Mr. Boilermaker: Jim Stasaitis

Utica native ran, volunteered and now is race director for the Boilermaker

By Daniel Baldwin

Utica native and former car mechanic Jim Stasaitis first heard of the Boilermaker Road Race from one of his customers at the car shop years ago. One of those customers happened to be Steve Mazza, one of the original organizers for the race.

Stasaitis said. “He said ‘we’re going to put this race on and we need some people to time it at every mile. Are you interested in it?’ I said, ‘yeah, why not.’ So, I was at the very first Boilermaker [in 1978] calling out times.”

Stasaitis showed up to the Boilermaker again in 1983, but this time he actually ran the race instead of just watching it from the sidelines.

“I got away from it a little bit,” Stasaitis said. “But then when guys at work said they’re going to run the Boilermaker, I said ‘you know it’s 9.3 miles.’ You just don’t go out there and run, even though we were fairly young, but then I said ‘hey, maybe I could do this,’ and I did. I ran that first Boilermaker and I got hooked.”

Running became Stasaitis’ favorite hobby. He got more involved in it, running in this race annually and other races and marathons across the U.S.

“I started running because of the Boilermaker,” Stasaitis said. “I ran a whole bunch of [marathons]. I got more involved with running.  It was just a time where I can be out there, whether I’m with a group of people or by myself, flush my mind of everything and just enjoy the scenery.”

Stasaitis competed in 25 Boilermakers. He also ran 16 other marathons, which include the Boston Marathon, New York City Marathon and Honolulu Marathon.

He loves the Boilermaker much more than all the other races and marathons, he competed in.

“I think that once you experience the Boilermaker, you are jaded,” Stasaitis said. “At least I was. It’s the reason that I love this race. I compare all other races to the Boilermaker. There have been some that come close, but none that surpass.”

The local racer, unfortunately, had to hang up his running shoes and retired from racing in 2016. His health problems were the reason why he stopped running the Boilermaker and other marathons.

“As I got older, my knees started going,” Stasaitis said. “I had a heart attack in 2015 during a cardiac procedure. I recovered and ran the [Boilermaker] 5K Committee Run in 2016, but hung my running shoes up after that. I’m still active, walking at least three miles four to five days a week.”

Stasaitis no longer runs these Boilermaker races, but he still shows up and works them.

He worked his way up the Boilermaker ladder, starting off as a volunteer and eventually ending up as the Boilermaker race director in 2008.

He still works as race director today.

“I started volunteering for the Boilermaker,” Stasaitis said. “Then I was the course director for a bunch of years and then for the last 15 years I graduated up to being the race director.”

As race director, Stasaitis has to pay the race bills and do all the financial work. He oversees security and takes care of all the volunteers, working this race. He has to get highway permits. “Through all the years, the Boilermaker is a business,” Stasaitis said. “I take care of financials. The bills coming in and payments that have to go out. I look at all those. I don’t write any of the checks, but I check everything that’s coming in. I take care of the volunteers.  I oversee the security meetings, starting eight months before the race. There’s a lot of permitting to do, too. We have to deal with the [Department of Transportation] 33A special permit to use the roads. So, there’s a lot of things going on year-round. It’s just a day-to-day running of the business and the logistical part of the Boilermaker.”

He also provides the best customer service to his runners, competing in this year or future Boilermakers. He answers their questions and helps them with other things.

“Our runners are our customers,” Stasaitis said. “People say ‘why are you answering emails at 5 in the morning?’ People have questions and I don’t want them waiting for an answer. I pride myself on saying ‘look you may not get the answer that you want from me, but you will definitely get an answer.’  So, I think customer service is huge.”

Stasaitis did make changes to the race course this year, putting a little detour near Champlin Avenue. Although setting up the course, year after year is the easiest part of his job, as he does not have to make many changes to it.

“Because the race is so established, we’ve only had a few changes on the course over the years,” Stasaitis said. “This year we have a little detour because of construction down on Champlin Ave., but that’s the simple stuff. We don’t have to lay the course out every year. It stays the same.”

The first year, working as race director, was nerve-racking for Stasaitis. But, he got rid of his butterflies, got the job done and got used to his position.

“My first year as race director, I was probably as nervous as I ever been,” Stasaitis said. “This was my debut. I want to make sure everything goes right, but we have such a good committee. The volunteers and the committee make me look good.”

Stasaitis said he missed running the Boilermaker. But now he plays a much bigger role in this race, working as race director. It is a role and job that he loves every so dearly.

“Working with so many community leaders” Stasaitis said. “Working with the runners and volunteers. It’s just so enjoyable. Getting involved with the Boilermaker, as much as I did, it was, for me, a way to give back to the community and to the sport that I loved. My parents taught me to get back, volunteer, do the work and don’t be afraid. This has given me a chance to give back to the community and the sport.”