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Mercy Home Heroes Spotlight: Niall Brennan
For This Mercy Home Hero, It’s a Family Affair
Whether it’s the children entrusted to our care, our coworkers, or even our generous donors, you often hear them say the same thing: Mercy Home is like family. It’s a bond like no other, full of compassion, community, and loyalty.
Our Mercy Home Heroes are an important part of this Mercy Home family because they literally go the distance—26.2 miles, in fact—for our kids. Because of their hard work and dedication, they make it possible for our kids to succeed in life and build a brighter future.
For Ireland native and Mercy Home Hero Niall Brennan—who will run the 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon along with 200-plus fellow Heroes—strong family bonds are what brought him, his wife, and their three children to Chicago.
“We moved back here to be close to family for our kids, and for a little bit of extra support,” said Brennan, a quantitative research analyst on the responsible investing team at Newton Asset Management. “My wife Ashley grew up in this area.”
Not only did his wife grow up in Chicagoland, she grew up volunteering at Mercy Home with her parents, Pamela and Ernest Codilis, who have been generous friends of our Home for over 35 years. Mr. Codilis, CEO at Codilis & Associates, is one of our Ambassadors of Mercy, a select board of prominent professionals dedicated to advancing our mission.
As the Codilis’ volunteer efforts around our Home grew, so did their relationship with former Mercy Home President Father James Close and current President and CEO, Father Scott Donahue.
“Ever since I met my wife, Mercy Home has been the charity that her family’s involved in,” Brennan said. “And as we’ve started donating to Mercy Home, we got to know Father Scott as well. He actually married my wife and I. He also baptized two of my nephews and one of my sons in the small chapel at Mercy Home. And I imagine once everything opens back up, my youngest will be baptized there as well.”
When Brennan met his wife 10 years ago in Boston, he was competing in triathlons and she was actually training to run the Chicago Marathon as a Mercy Home Hero.
“Endurance training was one of the things that we were able to bond over,” he said. “She was doing all her long runs on the weekend and I would go off to do training sessions also.”
After Brennan and his wife moved in together, the finish line for the Boston Marathon was about a half mile from where they lived. “I used to bike by that on my way to work every day,” he said. “I told myself, ‘You know what? I’m going to run this for sure.’”
To have longevity in it, in any type of sport, you need to love the process, which I do. I just love the process. It’s this idea of trying to master something. Not that I’m ever going to become the best runner in the world, but every day I get up and run, I do my rehab. There’s this strict process that goes into doing it, but I love it. I feel like it almost sets me free.
In 2016, while living in Colorado with his wife, Brennan set out to do just that. He started by running the Chicago Marathon as a Mercy Home Hero. He was our top finisher with a time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, which qualified him for the Boston Marathon. But that winter, while training for Boston, he fell and broke his leg.
“I was running and I slipped on some ice,” Brennan said. “There was a crack in the road and my foot just got stuck in it and I went over.”
Little did he know at the time, this accident was just the beginning of a long road to recovery, followed by a series of life events, another injury, and a global pandemic, all of which kept him from his dream of running the Boston Marathon.
For starters, he underwent two surgeries to repair his broken fibula and spent five months in a cast. Once the cast was off, with his quadriceps muscles atrophied and rail-thin, it was another three or four months until he could walk without a limp. Not wanting to re-injure his leg, he didn’t start running again until almost 10 months after his accident. Two months later, his firstborn son arrived.
“I was super slow in coming back,” Brennan said. “And I didn’t want to sign up for any races with a newborn either.”
Never one to sit still, Brennan shifted gears and took full advantage of Colorado’s outdoor playground as he got into hiking, mountain biking, and skiing. Still, the allure of running and competing in a marathon was always within sight, so he started training and doing physical therapy to get his muscles back in race form.
To get his legs under him, he signed up for a half marathon, but pulled his hamstring during his last workout before the race. In 2019, he rebounded. Fully recovered, he ran Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota and again qualified for Boston. Then COVID-19 hit that winter, once again putting the kibosh on running in Boston.
“It’s funny, my wife said to me ‘Most people spend their whole life trying to get a Boston qualifier. You have no problems doing that, you just can’t seem to be able to run the race,’” Brennan said with a laugh.
Like any good runner, though, he takes things—even the setbacks—in stride. Plus, Brennan doesn’t place too much emphasis on racking up medals and tallying races.
“I love racing for sure, it’s so much fun,” he says. “But to have longevity in it, in any type of sport, you need to love the process, which I do. I just love the process. It’s this idea of trying to master something. Not that I’m ever going to become the best runner in the world, but every day I get up and run, I do my rehab […] There’s this strict process that goes into doing it, but I love it. I feel like it almost sets me free.”
Brennan says he fell in love with endurance sports when he was 14 or 15, growing up in Athlone, a river town in central Ireland. After struggling with a speech impediment, he joined the rowing team and found that the sport’s singular focus helped him find clarity.
“I started rowing and all of a sudden there was this thing that I was really good at,” he said. “It was great because I didn’t have to talk. I could just do the sport. It kind of spoke for itself almost. And I ended up representing the Irish rowing team when I was 18, which is definitely a pretty big deal for me.”
I’m drawn to Mercy Home because it’s a big part of my wife and her family’s life. I just feel like being a Mercy Home Hero is a good way for me to combine something that I love and make it productive and not just for myself.
In college, Brennan ran a few times a week to stay fit. But when he moved to the United States in 2006, he found food portions in the U.S. were a bit more ample than in Europe.
“I didn’t put on a ton of weight, but definitely a few more pounds than I was used to,” he said. “I was working a desk job and after a few years, I was like, ‘I always viewed myself as an athlete, but I really wasn’t an athlete anymore.’ That’s when I got into triathlons.”
Ever since then, he’s been chasing that flow state of endurance sports and adhering to the process of training. Come October, he’s looking forward to hearing thousands of fans cheering him on, especially around Mile 17 at the Mercy Mile. Here, the marathon route passes directly by Mercy Home, where a boisterous crowd of friends and family give inspiration to our Mercy Home Heroes and other runners.
“It’ll be exciting to get to race in a mass participation event. I definitely do better when there’s a crowd,” Brennan said. “I’m hoping that my kids will be on the course. That’ll be super fun!”
Becoming a father, he says, has made him more sympathetic toward children who come from difficult and painful backgrounds, like the kids who live at Mercy Home.
“A lot of charities that I give to are ones for kids,” he said. “Just being able to support them in some small way really resonates with me. I’m drawn to Mercy Home because it’s a big part of my wife and her family’s life. I just feel like being a Mercy Home Hero is a good way for me to combine something that I love and make it productive and not just for myself.”