By Cheryl Louden
My sister Kelly loved running. She had done 5Ks and fun runs and occasionally would talk about her dream of running marathons one day. I was a runner too. It was just one of the many things we had in common, even though we did it a little differently. From high school to adulthood, I enjoyed that I could pick up anywhere and just – go. Running was a hobby until it became so much more.
Kelly passed away in February 2021. At the tragic end of her long-time battle with mental health and alcoholism, she took her own life. In the aftermath, our family found a copy of a book written by a Boston Marathon survivor, and it sparked the memory of her dream to run marathons, especially Boston.
Through my grief, I found a new goal – to run a marathon. Maybe even the Boston Marathon.
I knew I enjoyed distance running, so I stepped up my training. Every training step was a step toward working through my grief.
My husband Scott, who had run the Fox Cities Half Marathon previously, encouraged me to register for the Community First Fox Cities Marathon presented by Miron Construction the following fall. He told me the course was great and the crowd support was something I could only experience at this particular race, so he thought I should try it. As the race got closer and my training times showed promise, he mentioned he thought I could qualify for Boston. It turned out he was right. At the 2021 Community First Fox Cities Marathon, my first ever, I crossed the finish line with a qualifying time.
To get to the Boston Marathon, you can qualify by time, but there’s also an option to fundraise one of 42 nonprofit organizations that the Boston Athletic Association chooses. I decided to continue my personal challenge and also fundraise, but I wanted to keep the money local, so it would be more personal. I found Fond du Lac Area YScreen, a program designed to support students and their families with finding mental health resources and help as needed. I finished Boston. In the process, I helped raise funds for families to hopefully prevent them from feeling the same grief I was experiencing. I think if a program like YScreen was around when my sister was younger, she would still be here.
In 2022, I ran my third-ever marathon when I returned to the Fox Cities Marathon. I surprised myself when I came in third overall for the women’s full-marathon category. I made a return trip to Boston and continued my fundraising for YScreen, having now raised more than $15,000 for the organization. I also have a running streak of 304 days (since July 30, 2022). I continue to run to cope and also inspire. Nearly 2,300 miles this last year.
You see, grief doesn’t go away. It just…changes. In the beginning, I would just cry and it wasn’t easy. But now, I run for Kelly and raise money for mental health causes in the process. It truly helped me continue to move forward without her here. This year, I have personal goals on the course. However, my bigger goal is to continue to share the story of my sister; to continue to remind others that taking time for one another is important. There’s always hope, even on your darkest day. We’ve all made it through our hardest times, so we must keep looking up, whether that’s emotionally or physically at the road in front of us.
Just remember, you are enough. You can take the next step, run the next mile, and finish the next race. I believe in you.