On the morning of Danette Cristel’s first marathon as a Mercy Home Hero, she received unthinkable news: her mother had passed away.

“It was a pretty tough day … I was pretty shook up,” she remembered. “I thought I had prepared myself for every eventuality, but when I walked into the headquarters, [it was difficult].”

Earlier in the year, her elderly mother got sick and the illness progressed over the summer. Danette turned to other Heroes she knew from Facebook for support as she faced a hard decision about how to proceed with the marathon.

“I started talking to some people in Chicago, [other] Heroes, getting some support because I could see what was about to happen,” she said. “I continued to train, and I was going no matter what. We were doing this.”

Danette’s commitment and persistence even in the face of very difficult circumstances was an attitude she shared with her mother.

“My mother was a big competitor,” she said. “She actually played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League [and] had her own baseball card.”

So when it was time to decide whether to travel from St. Louis to Chicago to run the marathon, she knew that running was what her mother would want her to do.

“She was the type of person [who said] you paid for that, you better go do that,” she said. “And she was a competitor. If you said you were going to do something, you did it.”

Danette saw her mother for the last time the Thursday before the marathon and felt comfortable leaving town.

“I come from a really big family,” she explained. “I didn’t feel like I was needed, like if I was to go, I wasn’t leaving her alone.”

Danette heard from her sister at 5:30 a.m. on marathon day that her mother died overnight—she had waited to call Danette so she wouldn’t disturb her in the middle of the night before running.

Danette thought of her mother’s words to her: to go out and make her proud.

“So, I did,” she said. “I knew there was nothing left to do at that point. It was hard.”

Even in the face of tragedy, Danette went to the Heroes’ Headquarters ready to run the race and support the children of Mercy Home.

“When I walked into the headquarters, a few people I had befriended knew about it and they asked me [about her] and Jim [Harding, the Heroes Coordinator] asked and we all prayed before we left,” she said. “I kind of felt at that moment that was right where I belonged. I was doing what I was supposed to do with people who cared, and my sons were there, and I felt like this is what I’m supposed to do today, and I went out and did it.”

Even though Danette was no stranger to running marathons—she ran in every Chicago marathon from 2010 through 2015—this marathon was a difficult one.

Her mother had written her a card for one of those marathons that ended with “go get ‘em.” These words echoed back to Danette from a bystander during the 2017 marathon.

“[He] yelled to me, ‘hey, Mercy Home Hero, go get ‘em’ and I knew, I had absolutely no choice but to keep going,” she said.

Looking back now, Danette is glad that she made the decision to run that morning.

“It was a pretty amazing day and my kids were following me around and I never felt alone and that was important on that day,” she said. “Somehow, I made it to the finish.

“I’ve been pretty proud of myself for being strong enough to do that and I really hope to inspire other people to realize they can do things that they don’t think they can.”

Danette also credits the young people of Mercy Home as an inspiration to her. She originally signed up to be a Hero after her son completed medical school— “I was inspired by the fact that my son was a doctor and I didn’t want some kid to get hurt and have to go see him”—but it grew to be more.

“I think that’s one of the reasons that I signed up, because I was not as motivated as I used to be, and I needed a reason to be motivated and this gave it to me,” she said. “To work, to help them, and then in turn, they’re inadvertently helping me by me being accountable to them.”

And as she prepares to cheer on our Heroes again this year, she has some encouragement for everyone who is running.

“I learned over the years that it’s important you just do it to do it, to say you did, to go out and achieve a goal and that’s something to be proud of no matter how long you take—the fact that you saw it through is what matters.”

Danette is an amazing example to all of us of what it means to persevere through difficult times to make a difference in the lives of our kids. We are proud to have her as part of the Mercy Home family!

  1. Tanya Smith says:

    What a BEAUTIFUL story.. You are a strong woman and many if us can learn from this story. I know I learned something… Many blessings to you…

    Reply

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