Name: Aaron Del Mar
Organization: Adrenaline Special Events
Location: Palatine, Illinois
Bachelor’s degree from Indiana University
Del Mar is a leader in various ventures, including:
• Chicago Casino and Poker Rentals, 2004—present
• Santa Hustle Race Series, 2009—present
• Adrenaline Special Events, 2016—present
Aaron Del Mar, CEO of Adrenaline Special Events, wants you to have the hap-hap-happiest holiday outside of “Christmas Vacation” by running the Santa Hustle, a road race that’s not about being ultra-competitive or getting your best 5K time, but about having fun while being healthy and giving to charity. Participants don Santa hats and beards, and there are stations for candy, cookies and cocoa along the racecourse. There are also in-person carolers, Christmas-themed selfie stops with inflatable decor and even live reindeer. Hosted in a dozen cities from coast to coast, it’s more than a race with a holiday theme; it’s an event that people look forward to all year long.
“I’m all about building traditions — after the second year of you doing the Santa Hustle, I’m part of your family,” Del Mar said. “The Christmas season doesn’t start until you’ve done the race. I took my love of athletics and having fun and turned it into people having an amazing experience.”
It’s an understatement to say that coordinating events that draw thousands of runners is a huge undertaking, but Del Mar is used to facing challenges that would seem insurmountable to some.
His record-breaking high school wrestling wins earned him a scholarship to Indiana University in Bloomington, where he ditched wrestling when he discovered judo, becoming a three-time Judo All-American and a member of the 2000 University World Judo Team. After training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, he also did MMA-style combat, participating in 13 cage fights, which he said jokingly was preparation for running for political office.
“Believe it or not, politics is a contact sport,” he said. “Judo and MMA have uniquely trained me to be in politics. You have to have the mindset of ‘never give up, never surrender.’”
The father of six, Del Mar is active in politics in his hometown of Palatine, Illinois, where he serves as highway commissioner, although he began his political career in 2009 when he was elected the youngest and first minority councilman.
At his day job, Del Mar is the CEO of two companies: Adrenaline Special Events, a management company that specializes in producing athletic events like the Santa Hustle, the Halloween Hustle and the American Pickleball Tour, and U.S. Casino Rentals, a marketing firm that specializes in corporate party planning. Both produce expos and unique corporate parties whose motto, “turning events into experiences,” focuses on a participant-forward edge.
If Del Mar’s roster of accomplishments reads like a checklist for successful people, that’s because it is.
As a leader, he spends time attending other events to learn best practices of what works well and what doesn’t. In business, he builds friendships first and then leverages those relationships with the mantra “If I help you get to wherever you want to go, I believe you take me with you,” meaning that a cooperative relationship will build both people up and benefit both parties.
“My biggest fear is mediocrity,” he said. “I choose to work, I’m passionate about what I do, and the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Tips from Aaron Del Mar
• When dealing with hostile and uncooperative people, no matter how much I dislike their personal style, I try never to be unkind or discourteous. I always give them an opportunity to be right even when they are wrong.
• Hire the best team you can and get the heck out of their way. If you can’t trust them to do the job, you shouldn’t have hired them. I hire slow and fire fast.