Cleveland media’s REAL sports hero

Mark Zimmerman

Mark at the start of the Buckeye Trail 50K

We’ve all seen the television reporters and anchors do “stunts” for ratings or to help promote an event.

For example, local reporters will go flying with the Blue Angels around Labor Day.

Mark Zimmerman is different. What he accomplished on Saturday earns him the a rightful title, el héroe, at an orphanage in El Salvador.

Mark is the “main man” doing the morning show at WCRF, 103.3 FM, Moody Radio Cleveland. But on Saturday, he ran and climbed 31.2 miles in the Buckeye Trail 50K.

Not bad for a 50-something guy whose only previous competitive running experience was a single 5-mile event.

“What Mark did was unbelievable,” says Gale Connor of Seven Hills, a fellow competitor and a breast cancer survivor, Gale has run in hundreds of road races over the past nine years. “”He was ‘cooked’ for much of the way back, but he just kept on going.  It was absolutely amazing.”

Mark’s navigated the challenging course in 8 hours, 42 minutes. (See web site below for details.) Competitive marathoners and mountain runners from across the Midwest came to this event, and completing the race ahead of Mark. It was love – Love and Hope Children’s Home – that propelled him to the finish line.


 Mark has made four visits to Love & Hope Children’s Home, an orphanage that began at a garbage dump in 2001. A Northeast Ohio family on a short-term mission trip to El Salvador discovered several children living there. Abused, abandoned or neglected, they had no place to go.

“Like many ministries in recent years, Love & Hope has gone through a difficult time financially,” Mark explains. “Those who love the ministry have been thinking ‘outside the box’ to make sure that the funds need for the care of the kids that are there. The orphanage truck was breaking down a lot — becoming a money pit — so I came up with the idea of calling attention to this need, and wanted to be a little more ‘creative’ in getting help to meet the need.”

That need helped plant a seed.  So did a dog.

In 2009, Mark and his wife welcomed a new puppy into their “empty nest” home. Mark began taking long walks with Benny, a Border Collie/Australian Cattle Dog. To burn off the puppy’s energy, Mark and Benny made ever-lengthening sojourns. “As I walked longer and increased speed, I was losing weight and getting in better shape,” he says.

Next came the encouragement of a friend, distance runner Nick Billock. A Navy lieutenant (Jg.) now deployed in Afghanistan,  Nick had completed some 100-mile endurance races and had navigated the Buckeye Trail 50K three times.

“One day last summer, hiking and thinking about Nick and the needs at Love and Hope, I asked myself what if I could do something big,” Mark recalls. “I set up a 21-mile walking test on the Towpath trail at Cuyahoga Valley National Park to see how my body would react. Once I did that, and I kept a pace of 14 minutes per mile, I knew I had a chance to do something like the BT 50K.”

Next, Mark had lunch with Nick and discussed the idea. Nick not only encouraged Mark, but became his unofficial coach for the endeavor, first from Northeast Ohio and later from Afghanistan.

So from all this, Mark hatched the idea of completing a major race as a fund raiser for Love & Hope Children’s Home. After consulting with the orphanage’s governing board, he set a goal of raising $10,000 to obtain a “newer” truck for the orphanage.


 Mark began training in earnest for the BT50K about two months. Usually working with Benny, his routine took him to as much as 15 miles a day and covered the entire route. He got day-to-day guidance and advice from Lt Billock through email and Skype calls.  Mark also involved his WCRF Moody Radio Cleveland listeners, asking them to pray for him and to sponsor his efforts.

 As spring turned into summer, Mark put in the “hard work” of preparing for the BT50K, which is classified as an ultra-marathon type event. The route has ups and downs of more than 5,000 total feet as runner traverse from Brecksville to Peninsula, then back again.

In all kinds of weather, Mark continued training.  He picked up two guys who played important roles on race day.  Jim Billock, Nick’s brother, went out with Mark and helped provide him encouragement and support for the first several miles on the Buckeye Trail. Gary Klubnik, whose son Justin is in El Salvador serving at Love and Hope orphanage, met Mark on the trek home and ran the final miles with him.

One vital aspect of Mark’s preparation was his prayer life. “I couldn’t do this on my own,” Mark told his WCRF radio audience on the Monday after the BT50K.  “If I did this on my own, I would have failed. God was sustaining me, especially at the end of the race.”


 Mark averaged about 14.5 minute miles on the first half of the BT50K, but slowed to about 18 minutes on the second half of the course. “I hit Jello on the return,” he admits. “Gary was there for me, running by me, encouraging me, and keeping me going.”

It wasn’t a sprint to the finish chute for Mark. But he was still moving, and the purpose of the race had been achieved.  Donors have pledged to give more than 104% of the $10,000 Mark sought to raise for Love and Hope.

On the morning show Monday, Mark called attention to the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 9.  He cited verses 24 and 25, where Paul compares the Christian faith to running in a race. At time, believers in Christ must endure hard work, grueling preparation, and self denial.

For eight hours and 42 minutes on a hot and humid Saturday, Mark’s preparation and sacrifice came to fruition. He’s not an athlete or a TV personality, but he’s a star for a couple of dozen children in El Salvador today.

 To donate:

For more on the Buckeye Trail 50K:

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