's against drunk driving and it's a fun social event."
This was the second year Sandburg freshman Kelsey Grotkiewicz participated.
"I don't ever want anything like this to happen to anyone," Grotkiewicz said. "She had such a future and it's all over because of one idiot drunk driver."
Erin Olmsted never got the chance to go to college, but the 5K run/walk raises thousands of dollars to fund scholarships for Sandburg students. Twenty-five students have been awarded $38,000 in scholarships over the last 13 years. Five $1,000 scholarships were awarded last year, Otto said.
AIMM also recognized three Orland Park Police officers for making numerous DUI arrests. Officers Jim Berthold, Chris Losurdo and Steve Kois were presented certificates by Erin's sister, Kate Olmsted Morris.
"This is great," Losurdo said. "AAIM does a lot of great work."
Otto said the community has been very responsive to the cause.
"Without the support of Orland Park and the surrounding communities, we wouldn't be able to do this," he said.
The family has two primary goals in organizing the annual event.
"It's to make sure Erin lives, even though she is gone, through the race and awareness," Otto said. "If we can save one or two kids, we're good."
More information about Erin Olmsted and the family's cause is available at erinsaaimforchange.org