Son’s Memory, Family’s Love Pushes Mom to Finish Line

Son’s Memory, Family’s Love Pushes Mom to Finish Line

There was one thought that echoed in Cecelia Martinez’s mind early on during the 2019 Bank of America Chicago Marathon: “I don’t think I’m going to make it.” 

“Possibly a mile in or so, I was like what did I get myself into? No way am I going to be able to do this.” 

There comes a time in the marathon when runners doubt their ability to finish. But despite her desire to quit, Cecelia drew strength from her family’s support, from her intention to run for Mercy Home, and from her promise to honor her deceased son, who was a resident at the Home ten years earlier. But it was after seeing her daughter cheering her on from the crowd that Cecilia knew she had to push forward. The continued support she received from so many others along the way motivated her to keep going to the end. 

“I was seeing people with Mexico flags, Mexico signs, and I would shout out ‘Guadalajara!’ because that’s where my family is from … And people would get so excited,” she said. 

As she continued along the course, Cecelia was mesmerized by the throngs of spectators and how they generously handed out cold drinks and snacks to the 46,000  runners who passed by. 

With the support of her family, the encouragement of fans, and the memories of her son, Cecelia completed her first-ever marathon. Her daughter, Syriana Martinez, was so inspired by her mom’s achievement that she made a choice that day to run with her mother when she turned 16. 

Mercy Home had always been there for her son. To finish the marathon with Mercy Home on her jersey was a special moment. Her son Ricky had passed away the year before, which was a devastating blow to her family’s life. 

But the community of Mercy Home coworkers who lifted him during his time there showed their unwavering care to his family at his funeral. 

 “That just meant so much more to me because I [expected] my family, and friends to be there. But it didn’t even cross my mind that the Mercy Home workers would be there. That helped me through that day, seeing them there.” 

At Mercy Home, kids gain the confidence and the skills they need to succeed in life beyond our door. But we also let them know that they are a part of our family and that they are always welcome.  

“They say even after your child leaves Mercy we’re still here for you. It’s true. There’s always been an open-door policy, so if I ever needed to come here and sit, I could do that,” she said. “That helped me to know that. I had another safe place to come to feel close to him.” 

Cecelia and Ricky’s father did the best they could do as parents, but Ricky had some social and learning issues and needed additional support. When he was 12 years old, he took it upon himself to call Mercy Home and get information about the programs offered. 

Wanting a better life for himself, he talked to his dad about Mercy Home. His dad was shocked and frantically called his mother. 

When Cecelia researched Mercy Home, she was skeptical about it and wasn’t sure it was the right fit for her son. But after speaking with one of our coworkers who explained why kids come to Mercy Home and the programs we offer, she knew it would provide Ricky with the care and support he needed.  

“I felt 1,000 percent [confident] for him to be there. He’s the one who wanted to come here. I feel like it was a great opportunity for him.” 

Rhonda Murrell, one of our case managers, was the day coordinator in Ricky’s residence when he lived with us.  

“Ricky was really helpful to the guys he was there with,” she said. “He was caring. He had a real humorous spirit, [he] joked around a lot. He learned a lot and made a lot of good transitions.”  

Ricky’s younger sister, Syriana, will be running the 2023 Bank of America Chicago Marathon with her mother. She fondly remembers her relationship with her brother. 

“My brother was really caring and nice,” she remembered.” He would brush my hair for me, help me and my other cousin with things that we needed. He had good energy.” 

Cecelia no longer has her son to share memories with, but she can feel his presence whenever she watches Mercy Home’s Sunday Mass, which airs on WGN on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. 

“When Ricky was actually still here at Mercy, I started watching to see if I would see him [altar serve],” she said. “I still watch if I’m at home. It’s super comforting for me.
Sometimes I cry through the whole mass. I know that I can turn it on and watch it. Just that I know that if I need to, I can come here.” 

When runners need to find the inner strength to go further, they may carry a symbolic item to remind them why they are taking on such a monumental challenge. Cecelia and Syriana will be wearing red dog tags in honor of Ricky. 

“I had these dog tags made with Ricky’s birthday and the day he passed,” Cecelia said. “On the other side are different quotes that reminded me of Ricky. 

[On the dog tag, it says,] ‘Dance like no one’s watching.’ He loved to dance. Grease was his movie. I can still see him dancing.” 

When the marathon may seem too overwhelming, they will have their red dog tags close to their hearts to help guide them across the finish line. Cecelia may also wear Ricky’s hat, which she also wore in the 2019 marathon. 

There is no mother-daughter rivalry about who will be the first to cross the finish line. Instead, they will be encouraging each other throughout the race. And Cecelia will not be upset if her daughter passes her. 

“In the beginning [of the marathon], I know we will stay together… If one of us can get a medal, I’m ok with that,” she said. 

Years ago, Cecelia and her family turned to Mercy Home for help. Now she and her daughter are both Mercy Home Heroes who help all of our kids with every step they take together. 

And Mercy Home will be there for both of them for their entire marathon journey. 

“We’re going to support you the whole way,” Mary Connolly, the Mercy Home Heroes coordinator, said. “Running a marathon is life changing. When you cross that finish line, you suddenly feel like you can do anything.” 

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