Mercy Home Heroes Spotlight: Heather Mellish
Heather Mellish is a seasoned marathon veteran chasing down race number 20. Over the last 18 months, however, she has neglected running. Yet amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing, and a hectic schedule, she has regained her stride.
“I have four kids and I work full-time, so time is a precious commodity,” Mellish said. “And this shelter-in-place order has really brought the joy of running back to my spirit. I’ve really enjoyed getting up early in the morning, before my kids get up, and spending some time by myself outside, (then) coming back in knowing that I was outside and I did something great for my spirit, for my body, and for my mental health.”
For a lot of people, an injury might signal the end of an athletic journey. But for Mellish, it sparked a passion that has her poised to run her 20th marathon this fall.
While vacationing with friends more than 20 years ago, Mellish hurt her foot going up some stairs. When she returned home to Dallas, a visit to the ER confirmed it had been broken. She was not looking forward to hobbling around on crutches in the sunny Texas weather. She even started to long for athletic hobbies she’d never had before.
“I was like, ‘man, I can’t even run,’” she remembers. “Then I was like, ‘well, I don’t really run…’”
She decided to change that and signed up to run with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training, which carried special meaning as her grandmother passed away from lymphoma. And in June of 2000, she ran her first marathon in San Diego.
Since then, Mellish has run marathons in New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Salt Lake City, Boulder, and Steamboat Springs. She has also completed the Bank of America Chicago Marathon – 13 times in fact. In 2012, she not only ran on our Heroes team for the first time, but for Team MERITHON as well.
When the daughter of Mellish’s family friends passed away, they started the Meredith Williams Foundation in her honor. Meredith, known by her friends as Meri, had a friend who worked at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. In finding a way to honor her spirit of energy through movement, Meri’s friends started Team MERITHON in 2011 to run for Mercy Home. Since then, the team has raised more than $100,000 for our kids.
Though she had run the Chicago Marathon previously, Mellish found that running with Mercy Home was very different.
“It was amazing… I said that as long as I’m going to run the Chicago Marathon, I’ll run it on behalf of Mercy Home,” Mellish said. “It’s so unique that (the Home is) right on the marathon course, and that’s really hard to compete with experience-wise. It’s just great.”
I said that as long as I’m going to run the Chicago Marathon, I’ll run it on behalf of Mercy Home. It’s so unique that (the Home is) right on the marathon course, and that’s really hard to compete with experience-wise. It’s just great.
Though Heather grew up in Chicago, she no longer resides here. And while she would like to participate in the CARA training runs, she finds that she is able to stay connected to the team through the Heroes Facebook group. And she appreciates all the perks that make for a smooth marathon weekend when she and her family come to town.
“I really like the pasta dinner – I feel like it gives you a tangible, inside experience to seeing Mercy Home and being a part of it,” she said.
“The support the day of the race – just being able to show up at Hero Headquarters and walk two blocks to the start of the race, being able to keep my things there, and having a place for my family to be at the end of the race – it’s invaluable.”
Mellish has come a long way since she broke her foot and decided to become a marathoner 20 years ago. She has conquered 26.2 miles in some beautiful cities, and raised money for some amazing causes, which we are honored to be a part of. And along the journey, she’s learned some important lessons from this simple hobby.
“I think the marathon is a metaphor for life,” she said.
“All the different emotions and physical experiences you go through – you can plan so well for something that you think is going to be so well architected, and then you show up on race day and it’s raining, or it’s snowing, or you’re sick…But if you really put your mind to it and you go into it with understanding that expectations are kind of going to go up and down – you can prepare for the unexpected.”