The Frontrunners/Frontwalkers cheering on runners in 2016 Credit: Ralph Childs

As runners in the 41st annual Chicago Marathon bustle their way toward the finish line, the mellifluous melodies of the King of Rock will break the silence between breaths.

The man in the jumpsuit is actually Chicagoan Joe Tirrito, who will post up on a small temporary stage at the corner of North and Wells. For his eighth Chicago Marathon in a row, Tirrito will be doing what he does best: impersonating Elvis Presley.

Tirrito has been performing as Elvis across the globe for 32 years. His lifelong admiration for the King of Rock was sparked at a young age when he would spend hours in his father’s truck with Elvis on the radio. Eventually that admiration developed into tribute performances.

In his bedazzled jumpsuit, slicked-back hairdo, and dashing pair of sideburns, Tirrito embodies Elvis’s signature moves and vocals for the duration of the marathon. Both runners and spectators sing along to the Elvis hits and American classics, but it’s the patriotic tunes that really inspire runners. “‘American Trilogy’ and ‘Glory Glory Hallelujah’ motivate the runners because they’re very patriotic songs,” Tirrito explains. “When the runners hear these songs they’re reminded that they can do it, they can run this marathon.”

A few miles north of the King of Rock at mile 8.8, Chicago’s LGBTQA running-and-walking organization, the Frontrunners/Frontwalkers, celebrate athleticism and queerness. For the past 28 marathons, the Frontrunners/Frontwalkers have put on a themed song-and-dance performance at their water station. At the 2017 marathon, four “Dancing Queen” Frontrunners/Frontwalkers dressed as ABBA, moved and grooved to the hits of 1970’s pop stars with pride flags in hand. This year the Frontrunners will celebrate a “MARVELous Marathon” at the four corners of Melrose Street with two stages, a DJ, and six to ten performers in superhero suits.

The Frontrunners/Frontwalkers believe it’s crucial to embrace your identity while simultaneously embracing a healthy lifestyle. The group’s president, John Bowen, explains that the LGBTQA community is sometimes misrepresented as prioritizing nightlife, partying, and sex. He goes on to explain, “It’s very important for our community to be associated with fitness and athletics that are practiced in a welcoming atmosphere.” Each year, as their organization expands, so does their performance: “As the marathon has grown, we keep raising the bar.”   v