Mercy Home Heroes Spotlight: Don St. Jacques
In 2018, after talking about it for a couple of years, Don St. Jacques finally pulled the trigger and signed up for his first marathon – the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. But halfway through the race, his fortitude was tested. The end result? An unforgettable and heroic experience.
In college, St. Jacques rowed crew for Oklahoma State. If he wasn’t on the water, he was running. If he wasn’t running, he was lifting. If he wasn’t doing those things, he was in class. Needless to say, he was pretty active.
But after earning his degree and starting his career, staying active wasn’t so easy. For the next 30 years, he was on an airplane almost every day.
“Running really wasn’t something I made time for,” St. Jacques said.
But in 2016, he started getting back into it. He entered some shorter races, mostly walking them. Then he started ramping up his miles. He even entered a couple of half marathons.
“Once you get over the initial aches and pains of getting your body back to being active, you can feel a huge difference,” he said. “Both with energy and focus and starting to lose weight as well.”
In the back of his head, St. Jacques had a plan. In 2018, he would focus on 10-mile races and half marathons, and by 2019 he’d be ready for a marathon. One of St. Jacques’ friends, Mike Hurley, laughed at the plan. Hurley was already a marathoner and a part of our Heroes team. He let St. Jacques know he was overthinking his decision.
“Once you get over the initial aches and pains of getting your body back to being active, you can feel a huge difference.”
Along with Hurley, St. Jacques’ girlfriend at the time let him know he wasn’t getting any younger. With an “I’ll show you” mentality, St. Jacques hit the fast-forward button on his plan and signed up for the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon as a Mercy Home Hero.
St. Jacques lives in Florida, and not long after he signed up for the marathon, an old friend moved back to the Sunshine State from Colorado. While they were catching up, he asked her if she wanted to join him in running the marathon that fall. She said yes, and just like that, St. Jacques had a training partner.
But training during the summer months in Florida is no easy task.
“There were times that both of us thought we were crazy, like, ‘what in the heck are we doing?’ ” St. Jacques said. “The fact was, having a good training partner was beneficial. We were both committed to it, and we decided we were going to get it done, come hell or high water.”
Though St. Jacques spent much of his career in the Chicagoland area, he had never heard of Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. When he and his training partner traveled to Chicago that summer for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon, they had a chance to tour the Home. All of a sudden, their mission had new meaning.
“As we walked out of there, we were both in shock, going ‘we’ve got to do this. This is what we’ve got to do.’ ”
In August, however, St. Jacques experienced a setback when he injured his ankle. Some of his friends thought he should consider dropping out of the marathon, but St. Jacques had his mind set – he was going to run the marathon, even if his foot fell off.
When it was time to return in the fall, the marathon hype began right away.
“It starts before you even get on the airplane, because you start running into people who are coming up for the marathon and you really start getting excited,” he said.
“Then you get to packet pickup and there’s an electricity in the building. The day of the race, we were like two little kids. The energy, being in that crowd – even though it is a little imposing – it was one of the most awesome feelings in the world.”
St. Jacques was on a good pace for the first half of the marathon, but around Mile 15, his ankle flared up. The pain was so unbearable he could barely focus. But just in time the nick of time, he hit the Mercy Mile.
“When I got to Mercy Home and everybody was out there – even though I was moving more like a snail than anything else – it gave me that boost of energy to take me on,” he said.
“I was determined to say, ‘I’m not going to not finish. I may be crawling – but I’m going to make it to the end.’ That boost of energy was invigorating.”
With his spirit rejuvenated, St. Jacques pushed through the pain and crossed the finish line of his first marathon, one year ahead of schedule.
“When I got to Mercy Home and everybody was out there – even though I was moving more like a snail than anything else – it gave me that boost of energy to take me on.”
Just two years removed from walking his way through a 5k, St. Jacques could officially call himself a marathoner. But he wasn’t done. He decided to become a Hero again in 2019, and he recruited a few more of his friends to join him.
This fall, he and his training partner will run their third straight Chicago Marathon for the Heroes team, along with a few more members of their crew – which he has dubbed “The Beach Heroes.” He also plans to test the waters of a new marathon just a few weeks before Chicago this year as well – at the Boston Marathon, which was recently postponed from its usual April date due to the COVID-19 crisis.
One of the reasons St. Jacques continues to log countless miles in the Florida heat and raise crucial funds for our kids is because of the support he receives from the Heroes team.
“The Mercy Home program is beyond compare,” he said. “The support from Mercy Home – it just made you feel like, ‘alright, let’s do this.’ And the pasta dinner the first year – we didn’t really know anybody, and we started to make some friends and it just felt really good.”
“The Mercy Home program is beyond compare.”
And though he now has a couple of marathons under his belt, there will always be something special about that first one.
“It was probably one of the most important personal accomplishments I’ve ever done,” he said.
“When you think about the number of people who have ever done a marathon in the scope of every person walking this planet – it’s a fraction of a fraction. But once you accomplish a marathon – you’re a marathoner for life. You did it.”