Mark and Molly Takeover: All About our Heroes, Ep. 10 of Around Our Home Podcast

Mark and Molly Takeover: All About our Heroes, Ep. 10 of Around Our Home Podcast

Welcome to “Around Our Home” a show about the impact Mercy Home for boys and girls has on kids and families in need in the Chicago community. Each episode, you’ll hear informative interviews as well as supportive tips and strategies that you can use in your daily life to become a happier, healthier version of yourself. This is Around Our Home. I’m Christine Nikolich. This is a very, well let’s call it unique episode of Around Our Home. My guests are not really guests, as much as they are temporary hosts. For our first ever takeover episode, we welcome two of my coworkers who could be heard every autumn cheering out our Mercy Home Heroes as they run by Mercy Home during the Chicago Marathon. Because of their enthusiastic performances on the microphone, their annual partnership has been dubbed, “The Mark and Molly Show.” Happily there’ll be back on the Mercy Mile, this October 10th, and they’re here with us today to talk about our Mercy Home Heroes program. I am joined by Mark and Molly, and they’re taking over this podcast and I’m really excited about it. Welcome Mark and Molly.

– Well, Hello.

– Thank you, thank you for asking us to takeover. I don’t know exactly what that means, but we’re gonna, we won’t be a hostile takeover, right? It’ll be like a gentle takeover.

– I have all the faith in the world in you two, so I’m very excited for this episode and to talk about our heroes.

– Great, well, wow. What it started off pretty strong, so far a big large last year. And you know what? I think we’re never gonna leave, that’s the problem. It’ll be a gentle takeover, but we’ll probably just stay.

– So Christine before this marathon podcast ends, our goal is to convert you.

– Oh.

– And we’re not leaving until, you…

– No we’re not. No we’re not.

– We’re gonna stay in this room and we’re gonna talk nonsense until you decide to run the marathon. Have you ever run a marathon?

– I have not. I was a track star and middle school. And then I tore both my ACL’s and I never run again since.

– Wow. Not even for a bus.

– Yeah. I mean, it’s like, I’m a very fast walker, so maybe I could fast walk the marathon, but that seems gonna take a long time.

– But that looks funny though, with the hands and everything.

– I mean, I’ve never even done a 5K, so I’ve never done any form of running since my time in middle school, when I did hurdles and all that stuff.

– Okay, could you verify this, ’cause maybe you’re just saying that because you wanna get out of doing the marathon.

– Well, she wants us to leave.

– I mean.

– You’re just like, whoa, it’s all over now.

– Thanks it’s been great, you have great time.

– Well, because dang, because I was gonna ask you to be my runner by proxy. I was gonna ask you because you know, we’re so caught up with Mark and Molly. Oh, we haven’t even talked.

– Who’s Mark and Molly? Who are Mark and Molly? Those terrible grammars, who are Mark and Molly?

– How did you guys get started?

– We are the Mercy Home Marathon Cheerleaders, I guess, is the best way to say it, right? You know, Molly, when you see her out there. So we obviously weren’t there last year, the pandemic had nixed our plans and everyone else’s plans, of course, but this year, you know, hopefully we see the marathon is gonna happen this year. We’re gonna be out there in front of Mercy Home, like we are every year. But it became this Mark and Molly Show because we get out there and our job was to cheer people on. And there’ve been people before us coworkers who, before us had cheer, but not like us. ‘Cause they never thought to put two people together. And then all this silliness that would ensue from there and the repartee, if you will.

– What should people expect from you on marathon day?

– More than they’re expecting now, hopefully. Yes, they’re expecting us to be cheerful pretty much, right? You know, the thing is though they’re experience so, you know, if you’re a new listeners, I hopefully that we have a lot of new listeners who are coming to us because they’re running the marathon or they’ve somehow signed up with this. Hope we have a listener, to the one listener that we have, I don’t know how podcasts work, but to the listeners that are out there and listener who is tuning in right now, yes, we cheer on the runners at race day. So the Chicago Marathon runs past Mercy Home, literally past Mercy Home at mile 17…

– 16.

– See, I said, 16, someone says 17. So it’s somewhere in the middle, right?

– It’s maybe in between it’s in between.

– That could be it.

– It’s like a marathon in between, 26.2.

– So somewhere in there, we people run by our home and we have a big cheer station, a crowd full of people, waving pompoms and noisemakers and stuff like that.

– Cowbells.

– And Molly and I are in… Cowbells cause we need more Cowbells, and Molly and I are on the microphone talking nonsense mostly and encouraging people and telling them you can do it.

– Well, we do have a couple of guests coming on today.

– That’s right, of course.

– We do. In fact, maybe there’s something you can tell us to the prospective marathon runner about the do’s and don’ts what are the marathon fan, the perspective marathon fan?

– Oh, yeah. Well, Mark, that’s a great, that’s a really good idea because I knew when found out different things that you really, really should try to stay away from different comments. Like when you’re on the microphone or if you’re just like cheering your friends on, or even when you’re seeing them over coffee, if they’re runners, if they’re marathon people, like there’s some real serious, serious, don’t say it, avoid it. Is it running bad for your knees? That really gets people. Did you win your race weekend? Not good. You should run a race. How many marathons have you run? What are you running for? Okay. Here’s one that really gets them. How was your jog? Did you jog? That’s like a four-letter word JAAG. ‘Cause they’re running. Oh, I wish I had time to exercise, but I’m so busy. That gets people crazy. Wow. You seem to run a lot, don’t you think it’s a little bit excessive? Do you get my idea? See what I’m saying? Like just try to avoid those, okay? That’s what I call marathon etiquette.

– It looks like our guest has arrived.

– Yes he is. But he, I don’t wanna say that he needs no introduction because he does need an introduction. And so, you know, there, like you say, there are people who run the marathon and then others who run the marathon. Our next guest does a little bit of both. In addition to his own passion and experience for going the distance. He oversees all things marathon at Mercy Home for boys and girls. It’s our fearless Mercy Home Heroes team leader, Jim Harding. Jim, welcome to, it’s not even our podcast, we’re only taking it over, we’re only borrowing it, but we’ve given some of it to you. So how’s it going?

– It’s good. How are you guys doing Mark and Molly?

– We’re doing fine, we work this thing on.

– Very well. Very, very well. It’s a marathon podcast.

– We were just talking about all the times that we’re out there in front of the marathon, cheering people on.

– Yeah. It’s great to have a nationally known radio show, you know, taking the time to broadcast live in marathon day.

– We like to be with the people.

– Well, you’re very welcome

– We liked to be with the people every once in awhile, you know, just sort of like, this is a give back. This is about giving back it’s what it is.

– We’d like to pay it forward.

– That’s what we’re doing. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Like your let’s, before you got to Mercy Home, what’s the running part of day? What’s the running part of Jim Harding. What’s your background there?

– Sure. Yeah.

– What makes you tick?

– What makes me tick? Well, you know, I started running a way back when I was 12 years old. I’m not gonna tell you how many years ago that was ’cause I don’t wanna give away my age, but it actually started, I have a brother who’s a year older than me, bigger than me beat me in every sport that we ever did. And we did this local 5K at the Roscoe Fall Festival and I beat him. And so there became my love of running. So ran in high school, ran in college and then just have continued for lots of years after that. And it’s just always been a great passion of mine. And I’ve done a lot of crazy things in running over the years.

– So beating your brother is like your prime objective in life here. So what other things do you need to do to, to vanquish him and put him down and put yourself above him outside of running.

– Well, you know, there’s a, there’s lots of ways we could do that, but you know, let’s keep the focus on the marathon challenge.

– I’m interested in this sibling rivalry, but we will leave it in there.

– Yes. Maybe that will be the next podcast.

– Yes. So how so you came to Mercy Home at what? When did you come to Mercy Home?

– Yeah, so I started there in August of 2016. I had worked for 25 years as a journalist and broadcaster, worked for the Chicago Tribune, did some stuff with WGN Radio and took a buyout as a lot of people have done in the journalism business and looked for a new spot to get started. And I had a connection with Mercy Home from back in the 1990s, saw this opportunity out there. And so they brought me on in August of 2016. It was about eight weeks before the marathon. And I was introduced to 143 people that I’d never met and you know, told to get them running and ask their friends for money. And you know, really simple stuff.

– Jim, how many, just, how many marathons have you run? That’s something I’m not supposed to ask, that was the one that I’m not suppose to ask. For awhile. I was stuck on the magical 26 marathons, you know, being a 26.2 mile race. I was stuck on that for a long time. I’ve actually run Chicago 12 times, including 10 times as a pace leader. But this spring, I finally got off that number, did my 27th. So but I’ve also done seven ultra marathons as well.

– What’s an ultra marathon.

– Anything over 26.2 miles, but it doesn’t count if you get lost on the marathon course and you run 27, this has to be like an officially sanctioned race. So my longest distance ever is 55 miles. So a little over a double marathon.

– Now I know you didn’t wanna give away your age, but not that long ago you ran for Mercy Home to celebrate your 50th birthday. You did it by running 50 miles, right?

– 50K actually, 50 kilometers.

– Oh, 50K?

– Yeah. So if you don’t speak metric that’s about 31 miles. So but it was nine months to the day after I had surgery on an issue that was supposed to take nine to 12 months to recover. So tackling 31 miles exactly nine months to the day after that was pretty awesome.

– So maybe so maybe Christine could run the marathon because she had that high school injury and looking at me back .

– I don’t know.

– I could see that I had…

– He gotta rub some dirt in it.

– So how was it now? How’s everything going for the, like, how are all the runners getting real excited and everything, your team? How big is the team this year?

– Yeah, so we expect probably right around 200 people to run this year. It’s down a little bit from our peak. We had 319 people back in 2019, but as we all know, lots of things have been affected by the situation that we’re in and this is one of them. So but we do expect about 200 people. We’re actually gonna be out doing the final preparation, the final long run this weekend. It’s a 20 miler, so that’s the distance most people cap before they do the 26. Most people do it three weeks out. So last I looked, we had close to 70 people that were signed up to run with one of our training partners with our official training partner, actually, CARA. Our runners trained with them for 18 weeks, starting in June. And this is a combination of all 11 of their sites. They all come together and run one event down on the Lakefront. So it’s a really cool point to point course. It essentially covers almost the entire Lakefront Trail, which by the way, we’re blessed to have, I don’t know any other major city that has 18 miles of Lakefront path unobstructed. So it makes it a great running city.

– Yeah. It’s gonna ask a little bit about how, you know, why is this, what distinguishes the Chicago Marathon from the other ones you’ve done?

– Yeah, so I think, you know, one of the things for being a big marathon, normally it’s around 45 to 50,000 participants. There’ll be closer to 35,000 this year, but I think one of the big things that distinguishes it as a big city marathon and makes it great for first-timers is the start and finish you’re actually in the same spot. So if you go to Boston, it’s a point to point course, meaning you either get up either park at the finish, get on a bus out to the start or the other way around. New York, again, great marathon, but you have to get on a ferry or get, you know, on some other way to get out to the start line. Chicago is really simple to start and finish are right next to each other. In fact, Mercy Home has a great headquarters, just two blocks from the start on race day that our runners get to take advantage of. And so, and the other thing is that it goes through 29 distinct neighborhoods. And I think that’s a really cool part of the experience we go through, you know, we pass close to Wrigley Field, but much closer to the real baseball Mecca in Chicago, guaranteed great field. So also the one with the better team.

– Wow. Not pouring any punches here, making sides.

– You wanted to get into a rivalry. So I thought, you know, I didn’t do the sibling thing.

– I think you’d be safer with the sibling rivalry, but go ahead.

– So, you know, obviously one of those places that people pass is Mercy Home. Just around miles 15 and 17 and mile 17 is where we throw our big party. And after that you go through Pilsen, which is amazing and Chinatown, and so. Just really cool that you’re able to pass through 29 different neighborhoods.

– So yeah, so you talked about our headquarters and all the things that you alluded to some of the things that Mercy Home provides. So what makes being, what makes the Mercy Home team and the Mercy Home experience, maybe a cut above some of the others?

– So I would say a couple of things, you know, number one is only a 25% of runners in the Chicago Marathon actually run for a charity. So love to see that number go up. It is a great vehicle for getting people to give back to some great organizations. There are close to 200 charity partners in the Chicago Marathon. Although again, like you said, we are one of the biggest normally, and also we have some really great perks that do set us apart. So we are do, we were able to most years do our pasta dinner right on our campus, which is awesome. Our runners all get a chance to see the campus in a more relaxed atmosphere when they’re, then when they’re running past it on race day. So we have that. We also have our hero headquarters on race day. So we’re, again, we’re just a couple blocks from the start and finish line. We have food before and after the race, we have our gear check right there. We have our recovery rooms afterwards with our great partners at React Physical Therapy. And we have real indoor bathrooms, which anybody who’s ever run a race with a lot of people and has to stand in line for a port-a-potty that may or may not have any toilet paper, that’s a great perk in and of itself.

– So yeah, you get there, it’s like massage is there and things usually right? For the runners, that’s part of the after fun or whatever. The recovery.

– It is. And of course, again, the real highlight is the opportunity to run right past Mercy Home on the course with Mark and Molly out there.

– That is a highlight.

– Shouting out your name, like the kids cheering you on. We even have kids come by running with big Mercy Home Heroes, flags. We hire two former Chicago Tribune Sports Department, photographer, buddies of mine. And so we get amazing photos to share with our runners as well from that spot. And so it’s the most talked about thing after the race, by our runners is just that experience of, you know, getting a little wave a little bit past halfway in the marathon, you’re starting to have some doubts. Am I really gonna be able to do this? And you get this amazing boost from all the people that come out and cheer at the Mercy Mile.

– Very cool.

– And Jim, you have runners from across the United States, correct, they come to run for Mercy Home?

– Yep. I think this year, I think we’re a little down in states. I think we’re at 22 states this year. I think we peaked at 27 states. We’ve also had foreign runners in the past, but again, due to things this year, there’s not a foreign contingent coming to Chicago. So but yeah, it’s pretty amazing how, you know, people reach out from a variety of different places and, you know, they have different reasons that they’ve gotten connected to Mercy Home. It could be, you know, maybe they used to live in Chicago, they relocated, but they, you know, when they think about running Chicago, they still think about us. You know, they, they maybe have a friend that’s a friend or a family member that’s attached to Mercy Home and find out about it through that. So you know, we have a great network and it obviously, is part of the way we support Mercy Home in general, but it it’s nice see that it also carries over to the marathon as well.

– It’s a lot of the people you have, I’m sure you have repeat runners. People who run this yearly year, then you have probably a big challenge in getting new people to sign up for the first time. ‘Cause some people only won one or two marathons. So it’s maybe a little rare that people come back year after year and run. So how do you appeal to those folks? How do you fill your team every year?

– Yeah, well, again, this year, you know, we’ve had good success over the last few years, really getting a lot of runners to come back and run. A bulk of our team this year is actually repeat runners because obviously, last year’s race was canceled. They kinda got that automatic entry into this year’s race. And so we did really well on getting our past heroes back this year. Obviously, you know, the reasons we mentioned before are the reasons they keep coming back, right? And so it really try to emphasize that with people that, you know, are looking to run the marathon, like, what is it that sets us apart, right? And so I’m out at races, I’m out at other events. I mean, I’ll talk to anybody anytime about the Chicago Marathon. You know, I love hearing some of the questions like, you know, do I look like a marathoner to you? My answer to that is always, yes, anybody who’s ever watched the Chicago Marathon knows that, there is a look for an elite marathoner, but if you’re just talking about somebody who is completing 26.2 miles, there’s definitely no mold for that. You see all kinds of people out there. And so my other favorite thing I get is I couldn’t run a marathon if I tried. I love that one, ’cause I, my answer is always you’re right, but you could, if you trained. And so a lot of people take this on as a challenge, like you said, a lot of people only wanna do one. It’s a bucket list type item, charity runners, especially we see that a lot. They become passionate about a cause perhaps, or they’re, you know, in a different transition period in their life. You know, some guys go out and buy a convertible sports car and other people decide they wanna challenge themselves by run a 26.2 miles and helping some kids out. So, you know, we look at that type of dynamic as well. You know, people that are just really looking for a challenge and consider doing it to help some great kids. You know, one of the things mentioned in going through all the different neighborhoods, actually, when you’re in old town, on north avenue, there actually is always every year, there’s an Elvis impersonator on the course. So if you’re out there running the marathon this year, just keep an eye out for that. It’s when you turn back east on north avenue, right around the fleet feet store there, there’s always an Elvis impersonator. So they’ve got one out on the course. I guess we could put a second one out there to compete, see who’s better maybe.

– Speaking of Elvis Regalia. And this is a serious question, Jim. What, like when people put on those get-ups like when people like going full costume and run, well, how, what are, what other runners think about that? Like if I show up as the Eiffel Tower.

– I saw that one year. Yeah. Or bouncing basketballs the whole time.

– Right. It’s pretty amazing actually, that, that people decided to take on the challenge. It’s already enough of a challenge, right? Like to just try and finish 26.2 miles, but to put on some of the costumes that I’ve seen, like you said, there some are pretty elaborate. I mean, I can’t imagine I ran my last marathon, I ran with one of the running backpacks on that you can carry fluids in and stuff. And I thought like, boy, this is cumbersome, you know, like I don’t really like this, you know? So I can’t even imagine. I mean, we see people do it in full firefighter gear or, you know, military gear and carrion flags. I mean, it’s, again, one of the reasons if you’ve never been out to watch the Chicago Marathon that you should show up at 1140 West Jackson on October 10th, be a part of the Mercy Mile experience and just see for yourself like the variety of people that are doing this and it’s very inspirational.

– I agree. You know, I never thought that it would be a spectator sport. Clearly it’s something fun to do or what would have you’re challenging, but I’ve been coming out every year to be part of this or to support the marathon in any other way. And I think it’s really fascinating, you know, to see the different waves of people. First, the wheelchair racers go by and then the elite runners go by, and then kind of like different waves of folks, all the way to the end when people are just sort of like, you know, just kind of struggling to get through it, but people are really cheering them on because they know how hard it is for them. And just it’s actually really, really fun to watch.

– No, it’s actually, it’s interesting because you know, you do see that variety and you know, they do say that the marathon is like a mullet. It’s a business in the front and party in the back.

– And I think you do see that actually when you hang around at the end and you see people they’re, they seem to be having a good time. A lot of other people in the front are really focused, they’re trying to, you know, meet certain times or set a personal best or qualify for Boston or whatever it is, but, you know, once you start getting past that four and a half, five hour group, then you’ve got a lot of those first timers that are just grateful to be out there and, you know, just hoping to finish and get that coveted medal, and so. It’s fun to see all the different signs out there that people bring too. That’s another, one of the fun things, you know, worst parade ever, and signs like that and people say all the time, you know, running it’s so boring, you know, but I agree, you know, like the actual spectator part of it is really super exciting. And I mean, even before I was part of Mercy Home and in years I didn’t run the marathon, I was always out there watching, because it is.

– Well, Jim, you talked about a lot of the giveaways and the things that make this a great experience, are there any partners you wanna recognize here?

– Yeah, for sure, for sure. It’s one of the great things that we’ve done recently over the last couple of years is really strengthened our partnerships and so I think I’ve probably mentioned a couple already, but I’ll go through them again. So our training partners, the Chicago Area Runners Association, they train not just charity runners, but all kinds of runners. They have marathon, half-marathon training programs. So they do a great job for us. They bring out pacers at 11 different locations. And saw our runners from the city and suburbs have a place to go and run with a group, and get water and Gatorade, and everything they need. So CARA’s been a great partner of ours, Dick Pond Athletics, they do all of our gear for us. So they’ve got five suburban locations. They also give back 5% of every purchase back to Mercy Home. So really cool to have a partner that gets that part of it as well. Then we have the Cryo Bar, they’re one of our newer partners. So if you’ve never been in the frozen chamber for three minutes at minus 160 degrees Celsius, I highly recommend it. There are recovery partners, so they they’ve really helped our runners with that. And then we have our official physical therapy partner, React Physical Therapy. They have several locations in the city and suburbs and they take care and make sure that our runners get healthy to the start line. And then they’re also there at the after party as well to start the recovery process. So yeah, four amazing partners that have been with us for several years now and we’re really grateful for them.

– Well, that’s cool, I mean, I’m glad you had some people to mention because one of the things I’ve never done a podcast before, but one of the things I always noticed in any podcast is that there’s always a segment or two where they read from a sponsor in a special podcast sort of way, there’s less of a commercial and more of a library. So we don’t have any of those of our own. And I think that’s what this podcast needs. Not only this one with the Around Our Home in general. So we made up a couple fake sponsors and we thought we would read them so that if we do a good job, maybe the word will get around, the buzz, then we will get some buzz, and then we’ll get some real sponsors maybe, you know, before long we’ll start really, making some money here.

– That’s actually, yeah, that’s actually great. Especially with your national reach that you guys have. I mean, that could really open up some amazing new partnerships for us.

– So you’re gonna help us out right now if you don’t mind. So I just emailed to you the script for a one of these sponsors that will help your, which you hope will also help your runners as well. So if you don’t mind taking us out to the next segment with this sponsor read.

– Alright, here we go. Are you worried about hitting that wall during the marathon? Need something to push you through those final miles? Put some bees in your shorts. Yes. Buzzy Bob’s Apparel Athletic Wear features a full selection of running clothes that harvest the motivational power of live bees. Each article of apparel from shorts to shoes, to singlets, includes an internal mesh pocket beautifully hand-sewn that’s stilled with angry live bees. You’ll push yourself beyond your limits to keep one step ahead of their painful sting. With these little buzzers in your bonnet, you’re sure to bee your best. And best of all, they’re environmentally friendly. Once you cross the finish line, simply unzip the internal mesh liner, releasing the swarm into the wild to establish a whole new colony. Go the distance, put Bob’s Bees in your pants. Releasing bees is not recommended in a crowd, wear at your own risk.

– Wow. He was really good. I think we’re gonna get a lot of sponsors now.

– Did mention that pod casting background.

– I think that’s a great idea. I think a lot of people are gonna wanna get those.

– We gotta see if Dick Pond Athletics can start carrying those. It’ll sound really good, I’ve never tried them.

– Oh, Jim, thank you for, thank you for thank you for coming, thank you for not only raising money through, you know, Buzzy Bobs, but also obviously raising a lot for the home to support our work through the marathons where all you’ve done over the years and good luck out there on the 10th, we’ll see you. And we’ll be cheering on all your runners.

– Thanks, Jim.

– Yeah. Thanks so much. It’s really awesome to see people achieve, you know, something that maybe people have always told them they couldn’t, or that they never thought they could. So and then of course, you know, the fact that they’re doing good for our kids along the way, so thanks so much for having me on.

– It was really, really, really so great to talk to Jim. Hits so much insight that, you know what? And I was thinking, before I started talking about like, what not to say to runners when they’re, you know, shouting out at them and or when you’re in conversation, there’s also some things there’s great things to do. Like as far as a volunteer, like super good things to do, like if you wanna, you know, set up a water station for runners. Great, that’s a nice idea. But there’s some, let’s say face it, there’s some things you shouldn’t do. And that’s what I’m gonna talk about more with this marathon etiquette. Like, okay, so you wanna hand out water, okay, people are gonna that’s wonderful. But you know what? Like don’t hand out carbo loading products. Like I think like one stead wave.

– Like mash potatoes.

– Like, don’t, that’s what I did one year I do set up a station, but it was like a mashed potato bar and that was a disaster. People were angry. and they were slipping all over the gravy and stuff, it was just a disaster. So you don’t wanna do that. Stay away from mashed potatoes, just stick with water or Gatorade.

– Or Gatorade. Yeah. Well, and now that you’re saying it, Mark, I see where you’re at, I see where your mind was. You thought, Hey, carbo load, like eat those mashed potatoes, eat them quick.

– I think that would be a perfect thing mid-race. Yeah.

– You don’t have to chew them, they just go right down fast, the asked the gravy would help.

– It was a disaster, so I don’t recommend it.

– Here’s another don’t, I put together a playlist, I put together a playlist for some runners and I even was gonna play it when we were at the, you know, on the Mercy Mile and get it going, and I was thrilled. I was thrilled about this. Like I did some research and it was, it was kinda like, I was really a little bit depressed when I started and I got, I pretty much got booed and it was just, I might think of old ways. It’s like I said, I started out with, I Ain’t Getting Nowhere Fast by Cab Calloway. Like it was moving, but I didn’t go over well, it did Harder to Breathe by Maroon Five.

– Well, then I go right there, it’s not encouraging.

– The Lazy Song by Bruno Mars was a big, big buzz kill, big buzz kill that did not go over well. So no, to all of us, note to self really, really, really take some time when you’re picking the songs out. Be careful. You don’t wanna offend. Yeah. That’s what I’m gonna tell you.

– Or you wanna encourage.

– You wanna encourage.

– Like Born to Run or something or Do Run, Run or something. Something more positive is what you’re saying.

– I was starting to think like, you know, we know so much like how it all works, how like the marathon day goes and all this stuff that’s connected with it. But like, I’m trying to think, like, you guys searched something. We have to tell our listening audience that they might not know about the marathon.

– I don’t know are you referring then to what this is all about? Like what the marathon or what our involvement in the marathon is all about, or are you referring to something else?

– Just like, I think about, just like, what if I was thinking about, Oh, maybe I’ll run the marathon, or what if I was thinking about, maybe I’ll come out and cheer, or maybe I always thinking what’s Mercy Home, or maybe I was thinking, who are these people? Some like that?

– Well, I think a lot of folks who have tuned in, you know, do have some knowledge of Mercy Home, but that’s clearly what this is about. That’s clearly why everyone, all the heroes are running. We’ve had a lot of people who worked at Mercy Home or work at currently at Mercy Home. Who were also part of the hero team. And that’s why we’ve invited one of them here with us today. But luckily this one can tell us, this one covers a lot of bases. Okay. This next guest, because not only is he a coworker at Mercy Home, but he is directly responsible for the care of our kids. And so we’re gonna meet him next. Our next guest, may seem like an unlikely marathoner. Last time I checked, he was six foot-two, 240 pound, former division one nose guard, that’s football, but he’s also a, what they call a gentle giant, providing care for literally thousands of young people throughout his long and illustrious career. As Vice President of Youth Programs at Mercy Home, ladies and gentlemen podcast listeners of all kinds, please welcome, Tom Gilardi.

– Hey folks.

– Welcome, Tom.

– Unfortunately, I’m 253 pounds now, I think that COVID-19 added on.

– I wrote this a long time ago. This was from an article I did with you a long time ago. So yes, I’ll update my records.

– Well, it’s true that how we were talking with Jim Harding and he was talking about the marathon look and how people, and there’s some how that’s a misnomer, really that there’s a marathon look or a certain type of person. So we do think of that small live, thin, fast, you know, a runner who’s a hardcore marathoner. And one of the things that strikes people about Tom, when they see him, you know, chugging through the marathon courses, he looks like a football player. That usually known for like short distances and a lot of smashing at the end of it. But so actually that to remind, like when you’re running there, do you ever get like a, like a memory, a muscle memory where you just like hit somebody just like level somebody, ’cause it’s like, Hey, he’s got the ball, bam! And you just like, whoop him, just flatten somebody in the course. Do you ever do that?

– No, it’s funny. I think, you know, I’ve done seven marathons, all connected with Mercy. And but I like to say that I’m in a marathon ’cause I’m running a marathon ’cause you know, my times are pretty slow, you know, I’m sort of a tortoise, you know, I go for the long run, nice and slow, but it is amazing when you’re on the course, just to see all different types of folks who are running. I mean, young and old, large and small, there is an incredible diversity of people out there. And you know, some of the folks should look at and you think, oh my goodness, they can do this thing in their sleep. And others you’re thinking like, man, I think they probably shouldn’t be doing this. But invariably, you’ll see the folks who thought, man, they’re not gonna make it, and they just keep going. And then these folks who look like, they’re almost Olympic athletes are on the side and they’re stretching and they’re hurting. So I have found that you really, you can’t judge a book by its cover or a runner by the way they look because, you know, as a lot of our runners know a lot of them is mental, right? You have to have a certain level of physical fitness. But for me, I think the mental challenge of it was as great or greater than a physical, just the mentality of like, you know, taking a mile at a time and why am I doing this, you know? And I think, you know, I just wanna put a call out to all the heroes and just say, thank you, thank you for choosing to invest in our kids and share your treasure and time, and your prayers. And it’s amazing that you have chosen Mercy Home because one, you don’t have to choose anybody and you can just do it for yourself. And two, there’s a million agencies out there or organizations, or causes that you could choose. And so to choose Mercy, we, you know, I’m really humbled by that. And I’ve had the privilege immediate, a lot of runners over the years.

– Well, clearly, you know, that inspiration is something you seem to take to heart because you know, you’ve done seven of these guys, you know, it’s like, you talked about how difficult it was, but you did, seven of them. So obviously, you’ve got a lot spurring you on. And I imagine that the kids that you work with are at the heart of that, right?

– Absolutely. I think, I’ve talked about this before, but I think now, for our kids, for many it’s this long journey, right? It’s a challenge as we talked about, you know, about the Mercy Home story that our kids come to us and they’re just beautiful kids, but they’re bringing with them a really significant trauma story. And each one is unique and different. And for any of us who have, you know have, we all have our own traumatic experiences in life and a lot of those things stay with us. So it’s not unique to our kids. It’s just the level of intensity of the trauma that many of our kids have experienced is really overwhelming. And so I think for me, you know, that analogy of sort of being on the long journey and through that journey, you begin to get more clarity, you know, the journey of life. And it’s my hope or our hope at Mercy that has kids kind of come through that Mercy journey. They begin to unpack a lot of that trauma. And there’s a lot of famous research out there about the body holds trauma and that movement in and of itself is very therapeutic. And so the marathon analogy is a beautiful one because just as these runners know those who’ve either run marathons before, or, you know, been training a lot, you know, you start feeling that pain, right? And there’s moments when you can release that pain. But is that journey that marathon continues that I know for me, you know, I would feel great for the first like 10 miles. And then I would slowly feel my body stiffen up all the way to, by the time I was crossing the end there, you know, I could barely move, I was so stiff, but I think it’s almost works in reverse with our kids. The longer their journey continues with the right support, and love, and care, and patience, and the chance to start again. And then again, on certain things, the pain dissipates.

– You know, you talked about that healing journey and that’s something that’s interesting to me, like you talked about many ways that they unpack it or see the light and things like that. But like, you know, people come to us with trauma, but it doesn’t go away. We’re not taking it away from them. And it’ll always be there ’cause the experience has happened. So what does healing look? So we talk about healing sometimes, we don’t really go into depth about what healing means. So what does that mean for a person who comes to us with trauma, things that you can’t undo? How do they, how do we help them move forward? What does it mean to be on the road to healing or whatever, and what’s Mercy Homes role in that? What are we actually doing? What are we facilitating and how?

– Yeah, that’s a great question. And I’m not a clinician, but I’ll kinda give you my layman’s terms on that. You know, I think the first thing that we’re trying to do is create this safe space, right? This space where, you know, we sort of visually, we used this visual where kids come in, anybody who’s frightened or scared on high alert, you kinda have the fists up, right? Like stay away from me and you kick off energy, like don’t come near me. I’m here to protect myself. And so I think the first thing we try to do and we’ve been doing this for 134 years, so this part is not, this is not new science is we need to create a safe space where kids can feel at home, right? Where things are predictable, where they know where they can get things, whether it’s food or go to the bathroom, or where they can keep their clothes. So that predictable safe space is sort of the first thing, sort of the physical aspect of what we’re trying to do. And once kids can get into a rhythm, right? With how we do things that predictability comes and you guys know in your own lives, that when you know what’s in front of you, you know what’s on your agenda for the Workday, and you have it in front of you, you can then calm down. Okay. I know what’s coming next. And I know that it’s gonna be this because our kids, many of their lives, it was so unpredictable. Am I gonna eat? Is my mom’s boyfriend gonna come home and is he gonna be drunk? Am I gonna be locked out of my house? And all these things that would create anxiety for anybody. And so predictability, safe space, beautiful space, Father Close, ran Mercy Home for many years before Father Donahue. And both of them have always invested in beautiful space for kids, lots of light, lots of high ceilings, beautiful, you know, furniture, that they deserve. And so kids say, Hey, I live here. I deserve, this is my bedroom, and they’re proud of that. And when you’re proud of stuff, you take care of stuff and feel worthy. And so I think the first part of healing is that space piece. I think then it’s really relational. And so we talk a lot about like staff have to be regulated, what’s that mean? Well, you gotta have some self-control, you gotta kinda be on a right plane, right? Mentally, and sort of energy-wise so that you’re kicking off a good vibe, so kids will wanna connect with you, right? What does that require? It requires me as a staff that gotta be wired tight. Like I deal with my stuff outside of work so when I come to work, I’m sorta in the zone and can be focused on kids. And so once I’m kicking off good energy like that, that will help that kid begin to say, all right, maybe things are okay here. And that takes, it can take months. It might take years for some of our kids to bring those hands down, to begin to be in relation, healthy, authentic relationship. And then we, as staff became the model kind of staying in that sweet spot, that zone. I mean, life there’s moments when you gotta be super high, there’s moments of danger when you have to be like this. But when you’re doing that 98% of the time, it’s really impacting your brain and your heart, and all that stuff. And so it’s okay for kids to dip below or go high, but we wanna mostly stay in that sweet spot, right? And so we do that through relationship. And then once we can, once we have a rhythm with that and that again, some kids can come in and it kind of works for right away. Other kids can take a long time or they go in and out of it. And then we start focusing on building skills, right? We begin to focus on the education, on vocational dreams and interests, on sports and arts, and all these different things, a lot like normal more kids stuff, right? A lot of our kids haven’t been exposed to a lot of things. And so whether it’s theater or music, or different kinds of sports or fitness, different kinds of foods, we wanna expose them sort of force feed our kids as much as they can handle and all these different things, you know, enrichment. And but you can’t do that until they feel safe. And if they’re in right relationship. The language here is really, it’s not so much what’s wrong with you, but what happened to you, right? And that changes the whole focus. What’s wrong with you. There’s something inherently wrong with you, to what happened to you, man? Tell me your story. You know, and that’s much easier said than done, right? You’ve gotta have a relationship first before I’m willing to tell my story. I gotta trust you first. And then I got to know families and I realized that the families were these kids 20, 30 years ago and there was no one there to help them. And so they did the best they could, but a lot of them were hurting and or they just there’s mental health issues, or there’s addiction issues, or whatever. And so, and then, so we, you know, we’ve really worked on helping more and more families over the years to give them support. And what’s my point in saying, is that it’s not about pointing blame everywhere, right? Life is hard, it’s hard for everybody. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care If you live in the north shore or whatever, there’s still major challenges and challenges are relative. But our kids at Mercy Home are incredibly gifted and resilient and they’re just kids too. So they’re kids that also have a lot of this backstory. And so we try to integrate that where we’re dealing with the sort of treatment stuff or the challenges, but we also wanna treat them like your kids, or my kids, you know, and give them sort of the gifts that you would give your own kids in terms of experiences and stuff. The key of this whole thing, we could live in a hovel with kids. If you had the right people working with those kids who could build the right relationship and keep them safe, magic would happen, healing would occur. And thanks to you, we have a beautiful facility to care for these kids, we can give them the best education possible, all kinds of therapies in a beautiful space to live in.

– Tom, you said it beautifully. We could really talk all day. And I wanted to ask more about, I don’t know if we have time for it, but I think you touched on a lot of this, about, I was talking about misconceptions people have about the kids that come to us. And I think you spoke to it as an insider. Like when you get to know these stories and you get to know the backgrounds, and you get to know what’s going on in the environment that you understand and are less likely to judge, what does the public needs to know? What’s the big picture? What don’t they understand about what these kids are dealing with?

– Well, you know, I’m no fountain the wisdom over here, so you can take what I want. I’m kind of a rocket, but here’s what, here’s the dark side of our work. That no one really talks about. And I think it’s at the root of the problems that we read about, the violence that we read about is the dark side of our work is that you can’t give up. So it requires almost an irrational commitment to these kids. Like we’re not gonna give up on you, don’t give up on yourself and we’re gonna go again or we’re gonna try again, and have I done that a hundred percent of time over my career? No. Because there’s moments when you’re just like, this is it good luck, but that’s what it takes. And I think it’s that level of investment and it’s mostly time, it’s your time. It’s people’s time walking with kids. You know, as parents, the parents out there, how much it really takes for you to invest in your own kids to kinda help them through school and through relationships, and through sports or whatever else they’re doing. And it’s a lot, right? ‘Cause you just worked eight or nine hours and now you’re gonna come home, you gotta make dinner and you gotta, and you gotta do homework. It’s a lot! Well with our kids because they have been deprived of so much for the early parts of their lives, there’s a lot of work needs to be done. And a lot of that is just spending time and patients, and keeping your cool. And that is super hard for all of us. I don’t care who you are. I mean, you know, mother Teresa, I mean, but that’s the secret. And that’s also the dark side because when you hear about, well, here’s a new program to address the violence or this or that at the root of it is people, healthy people, who are gonna be present to these kids through thick and thin.

– I think you do. And I think you do it really well, Tom. And I’m glad you are out there on the frontlines and have been for so long. And you put your money where your mouth is, or you put your feet where your mouth is. You put your feet where your money is or something like that by running the marathon. There’s some analogy in there and somewhere it’s tortured, I know, but you’ve run seven marathons to help raise support for the work that you and all of your colleagues do. And we’re all very proud of you and you haven’t run since, do you plan on any running ever again, a marathon or even something shorter or?

– Oh boy, now you’re putting me on the spot with that kind of question.

– I am just, we’re gonna get Christine into this. But first we thought we would start an easier target. Someone who’s done a few.

– Well, I got to drop about 30 pounds. Maybe if I get my poundage down, I’ll put some sneakers on it again, we’ll see, you know, even with our kids, with like with running, you know what, you’re still running the marathon, if you’re walking the marathon, right? So you can walk, you can finish that thing even if you start walking a mile 10, keep going. And that’s what we tell our kids like keep going. And we know that in our own lives, right? You’re faced a situation and you’re like, oh my God, it’s over or whatever, everything’s lost. And you know that if you sleep on it, maybe pray about it. However, you kind of reconcile. You get up the next day, you’re like, you know what, maybe we can do this. Or you gather around others and they can kinda help lift you up. And that’s what this marathon is about. And that’s the analogy with our kids, we don’t give up. We don’t give up on people. Don’t give up on yourself. Well, I will commit to this, I will be there on the 10th. And we’re gonna have a cheer section.

– Tom, thank you. It was great.

– Thanks to Tom Gilardi.

– Well, awesome, this is great.

– I heard a question mark after the word great. No, this was great.

– That’s better.

– It was a really.

– That’s better.

– Great, so we’re not going yet. So there’s no marathon podcast.

– I hope you guys enjoyed it as much as I did.

– I did.

– Do you have any parting words before?

– Well, you’re saying partying words, like we’re gonna leave, we already told you at the top, we’re not leaving until you sign up for the marathon.

– Oh, that’s true.

– And she thought we were kidding Mark. She though we were kidding.

– Well, she could, that’s funny.

– That’s funny.

– Yeah. ACL.

– Maybe next year?

– She made up that whole ACL story too. To fake an injury to get out of marathon. That’s sad.

– I can show you the scars to prove it, it’s very real.

– You get a deferment, I guess. We’ll leave quietly.

– Well, do you guys wanna give one last, like CTA for why people should come run the marathon with us someday or cheer us to on our heroes this year?

– Well, they can definitely come out and cheer on our heroes because then they get to see Mark and Molly an person, which is worth the price of admission, which is zero.

– If we leave, no placers coming up.

– That’s right. Yeah, they should definitely come out. And again, it’s like I said, it’s fun. It is fun to watch people run, people who are not me. No, it’s not the only reason why, but it’s actually really cool. It’s it’s as a sport, as a spectator sport, it was very cool to watch.

– The other part that’s cool, just on a whole other level, it’s Route 66. When you run by nursing home, it’s historic Route 66. So you could just like, you could get going and then just decide to go to California and just stay on Jackson Boulevard the whole way. Well, it would change.

– Except that you would hit the lake first, but that’s because I think it used to go the other way.

– You’d have to. Yes, exactly. Yes. Don’t turn your, turn your cellphone on.

– Don’t, do not. Don’t run toward the lake and expect it across the country.

– Go west young, man.

– You’ll drown. Yes. You have to go west.

– So route 66. So that’s where you should get your kicks, right? On Route 66.

– That’s true.

– Thanks for listening to Around Our Home. Huge thanks to Mark and Molly for taking over as hosts this week and a special thanks to our guest, Jim Harting and Tom, Gilardi. Be sure to visit to join the conversation, access the show notes and read more about what’s going on Around Our Home, on our blog. Don’t forget to follow us on social media, by searching @MercyHome. If you have any questions, please email us, please like, subscribe and share this podcast with your colleagues, friends, and family. Mercy Home for boys and girls is a solution for kids in crisis. And we hope this podcast will motivate you to support our mission. My name is Christine Nikolich, and this is Around Our Home.

Welcome to Around Our Home Podcast, a show about the impact Mercy Home for Boys & Girls has on kids and families in need in the Chicago community. Each episode you’ll hear informative interviews, as well as supportive tips and strategies that you can use in your daily life to become a happier, healthier version of yourself.

#10 – Mark and Molly Takeover: All About our Heroes

In episode ten, Christine Nikolich takes a backseat for our first ever takeover episode where we welcome coworkers Mark and Molly as temporary hosts. Every autumn they can be heard cheering on our Mercy Home Heroes as they run by Mercy Home during the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. 

Because of their enthusiastic performances on the microphone, their annual partnership has been dubbed “The Mark and Molly Show.”

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