Wafa Haleem’s marathon career started with an invitation from her friend Johanna to attend a Mercy Home for Boys and Girls Poker Night fundraiser; she met the Mercy Home Hero’s team manager, Jim Harding, then 10 months and many miles later, she crossed the finish line of the 40th Annual Bank of America Chicago Marathon in Grant Park.
Mercy Home for Boys & Girls was established in 1887, and is a Catholic organization answering the Gospel call to minister to children and families in need. Mercy Home is committed to raising the public’s awareness about children in need by giving the young people in its full-time care the tools they need to develop as people, as students, and as contributing members of society.
It is community-based and has site-based youth mentoring as well as promotes therapeutic, educational, vocational, spiritual and life skill development.
Haleem grew up in Sheboygan, Wisc., and her athletic career consisted of playing a little volleyball in high school, and after graduation she played on a softball league for a few summers. Her exercise routine included sporadic running for a few years, but had not run more than five miles prior to this year.
“Running a marathon has never been on my bucket … many would have put money against me ever doing one, but know how strong my determination is after making a commitment,” Haleem says. “My friends and I have been surprised and impressed with each personal best results – when I started I was barely able to run three miles and with months of training, I completed a 20 miler in 4:39, three weeks before the marathon.”
Haleem’s most memorable run during her training was the first time she ran 13.1 miles; it was a beautiful crisp Saturday morning and she finally experienced the runner’s high. This was also the run that made her truly believe that she would cross the marathon finish line.
And she was right.
In fact, Mercy Home was the first official charity of the Chicago Marathon, and it hosts cheer stations on Jackson Blvd at the 14 and 16 mile marks of the marathon course, known as the Mercy Mile.
“The marathon was one of the most challenging and exciting events of my life, especially the lively spectators, live/DJ music at every turn, and running in front of and next to so many others with same goal,” she adds. “The best part of the course was the Mercy Home Mile with the excitement of the cheers from the Mercy team and my family and friends twice.”
The main reason Haleem decided to run the marathon was to be a fundraiser for children at Mercy Home. Many of them have challenging lives, so she took on a challenge to prove to them and herself that one can be successful in obtaining goals.
Coming from a family of 10 children, including five brothers, taught her to be competitive in everything in her life.
“I would have never been able to accomplish this without the support of my family and friends, the Mercy family … and my donors,” Haleem says.