Running for a merciful cause
10/10/2012 10:00 PM
For the last few weeks, Stella Guerrero has worn her black-and-yellow Asics Gels just about everywhere. That’s because she needed a suitable break-in period for the high performance shoes, leading up to the big show last weekend: her first Chicago Marathon. She’s probably put a good 300 miles on the runners and that was before Oct. 7.
Up until this year’s marathon, Guerrero had never run a full 42.195 kilometers — That’s 26.2 miles, for you Yankees. What she has done is train diligently since early this year, running from her West Loop apartment to the lake shore, north and south through Grant Park and beyond, gradually increasing her distance.
“Running the marathon was a goal I set back in February,” she said. “It was on one of those things I had on my bucket list.”
Guerrero turned 51 this year, but she easily looks 10 years younger. Staying in shape was one of the main reasons she chose long distance running. It’s a solitary endeavor that requires, more than anything else, commitment. She started out with short distances — five miles, then 10 — and gradually worked up to meet the mental and physical challenge of a full marathon.
“What really motivated me to keep going and work toward the marathon was the Mercy Home,” she said. “It’s been the one constant part of my goal to complete the run.”
The Mercy Home for Boys and Girls is a West Loop landmark, providing care and education to disadvantaged, abused and neglected children. It’s also celebrating 125 years of service in 2012. To commemorate that milestone, Mercy Home recruited 125 runners for this year’s marathon to serve as Mercy Home Heroes. Guerrero and the other heroes wore Mercy colors during last Sunday’s race and collected donations from family and friends.
Mercy set a fundraising goal for each participant of $1,000 (Guerrero collected $2,000). The Mercy Home staff also helped runners prepare, said Susan Flood, Mercy’s director of philanthropy.
“We provided training and group runs and the participants in turn set a goal to raise money for the Mercy Home kids during the marathon,” Flood said. “Last year was the first time we participated. We had 70 runners and raised $110,000. This year, the Mercy Heroes will raise more than $150,000.”
Another rookie marathoner, Lauren Hileman, chose to support Mercy Home because she has a soft spot in her heart for children.
“I wanted to run for charity to make my first marathon more special,” said Hileman, a third-grade student teacher at Skinner School in the West Loop. “I’ve only been running for a couple of years. Once I started, I found it was fun. And, a lot of my friends are runners.”
Bob Bauer is also a West Loop runner who’s supporting Mercy Home. Bauer, who’s run 10 previous 42K races, learned about the Mercy Heroes program during a Mardi Gras event at the home.
“They had a booth with the message, ‘Run for the kids,’ and I thought, why not,” Bauer said. “This is the first time I’ve run to support a charitable cause. It definitely offers an extra incentive to complete the marathon.”
A full marathon is a grueling experience for the novice or veteran runner, he said, and this year’s race could be his swan song. His 52-year-old knees can’t take the abuse like they used to, he said.
The pre-race routine for Guerrero, Hileman, Bauer and the other Mercy runners was simple: rest and get mentally prepared for the chilly early Sunday morning start. Mercy Home offered its runners a carb-loaded pasta dinner last Friday night as an extra benefit.
Many charitable organizations attach themselves to the marathon each year. Mercy Home became one of those after Kellogg Company Chairman James Jenness made the suggestion. Jenness is a runner — and a Mercy Home board member.
“Upwards of 150 charities raise money this way,” Flood said. “A lot of runners want to make it a more meaningful experience, so raising money for a worthy organization really fits in. In fact, some people wouldn’t even run a marathon unless they were doing it for charity.
“Everybody has goals, and a marathon is one of those things you can say ‘I can do it,’ and with a charitable connection, it helps give you an extra motivation,” she said.
Back in 1887, Mercy Home started out as a traditional orphanage to address a growing homeless population. Over the years, the Mercy mission has remained constant — providing young people (ages 11 to 21) with a safe home. More often than not, new Mercy residents are escaping a traumatic or abusive situation.
Nowadays, Mercy also helps prepare young people for adult life, offering guidance on selecting a career and even helping develop a resume.
The connection to Mercy Home convinced Stella Guerrero to accept the challenge of a marathon. It’s in the West Loop, so she’s supporting a neighborhood institution. But there was one more thing.
“I’ve seen teenagers downtown begging and sleeping in the bushes at the UIC campus,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking, and you want to be able to do something — anything — to help out. The Mercy Home really gives kids in need and in trouble a place where they can grow up in a safe environment. I’m glad I was able to do my part in thanking Mercy for all they do.”
After 26.2 miles, the Mercy Home Heroes were sore but smiling. Bob Bauer and his balky knees turned in a 5:35:17. Lauren Hileman can tell her third-graders she ran a respectable 4:44:37. And paralegal Stella Guerrero hit the finish line at 4:34:31.