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Mercy Home Heroes Spotlight: Martha Gonzalez
Amid the chaos of 2020, Martha Gonzalez remains poised to complete her 12th marathon. Though the atmosphere will feel different without large crowds of runners and spectators, the cause is a familiar one.
She’ll cross the finish line as a Mercy Home Hero for the second year in a row after previously running on behalf of other charities, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the YMCA. She has gone the distance for many kids, but the one she started running for in the first place was her own.
“My son was a very sick child. I was always in these waiting rooms in the hospital and whenever he had a surgery, I would go into the room and I would pretend that everything was perfect, because he never wanted to see me cry,” Gonzalez said.
“While he was in surgery or while they were doing something, I would take a lap and just run around the hospital parking lot and I would cry my eyes out.”
When her son was in high school, doctors discovered he had three damaged discs. Because they said he could no longer run, Gonzalez was determined to keep running for him.
As a lifelong Chicagoan, Gonzalez had been to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon to cheer on her brother. Knowing how busy her schedule was, her brother would tease her by saying, ‘I bet you can’t do one.’ Gonzalez took the challenge to heart.
“Don’t tell me I can’t do something, because I’m going to do it just to prove it,” she said.
In 2012, she proved it. She ran the Chicago Marathon that year for Team Golden Apple, a program that provides scholarships for students pursuing a career in teaching. In fact, that same year, Gonzalez’s daughter was awarded a Golden Apple Scholarship.
Don’t tell me I can’t do something, because I’m going to do it just to prove it.
After her first marathon, Gonzalez kept going. Her highlight reel includes finishes in Paris and Memphis. And even though she’s a Chicagoan, her favorite football team is the Green Bay Packers, so the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon that ends at Lambeau Field was special for her as well.
In 2019, she decided to give a new spin to her hometown marathon by joining the Mercy Home Heroes. Though she’d seen the Mercy Mile in past marathons, running by it in the Heroes white and green was a completely different experience.
“It was amazing to see the kids running with us and having Fr. Scott there meeting us and giving us a hug,” Gonzalez said. “I owned a business for 10 years and worked full-time and had a sick child, so I never really had all the time in the world to run, but I always ran enough to where I finished the marathon. That mile is always my hardest. This past year it was easier – just knowing that I was going to get there and I was going to have the people cheering me on.” Gonzalez enjoyed the experience of running with Mercy Home so much that she decided to become a Hero again this year. And as she prepares to go 26.2 miles for the 12th time, she has not only become a veteran marathoner, but a veteran fundraiser as well.
Through the years, she has found that doing her homework as a fundraiser is one of the keys to success. She learns about the mission she is supporting to engage potential donors. She also learns about the donors themselves and uses this information to dedicate specific miles to them. “My last donor lost two babies a few years ago and she’s always cheering me on so I said, ‘thank you – you made me reach my goal and this year I will dedicate a mile to your angels.’ ” And even though she will not have more than a million spectators cheering her on or the Mercy Mile to pick her up if she hits the wall – she continues to be a Hero by running and raising crucial funds for the kids at Mercy Home. “This year I told donors: I know that you’re giving me money and there’s not going to be a race, but the kids still need money; there’s still a need. So I promise I’m going to run the race whether there is one or not.”