Meet One Tough (and Fun) Mudder: Tim Hallinan

If you were among the record-number of participants—509, who raised more than $20,000 for the Fallen Soldiers Scholarship Fund (October 2014)—in Western Illinois University’s third annual Fallen Soldiers 5k Run/Walk, you probably saw the guy in the gas mask. If you weren’t able to be there that beautiful autumn day at WIU, you may have come across the photo on the event’s Facebook page. Or, maybe,  you’re seeing this photo for the first time.

Tim Hallinan particpating in the third annual Fallen Soldiers 5k at Western Illinois University October 2014

But no matter how you encountered it, after you have looked at it, one thought and/or question likely comes to mind: “Is this guy crazy?”

Crazy like a fox.

Underneath that MOPP (mission oriented protective posture) gear is Army National Guard Veteran Tim Hallinan, the director of annual giving at Western. Tim, who competes in obstacle course races for fun, knows the value of “creating a ruckus” to draw attention to a cause. Last year, when the WIU community was furiously participating in the NCAA’s “6th Fan” contest for $100K in scholarship funds, Tim spearheaded voting marathons/parties to help Western’s cause. Alas, we didn’t win… but the event—and Tim’s efforts to unite the campus through voting events—served as a rallying force for Fighting Leathernecks everywhere.

This month, as the inaugural installment of the Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) Employee Spotlight, we focus on Tim, one of Western’s many dedicated and talented COAP employees. He was gracious enough to be the first victim… ahem, subject… and answered a few questions about himself (the man who is also behind the chucklesome, “Things overheard at the Hallinan house“).

Q. Tell me a bit about your background… How did you wind up working at WIU?

I graduated from Western in 1995 with a B.A. in sociology and began working as an advocate for people with disabilities in Macomb. In that position, I had the opportunity to network with the local school district, as well as many social service and non-profit organizations in the area. In 2000, I was approached to head up the new Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter, and I jumped at the chance to help build a new agency from the ground up. I gained a lot of experience with grants and fundraising in my eight years in this position. When the opportunity arose to come back to Western to raise funds for students in my alma mater, I saw it as a way to come “full circle” and was fortunate to have been selected as Director of Annual Giving.

Q. What does a typical day at work at Western look like for you?

My hours are a bit unconventional, as they mirror that of our Phonathon operations—mostly evenings and Sundays. I spend a lot of time collaborating with students and departments in preparing our direct mail outreach, designing solicitations, tracking our progress and researching trends and emerging technology in the area of annual giving that can benefit our university.

Tim Hallinan, WIU '95 and the director of annual giving in Western's Foundation and Development Office, earned "Trifecta" status in 2013 in the Spartan Race series.

Tim Hallinan, WIU ’95 and the director of annual giving in Western’s Foundation and Development Office, earned “Trifecta” status in 2013 in the Spartan Race series.

Q. What are some of the best aspects of your job? What are some of the most challenging aspects?

First and foremost, about 75 percent of the work I do is in cooperation with our students. Regardless if they are callers for our Phonathon or sharing their Western experiences in annual fund letters, I’m honored to be able to facilitate that connection between our students and alumni, and I feel rewarded in having the flexibility to showcase the impact of our donors’ collective giving on our students and our university. Alumni participation rates are declining industry-wide, and each year it is a challenge for me and others in the field to keep the need for alumni support in the forefront.

Q. What do you like to do in your time away from work?
In addition to as much “family time” as I can do with my wife, Jeri, and our three boys, I have served on several non-profit boards including – Western Illinois Service Coordination (WISC) and Big Brothers Big Sisters – for many years. This year, I have also begun serving on the board for our local Roller Derby team – The Macomb Bombshells. I admire this team for their hard work and dedication to themselves, the sport and our community, as well as their philanthropic efforts in donating their proceeds to local charities. But aside from my work and family, OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) is my passion.

Q. Tell me a little about your fitness activities (as I know you compete in those crazy obstacle course races), e.g., how and why did you get into this area of fitness? What is the next race you plan to compete in?

I served for 20 years in the Illinois National Guard, and I retired shortly before working for Western. In the military, even part time, there is the excitement, travel opportunities and challenges that appeal to me. I find that in OCR, as well as in fitness, benefits training for and competing in races. I have found it is a unique way to not only challenge myself, but also raise donations to fund a new scholarship at Western.

Impact and emotion certainly have a place in philanthropy, but I feel that adding an element of uniqueness or sensationalizing a philanthropic endeavor, to a degree, can also be beneficial and make it exciting. I can run a 5K and am grateful for a few that will sponsor me, but if I run a 5K in a gas mask or holding a Western flag, I find people are more inclined to be a part of the effort – especially if they have no other connection to our university. The underlying message is basically, “If I can do ‘this’ for a cause, you can help with a modest donation.”
This year, both my wife and I will be running a Tough Mudder, a Spartan Race, two Warrior Dashes and a marathon in hopes of securing a place in the OCR World Championships in Ohio this October.

Q. What is your favorite quote?

“Doubt kills more dreams that failure ever has.”

Tim’s trifecta: WIU employee, alum runs through fire (literally) to support students

“With each race, I offer the opportunity for them to ‘sponsor’ me with a gift to the new scholarship for Phonathon students. In doing so, I want them to feel that my accomplishments in the Spartan Race Series are also their accomplishment in support of our students. The result is some well-deserved assistance for at least one Phonathon student, who through the course of their work, has secured scholarship assistance for many others.” — Tim Hallinan, Western Alumnus and WIU Director of Annual Giving
Tim Hallinan - Spartan Racer

Would you ever run through fire for your job? Or slog through stinky mud? Or heave huge tractor tires around on a hot day?

Tim Hallinan would… and he does! Well… he does it for himself, too, but he also does it to help support Western students.

As the director of annual giving at Western, Tim manages the Student Phonathon Program, which occurs each semester at WIU and employs students who reach out to alumni and parents and ask for support. “Taking a moment to speak with us is a great way to stay connected to Western, ask questions and offer your support to the Annual Fund,” the program’s website states. He also competes in the Spartan Race series, and in 2013, “hit” the trifecta, when he finished three obstacle course race (OCR) challenges in a calendar year.

Tim Hallinan, WIU '95 and the director of annual giving in Western's Foundation and Development Office, earned "Trifecta" status in 2013 in the Spartan Race series.

Tim Hallinan, WIU ’95 and the director of annual giving in Western’s Foundation and Development Office, earned “Trifecta” status in 2013 in the Spartan Race series.

I’ve known Tim, one of the most committed and conscientious people I’ve ever met, for many years (full disclosure… I worked with him at another organization in Macomb, when we were enrolled at WIU as traditionally aged students, and I was in his wedding in what seems like an eternity ago, no offense, Tim ;-). Thus, it was no surprise to me when I heard he was going to compete in these crazy challenges and take his dedication to the next level—for himself, his alma mater, and his employer.

Last December, when his lovely wife, Jeri, posted some more of the photos of his OCR adventures on Facebook, I knew I had to share.

Below is a brief Q&A about his trifecta accomplishment. I think it demonstrates why he is the embodiment of  a WIU #SuccessStory.

Q). Tell me about how you got started doing these Spartan Races. Why punish yourself like this? Isn’t just exercising enough?

A). After my National Guard career, I was looking for something to keep me fit, but also hold my interest. What I found in OCR was exactly that—plus a sense of achievement that is a step beyond a 5K time or number on a scale. There is also a sense of camaraderie among many OCR racers. You experience this on any course in the country when a stranger disregards his or her course time to stop to assist you with an obstacle or vice versa.

Q). What does the “trifecta,” in terms of Spartan racing, mean?

Tim HallinanA). The Spartan Race series includes the Spartan Sprint (3+ miles/15 obstacles), the Super Spartan (8+ miles/20 obstacles,) and the Spartan Beast (12+ miles / 25 obstacles). Completing all three distances in a calendar year earns a racer Trifecta Status, and each racer is awarded a special medal to recognize the accomplishment. Longer and even more challenging courses are offered to elite racers, but I’m not quite up to that level just yet. My latest race was the Texas Spartan Beast on December 14th in Glen Rose, Texas, which was the last race of the year, and the last distance I needed to earn the 2013 Trifecta. I previously completed the Spartan Sprint in Indiana (April 2013) and the Super Spartan in Marseilles, IL (July 2013).

Q). How does one go about training for such a competition?

A). A mistake I made early on was not distinguishing “training” from “working out.” Before my first race in October 2012, I really was not focused on fitness goals or nutrition, and it showed in my race time. Now I understand that training needs to be targeted with specific goals in mind, as well as being mindful of what I eat and when I eat it. I’ve conceded that at age 45 I’m not going to win a Spartan Race and am happy with just finishing. I consider any race in which I beat my previous time or complete obstacles I couldn’t complete before personal “wins.”

WIU Phonathon Students

Students who work for the WIU Student Phonathon Program.

Q). How does competing in these races work with the WIU scholarship fund you established?

A). I’m blessed with many friends, family, and former WIU Phonathon employees who support what I do on the course, as well as on the WIU campus. With each race, I offer the opportunity for them to “sponsor” me with a gift to the new scholarship for Phonathon students. In doing so, I want them to feel that my accomplishments in the Spartan Race Series are also their accomplishment in support of our students. The result is some well-deserved assistance for at least one Phonathon student, who through the course of their work, has secured scholarship assistance for many others.

Q). Are you going to be competing in another one? If so, when?

A). Next up for me is the Indiana Sprint on April 26th. I really enjoy this particular course, and am looking forward to it.

Primitive Craziness… for WIU Scholarships

WIU Annual Fund Director's Super Spartan Race for WIU Scholarships

WIU Annual Fund Director Tim Hallinan, B.S. '95, is training for a Super Spartan Race this coming October. He has tied his training and race event to a fundraiser for WIU Scholarships. Donate to Tim's cause on his Super Spartan Race for WIU Scholarships website by clicking on this photo or visit

What is with these WIU alumni taking part in these Spartan events? If you haven’t heard of them before, according to the Spartan Race website, “Spartan Race is the world’s leading obstacle race series. It’s an event of pure primitive craziness that you’ll never forget!”

WIU alumnus Joe Decker (’98, B.S.), last year, participated in the Spartan Death Race. He won… for the second year in a row.

Now another alumnus, Tim Hallinan (’95, B.S.), who also happens to be the director of the WIU Annual Fund, is hopping on the crazy train and is planning to compete in a Super Spartan obstacle race later this year.

Hallinan is using the event not only as a way to maintain his fitness, but he is also tying his training and race day event to a fundraiser for WIU Scholarships. (People can donate to help Tim’s cause, WIU Scholarships, on his Super Spartan website at

I asked Tim a few questions about his path of “pure primitive craziness”; his answers are below…

1. How did you come up with the idea to do a Super Spartan Race as a fundraiser?

Tim: I work with many great students who help Western raise money for the Annual Fund either as callers for the WIU Phonathon or by helping with our direct mail fundraising. Although Western remains committed to access and affordability, many of these students know at least one person who has struggled to meet the cost of his or her education. As a Western alumnus, I make my annual gift to my department to support scholarships, but wanted to do something extra this year to benefit a student that could really use some help. The Spartan Race is unique, and I thought it might be a good way to raise some much needed funds for our Scholarship Office to distribute and raise awareness for the University’s need for Annual Fund participation among current students, as well as friends, alumni, and Western parents.

2. Why do you want to put yourself through something like this when there are probably much easier ways of raising funds, i.e., bake sale, etc.?

Tim: It’s just easier for me to endure eight miles of mud and obstacles as opposed to someone else having to endure my attempt at a Snicker Doodle. Plus, I have always wanted to compete in a Spartan Race, and I made the commitment this year to do so. I’m not particularly athletic by any means, but the training regimen for something like this really helps me stay in shape, too.

3. How are you training for this event?

Tim: Lots of running and cardiovascular exercises. I don’t expect to run the entire eight miles, and lucky for me there is no time limit to finish, but I do want to finish in under 3 hours. They don’t advertise the challenges a competitor will face on the course, but I’ve seen a lot of military-style obstacles in videos from past races so I’m really working on upper body strength as well.

4. What will the funds, from this particular fundraiser, go toward?

Tim: The funds will go to our scholarship office to be distributed to students in need and deserving of some extra help this fall to ensure they graduate.

5. How do fundraisers like this and the Annual Fund help current and future WIU students?

Tim: Many students don’t realize that the tuition they pay only covers about half of what it costs Western to provide their education in a given academic year. Gifts to the Annual Fund help keep our scholarships in place and bridge the funding gap between tuition and appropriated funds from the State of Illinois. If you think about it, the Annual Fund helps all students enjoy a “free” semester every year!

6. When and where will the race/obstacle course take place?

Tim: The event will be Saturday, October 27th in Marseilles, IL.

7. Anything else important to highlight that I didn’t ask about?

Tim: Virtually every area of our Macomb and Quad Cities campuses needs and appreciates Annual Gifts. I did not want his to compete with other worthy causes, so most of my outreach has been to people without a current connection to Western. That being said, anyone who does choose to support this effort will be sent a link to a private YouTube video of me crossing the finish line in my Purple and Gold, and likely receiving quite a bit of physical punishment (as is customary at the end of a Spartan Race.) As this video will be available only to donors, I’m betting that a lot of my student employees as well as colleagues would give a small gift just to see that!

Click on Tim’s photo in this post to donate… Good luck, Tim!