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Members of GE's team pose for a group photo before the 2009 Chase Corporate Challenge in Syracuse. From left are: Kevin Creagan and Robert Colborn (alternates to the team going to South Africa), and David Harwood, Aaron Knobloch, Dan Jordy, and Ahmed Elasser, who will represent GE in Johannesburg.

GE weaves together Corporate Challenge success story with South African ending

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In a series of stories leading to the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge Championship on March 4 in Johannesburg, South Africa, GE's team from Syracuse is profiled. Previous installments have profiled teams from Singapore, Chicago, Frankfurt, Buffalo, and Rochester.

SYRACUSE, NY, January 14, 2010 — At its heart, the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge is a team competition that brings together adults often well established in their careers and lives. It is a unique platform on which some of the most unusual and unlikely mergers in the corporate world come together and thrive.

A classic example is General Electric. Winners of the Men's title at Syracuse in June, GE qualified for a trip to the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge Championship in Johannesburg, South Africa on March 4.

This is a Championship team that had to go on the road from its Albany/Schenectady base to get to a Corporate Challenge. Once in the 2009 Syracuse Corporate Challenge, its team members realized quickly that they had to rally to overcome challenges from Harris RF and Lockheed Martin to win the Men's title.

”It was a competitive race,” said company captain Aaron Knobloch. ”I was just coming off a marathon in Vermont. David Harwood was just getting back into running. Our times were slower than times we had run on the course and as a team in the past. One of the other companies went out very hard, but we were able to run a solid second half of the race to beat them.”

GE wound up winning by 46 seconds over Harris. It was the third men's title GE has won at Syracuse in the past four years, an accomplishment that Knobloch expects will become more difficult to pull off in future Corporate Challenge races.

”I expect when the word of these trips (such as this year's Championship in South Africa) becomes more well-known, the competition at these races will get even fiercer,” he said.

But, in keeping with the spirit of the world's largest corporate running series, GE's team was a success long before it ever got to the starting line at Syracuse or accepted the Tiffany award for winning a team title. The fabric of GE's success was woven long ago from the threads of unlikely individual stories.

Take the story of Dan Jordy, GE's fastest runner, for example.

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Aaron Knobloch of General Electric accepts an award for free travel in the American Airlines/Company Captain Drawing from Sue Fidele of American Eagle and Bill Dehmer, President, Syracuse Division, Chase at the 2009 Chase Corporate Challenge in Syracuse. Knobloch's GE team will join squads from Lockheed Martin (Women's champion) and Fayetteville-Manlius Schools (Mixed winner) in representing Syracuse in South Africa.

”During my junior year (in college), I was diagnosed with testicular cancer,” Jordy said.

It was the same type of cancer that struck bicyclist Lance Armstrong, who would recover to win seven Tour de France titles.

”I went through four rounds of chemotherapy during the spring of 2004,” Jordy continued. ”The nurses said that I handled treatment the best that they have ever seen, and I attribute that to my distance running background, which gave me a well-developed cardiovascular system (as well as a healthy dose of pain tolerance). After treatment I rejoined the track team and was able to continue racing for Binghamton University, running faster than before my diagnosis. I'm thankful that I'm still able to train and compete at my current level.”

Jordy, a Sealing Technology Engineer at GE Energy, ran 19:41 at Syracuse, finishing first for GE.

Next to weave his life story into the GE team was Ahmed Elasser, who grew up half a world away.

”I was born in a small town in the Berber Highlands of Morocco at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains,” said Elasser. ”Our small town Demnate is well known throughout Morocco for skilled and fast runners. I always ran as part of school and neighborhood activities. We played soccer a lot and you need to be fast to compete. By the fifth year of my Engineering School (1984), I decided to join the track and field team and started training for the 1500m and 5K. By June 1985, my 1500m times were in the 4 minutes and I was running 5k in 15 minutes.”

Elasser took a break from running while starting his career in Casablanca. Then, he moved to the United States in 1992.

”I went back to running as a way to relieve the stress of graduate studies while attending RPI in Troy, New York. When I joined GE in 1995, I played a lot of soccer but also ran with the GE runners at lunch hour. In 2007 I went back to racing. I tremendously enjoy the sport of running and I am committed to it. I am 47 years old and I strongly believe that my best running days are ahead of me. Going to South Africa to compete with my GE teammates is a tremendous achievement that I am proud of and will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Elasser, Senior Engineer at GE Global Research, ran 20:06 at Syracuse, finishing third for GE.

The next thread in the GE story, David Harwood, was born with a love of soccer.

”Soccer was my staple sport since I could walk and I still play as often as I can,” he said. ”In high school through college I competed in track and field, specializing in pole vault and javelin, while dabbling in decathlons. It wasn't until my senior year of college I decided to run cross country.”

It was a decision that may have been a long time coming, but was a natural.

”Distance running turned out to be a perfect fit and I have since gone on to compete and place in 8k, 15k, half marathon, and marathon races,” Harwood said. ”Though I got a late start and only have three years of serious running under my belt, my motivation and resolve are increasing every day. I'm truly excited to test my limits in South Africa this year.”

Harwood, a Wind Fleet Availability Engineer at GE Energy, ran 21:04 at Syracuse, finishing fourth for GE.

The last thread in the GE success story was Knobloch, the Company Captain.

”I ran collegiately at Bucknell University but gave up running during my PhD studies at Berkeley to focus on school and family,” he said. ”When I started at GE after my PhD six years ago, I decided to get fit again to run as an outlet for my competitiveness and as a way to get back in touch with my teammates through alumni races.”

While his life has changed the last few years, Knobloch said running has remained an important constant.

”It has allowed me the opportunity to meet new friends through the GE running team and through the local running club that I am deeply involved in as well as travel to new places and exciting events,” he said. ”This race in South Africa is another benefit of the work I put in every week staying fit and running well.”

Knobloch, a Lead MEMS Engineer for GE Global Research, ran 19:49 at Syracuse, finishing second for GE.

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Giving it all he has, Rob Colborn, an alternate on the GE Championship team this year, finishes the 2008 Chase Corporate Challenge in Syracuse. GE has won three of the last four Men's titles in Syracuse.

Now, the four will travel to South Africa to compete against the best corporate teams in the world at the famed Wanderer's Club. It is an event that — in the first year the Championship has been held outside of the United States — has achieved a remarkable 100 percent participation rate, with every eligible team from the Series' 12 cities on five continents making the commitment to attend.

”I still can't believe that we're going to South Africa,” said Knobloch. ”I tell people about it and most are shocked. It's going to be a great experience and something you just can't pass up.”

Being engineers, the team members are interested in things such as seeing how the altitude of Johannesburg affects performances. They also want to do well, particularly in a race with only 36 teams.

”The focused size and caliber of competition this year has been a strong motivator in our own training,” said Harwood.

”There are only 12 teams (in the Men's division) and we want to crack the top 10,” said Knobloch.

But they also hope to meet and become friends with the other teams — and to learn the stories of how they came together as teams.

”First of all, it will be tremendous to compete against some of the best corporate runners across the globe,” said Elasser. ”We also hope to learn more from the other teams when it comes to running the Corporate Challenge and about running in general. We are looking forward to socializing with all of the teams and learning about their amazing journey. We know that like us, everyone there has a remarkable story to tell and is willing to share it. We will bring back the excitement and the team spirit to our workplace.

”We are all excited to be part of this great event and are looking forward to a great race and an experience of a lifetime,” Elasser added.

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