July 10, 2018 By Allison Stern

Meet Mirela Stefanescu: Race Director of The First Annual Mesothelioma Race for Justice 5k

This fall, Vogelzang Law will present the first annual Mesothelioma Race for Justice 5k. Proceeds from the 2018 race will benefit the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF). We spoke with Race Director Mirela Stefanescu of Vogelzang Law about the upcoming race and her motivation.  

What brought you to Vogelzang Law and what attracted you to the firm?

Believe it or not, I started out helping Caylei Vogelzang event planning through an outside company. After that, she she asked me to work for her. After being with Caylei part time for about a month, she said, you know, Nick probably needs help in the office as well.

I started out with a cookie campaign, taking Vogelzang Law cookie tins throughout all of the Midwest —  Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, and Michigan — to unions with brochures to introduce the firm. In doing that all summer long, I learned a lot more about what we do.

Nick has been doing asbestos litigation for about 16 years. He got into this line of law because of his dad, who represents the same type of people. So my spiel has obviously become increasingly more knowledgeable as well. 

I work with the building trades often, which is a group of business managers and business agents who represent a whole bunch of members who come together at these outings specifically. There are electricians, pipefitters, and insulators. I also came to find out what type of members we represent and how they could possibly be exposed to asbestos. So over the last two and a half years I’ve acquired a lot more knowledge where I can speak in a lot more depth to these union guys.

Last year was very union focused and union heavy and it did bring about two cases. This year, I’ve tried to be a little more focused on our charity involvement which is how the race came about.

What do you value the most about Vogelzang Law?

I’d like to think of us as having a very high moral compass and to say that in a law firm is not always accurate, but here it’s true. It’s easy for me to market the firm because it is family run, I know the high moral compass that they have and that we work on. It’s easy to talk about the firm and the good work that we do. Making money is not the focus.

What’s the best thing about your job?

All the people that I meet and the fact that I get to do so much volunteer work are the best parts. You know, it’s personal gratification, but it’s also on behalf of the firm. Not only do they allow me to volunteer with the firm, they encourage it. It’s great to have partnerships with all of these charitable organizations, be the face of the firm, and say that we’re a law firm that supports the cause and encourages employees to volunteer.

What inspired you to create a 5k for mesothelioma?

The biggest reason is Caylei’s background. She has been a race director and put together the Fort 2 Base, the Hot Chocolate 15k/5k, and the Cinco de Miler. So she had experience in organizing that type of charity event, and she is a triathlon participant and runner as well. I’m also a runner and I’ve found that it’s very different to run it instead of direct it.

So yeah, Caylei was an influence and I’ve run a lot of races, so I thought it’d be an awesome way to raise awareness.

Why did you choose to have the race benefit MARF?

We’re benefitting MARF this year and each year we will benefit a different organization. The reason we’re benefitting MARF is because it’s the closest associated to the law firm. We represent meso patients; their members are meso patients. That made the most sense to benefit them this first year.

Which organizations would you like to benefit in future years?

I definitely want to benefit the American Lung Association, Rush University, University of Chicago, and GIlda’s Club. Those are four that I know for sure I’d like to work with in future 5ks.

How does the race represent Vogelzang Law’s commitment to cancer research and a commitment to finding a cure?

The philanthropic aspect. The fact that a law firm is willing to host an event like this. I think that is important.

How does the race support mesothelioma research?

With MARF, not only does the money they raise and the money raised on their behalf go to research such as  clinical trials, but another piece of what they do is they go to Washington, D.C. to advocate for grants for clinical trials and for asbestos bans, because unfortunately asbestos is still in the United States. Another portion of their funds goes to the actual families affected by meso to help them go to specialists around the country. MARF will put them up in housing, provide food for them, for their spouse while they’re going through these treatments and trials.

Could you tell me about the name of the race, “Mesothelioma Race for Justice”?

That was a collaboration. You know, we had to have the name mesothelioma in there somehow and the justice part [refers to the law firm]. It was kind of a play on words.

What are some tips for race attendees and what types of accommodations can they expect?

Have fun! I went to a race director seminar in January and learned so much. They informed me to make sure to have enough facilities. There are a few bathrooms on site, but you need to make sure to have one bathroom per 100 attendees. They also said that on race day while everything’s chaotic, stop and just enjoy it.

What else can people expect on race day?

They can expect music, camaraderie, food trucks, having fun and enjoying what I hope will be a beautiful day.

Which food trucks will be at the race?

So far we have an ice cream & breakfast truck called Babycakes. They have danishes and pancakes. I’m also going to try to get a BBQ truck because that’s just a given in my opinion.

So music, camaraderie, food trucks, and obviously the race is in a really beautiful location…

Gorgeous! I’ve run it. I ran it to figure out the path for the 5k and oh my gosh it’s beautiful.

What are you the most excited to experience on the day of the event?

The crowd. Also, to see it all come together. And then for it to be over so we can start planning next year.

Is it a good idea to bring kids to the race?

Absolutely! It’s probably best for younger kids to support on the sidelines, rather than participate in the race, but they can come cheer on their family. I’m considering getting a bounce house and face painting so it’ll for sure be a kid-friendly event.

Anything you’d like to tell someone who is considering participating?

Please sign up! It’s for a really really good cause. It’s a great organization. So don’t forget to sign up.

Excellent! Mirela, thank you so much for this interview. This was very insightful for me and hopefully to everyone who gets to read this as well.

Join us September 22, 2018 at the Lake County Forest Preserve Half Day in Vernon Hills, IL for the first annual Mesothelioma Race for Justice 5k.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.