Downers Grove family's 'lighthearted' race aims to improve mental health support
Healing takes many forms for those affected by suicide loss.
One of those forms, for a Downers Grove family who lost a brother and a son in 2015, is a run that's approaching its second year: Ben's Memorial Mile.
Benjamin Lee Silver was a race-winning runner and a musical talent with a knack for comedy until his death two years ago in July at Ribfest in Naperville. He was 22.
Ben's love of running motivated the family to start a race in his honor.
"From the day it happened with Ben, I told everyone the truth," his mother, Jamie Lee Silver, says. "When this happened, I said, 'There's got to be some way this is going to make a difference for good.'"
The positive results of last year's event, which drew 400 participants and raised $22,000, prompted Ben's mother, father and brother to turn Ben's Memorial Mile into an annual activity.
Aaron Silver, Ben's older brother and a medical resident in Arizona, says despite the event's heavy causes of mental health support and schizophrenia research, Ben's Memorial Mile is designed to be a communal celebration.
He sees the second annual event, set for 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, June 17, at the Downers Grove North High School track, as "a place where people can talk about their loved ones who have suffered from the same ailments that affected Ben, but in the context of this warm, welcoming community event."
The condition that affected Ben was schizophrenia. He was diagnosed two years before his death, and his family says it was impossible to find an appropriate treatment option for him other than inpatient hospitalization.
One of the beneficiaries of funds raised at the Mile will be the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, which has contributed $175 million to schizophrenia research since 1987. The condition causes hallucinations, delusions, loss of function, memory issues and problems with attention, and it typically begins in people ages 16 to 30.
"We're not ashamed of what happened. We're not ashamed that Ben got schizophrenia," Ben's mother said. "We wish it could have all worked out differently. But we're not ashamed."
As student suicides continue to cause concern in the suburbs, the Silver family wants others affected by this type of loss not to feel ashamed, either. So as night falls the evening of June 17, participants will conclude the Mile with a lap around the track in honor of anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide, the Silvers say.
Before the last lap, which Ben's mom describes as "magical," the mood of the event is designed to be vibrant, with former Downers Grove cross-country coach Will Kupisch announcing the races and a DJ supplying some tunes.
Speedy runners will compete in the elite mile, for racers with a predicted finish time of 5:30 or faster for men and 6:30 for women. Other runners will join the open mile and will be started in heats based on their expected times. Kids can join the open mile, run a kids' half-mile for those younger than 12 or sprint a 100-meter dash on the infield of the track.
For fun, organizers are bringing back the Costume Mile, which last year concluded with four of Ben's friends dressed in full Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles garb finishing hand-in-hand.
"It's a silly, fun lighthearted event with a serious purpose," Ben's brother said.
A suburban mental health awareness organization called Hope for the Day will be the other beneficiary of race proceeds this year.
Executive Director Dave Kubicki says the group plans to use money from the event to support Mental Health First Aid classes, which teach people how to identify the signs of common mental illnesses and how to help. Kubicki said volunteers from Hope for the Day will offer sign-ups for Mental Health First Aid classes during the event.
"We want to make DuPage County one of the most mentally well regions of the country," Kubicki said. "We hope that we'll really be making a difference."
If you goWhat: Second annual Ben's Memorial Mile
When: 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, June 17
Where: Downers Grove North High School track, 4436 Main St., Downers Grove
Who: Proceeds benefit Hope for the Day, the Brain & Behavior Research Founddation
Cost: $20 for each adult race; $10 for each kids race; Register by May 31 to guarantee a T-shirt
Details: Includes elite mile, open mile, walking mile, costume mile, kids' half-mile and kids' 100-meter dash
Info: bensmemorialmile.com or (630) 926-3001