Jamie Silver has no shortage of words to describe her youngest son, Ben.
“Fun. And funny. Sweet and kind. A singer and a songwriter. A poet. A sweetheart. A star runner,” the Downers Grove resident said.
The latter became Ben’s passion in 2005 when he joined the cross country and track teams as a seventh grader at Herrick Middle School.
“He started winning races and that was it for him,” Jamie said. “Running was it.”
At Downers Grove North High School, Ben was part of the cross country and track team, eventually landing the role of captain.
His older brother, Aaron, also an avid runner, was excited to see Ben excel.
“Aaron would say, ‘Ben came along and broke all my records,’” Jamie said. “He was so happy for him.”
When Ben was sidelined by ankle injuries, he found other ways to train for his races, including swimming and routinely spending hours on the elliptical.
“And he’d be able to rally and medal. It was phenomenal,” Jamie said.
After high school, Ben received a full-ride college scholarship to compete and study at Miami University of Ohio. But his ankle injuries persisted.
“He just could not run anymore,” Jamie said. “We took him to specialists but they couldn’t figure it out.”
Because of his ankle, Ben could only run in a few races and train with the team. He decided to turn his focus to academics and began taking even more advanced coursework as a college sophomore. Soon, however, the pressure became too much and Ben was faltering for the first time in his education. He ended the semester one credit hour short of the requirements to maintain his scholarship.
“He started to show signs of breaking down emotionally,” Jamie said.
Ben began to withdraw from his family and friends. He was unable to think clearly and was consumed by paranoid thoughts and delusions, which led him to use marijuana as a coping mechanism.
Eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, Ben started taking medication. While it helped, he still spent the next year and a half in and out of mental-health facilities.
He first attempted suicide in the fall of 2014, and tried several more times before ultimately ending his life at age 22 in 2015.
“We did everything along the prescribed route of what you’re supposed to do. But he was deeply suffering from the voices in his head,” Jamie said. “And he was scared.”
To remember and honor Ben, Jamie, Aaron and Paul Silver, the father of Aaron and Ben, launched the annual Ben’s Memorial Mile in 2016, along with the help and support of family members and friends.
After a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic, the Ben’s Memorial Mile community festival and running gala returns next month.
Set for 5 to 9 p.m. July 23 at Downers Grove North High School, 4436 Main St., the event will include track races and walking events for people of all ages and abilities, as well as activities including a corn hole tournament and a costume mile, raffles, a kids tent, concessions and dancing.
Tickets are $25 a person, with proceeds going to the Ben Silver Memorial Fund in his memory. NAMI is a national mental health advocacy organization.
More information can be found at https://bensmemorialmile.com. Spectators are invited to attend for free.
This year’s event is even more exciting as the Downers Grove North and South boys and girls cross country teams will be participating in Ben’s Memorial Mile as part of their summer training programs.
Jamie credits the support of Ben’s family and friends, including Downers Grove community members Bill Brower, who was a volunteer coach for the Downers Grove North cross country team when Ben participated, and his wife, Connie, as well as Larry Lifson and his son, Michael Lifson, longtime friends of the Silver family, for making the event a reality.
“It was a group that came together and said, ‘We need to honor Ben,’ so we started meeting on a regular basis and the first Memorial Mile was held in June the year after his death,” Jamie said. “If I had been on my own, I couldn’t have done it.”
She calls the annual celebration “a community festival.”
“It’s not a somber event. It’s a fun event. It’s Ben’s legacy. It’s his Memorial Mile,” she said. “And we include anyone who’s ever lost someone. And not just to suicide. It’s for Downers Grove and for all the people that are struggling. There’s just so much love and it grows every year.”
The event also is a time for the community to join together, Jamie said.
“We invite community partners to sponsor and come have a booth and help provide food and volunteers to get involved in any way they can,” she said.
To date, Ben’s Memorial Mile has raised more than $100,000 to help aid mental health research. Those who are interested in sponsoring or volunteering can call Jamie Silver at 630-926-3001.