Each June for the past three years, West Chicago's Mike DeMeritt has run in a 100-mile race in southern Wisconsin.
He navigates rocky terrain, hills, rolling meadows and other obstacles in a 'round-the-clock, ultra race.
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About this seriesThis is the time of year when it never hurts to sit back for just a moment amid all the hustle and bustle and reflect on the people who make our lives just a little bit better, who always seem to be there for us, who put the heart and soul in our communities.
There are countless such people across DuPage County, of course, and over the next week or so we'd like to introduce you to a few of them. During a time of reflection, these truly are People to be Thankful For.
At aid stations set up along the grueling route, he might grab pieces of peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, boiled potatoes, bananas -- "whatever your stomach feels like it can accept," says the 51-year-old DeMeritt.
Yet the Kettle Moraine 100, DeMeritt says, inflicts just as much mental punishment.
"You have to battle negative thoughts," he said. "And when it's just about you, it kind of gets overwhelming."
He shakes off the self-doubts by remembering he's running for something bigger than himself. He has a simple formula: For every mile he runs, he collects $1 from donors for DuPage PADS, or Public Action to Deliver Shelter.
"To me, it's normal to run a 100-mile race," said DeMeritt, who ran track at Glenbard West and Glenbard North high schools. "To most people, it seems incredible, and so I kind of harnessed that to achieve the purpose."
He's raised more than $30,000 for PADS over the past three years at a time when the Wheaton-based nonprofit organization is seeing a rise in the number of homeless families and children served. Just last year, PADS served 170 children. As part of its services, PADS operates three shelters each night from October to April in DuPage County.
"It is one of the most generous gifts an individual has given us," said Janelle Barcelona, PADS director of development. "Mike has great energy and a great attitude and really inspires us to all work to a greater potential."
In June, he conquered the route in a little more than 27 hours, about five hours more than his personal best. DeMeritt didn't push his limits. He wanted to complete the race and fulfill his promise to his donors, a goal he set after having to walk away at the 51-mile mark last year.
"Crossing the finish line for PADS and making good on my end of the bargain was all that mattered," DeMeritt wrote in a race report on his website. "This would require putting my competitive nature on the shelf and adopting a much more humble attitude."
What had defeated him in June 2011 was a mix of high humidity and challenging terrain in the Scuppernong River basin.
"It's like a furnace going through there," he said.
DeMeritt began to notice pains near his kidneys around the race's halfway point.
"By the time I got out of there, I was actually chilled and shivering," he said, noting the telltale signs of dehydration.
He couldn't keep down any food -- not even a salt tablet. He tried walking for five miles before finally letting go.
"It didn't get any better, and I got dizzy and was just getting weaker and I was concerned that I would be causing permanent kidney damage, which I was warned about from a doctor who I spoke to when I initially stopped," DeMeritt remembered.
Still, the avid runner insists it's not all torture.
"I would say that an equal part of the time you're also experiencing highs," DeMeritt said. "You're really enjoying it and you're helping other people and you're appreciating the natural beauty that you're running in."
DeMeritt, who also helps organize PADS' annual 10K and 5K run in September, prepares through a training regimen that favors weights and full-body exercises over running miles.
"The idea is functional fitness, so it makes me more durable," he said.
One of his inspirations for launching his fundraising campaign came from volunteering a handful of times at a PADS site in a Wheaton church and meeting a significant number of PADS clients from a "similar demographic."
"They're just like my brother or my father or my neighbor," DeMeritt said. "They're just average folks who need to get back into the mainstream."
He vows to continue fundraising through the 100-mile race as long as he can. Beginning in the spring, he plans to start collecting pledges from sponsors.
"Everyone," he says, "can do something to make a difference."