Family plans race to remember late Downers Grove runner

  • Relatives and friends will honor the memory of Benjamin Lee Silver, who died this summer after a battle with mental illness at age 22, by hosting Ben's Memorial Mile on Saturday, June 11, at Downers Grove North High School. Ben was a runner on the Downers Grove North team.

    Relatives and friends will honor the memory of Benjamin Lee Silver, who died this summer after a battle with mental illness at age 22, by hosting Ben's Memorial Mile on Saturday, June 11, at Downers Grove North High School. Ben was a runner on the Downers Grove North team. Courtesy of Silver family

  • Ben Silver of Downers Grove won races while a high school cross-country runner, such as the St. Charles East Leavey Cross Country Invitational at LeRoy Oakes in September 2010. After Ben's death this summer at age 22, his family is making plans to host Ben's Memorial Mile in his honor on June 11, 2016.

      Ben Silver of Downers Grove won races while a high school cross-country runner, such as the St. Charles East Leavey Cross Country Invitational at LeRoy Oakes in September 2010. After Ben's death this summer at age 22, his family is making plans to host Ben's Memorial Mile in his honor on June 11, 2016. BRIAN HILL | Staff Photographer September 2010

 
 

Ben Silver's fleet feet could fly around a track or dash past the competition on a cross-country course. He won plenty of races and he was always in motion.

So when the 22-year-old Downers Grove man died this summer, his family soon knew the best way to remember him: with a race.

His older brother came up with a name and it stuck: Ben's Memorial Mile is scheduled for Saturday, June 11, at Downers Grove North High School, Ben's alma mater.

"It's exactly the perfect way to remember Ben," his mother, Jamie Lee Silver, said. "We're definitely using Ben's Memorial Mile for bringing the community together and having fun and enjoying each other's company in Ben's name."

Planned as a fundraiser and gathering, Ben's Memorial Mile also will include races of shorter distances for kids and events at slower paces for walkers. But an elite milelong race will be the highlight of the event, which will raise money for a mental health charity to be determined.

Larry Lifson of Downers Grove, a longtime friend of the Silver family, is leading the committee planning the race, and he's researching charities that benefit schizophrenia, the disease from which Ben suffered.

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"I've been working on trying to find an organization that really specializes in that," Lifson said.

So far, he's considering the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America, which promotes improvements in the lives of those affected by schizophrenia or brain illnesses that involve psychosis.

Ben was diagnosed with schizophrenia in August 2013. His mother says it was difficult to find appropriate treatment for her son between Ben's diagnosis and his death by suicide July 2 at Ribfest in Naperville. She's not surprised it's been difficult to find a charity benefiting the cause since the disease is so poorly understood.

"It feels like people have just thrown up their hands and said, 'I give up,'" Silver said. "Schizophrenia is so confounding."

The disease is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized or catatonic behavior and other negative symptoms. According to the Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America, schizophrenia is at least partly genetic, and three-quarters of those with the disease develop it between the ages of 16 and 25.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

While a mental illness charity will be the cause, running, walking and having fun will be the activities at Ben's Memorial Mile, organizers say. There will be several heats, including one for runners in costume. And short races for kids -- some of them with silly themes -- will take place in the infield of the Downers Grove North track at 4436 Main St.

"We're even going to do one where children will get to run as the animal of their choice," Silver said. "It totally is very Benish."

Lifson said plans include concessions, awards and music with a race atmosphere Ben would have enjoyed.

"He was very competitive as a runner and he was very thoughtful," Lifson said. "He had a really good heart and he cared about people."

• If you or a loved one are in crisis, visit the nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-7255 or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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