My brother Michael and I were four years apart. Growing up, we fought like cats and dogs but as we aged our relationship turned into a true friendship and support system. We were each other’s biggest cheerleaders. We connected particularly on our fitness goals. I got into running six years ago, and two years ago I met my ultimate goal of running my first marathon. Michael, along with my family and friends, were at multiple mile markers and the finish line, cheering me on. It was what propelled me to finish. The picture below is Michael and I, prior to starting the Marine Core Marathon.
As he stood by my side with fitness and running, I stood by his as he fought his battle with addiction. Mike battled addiction for seven years. His addiction stemmed from a dual diagnosis of ADHD and anxiety. He struggled with misuse of opioids and heroin during this time. He had highs and lows; periods of sobriety mixed with periods of use. He was a pillar of support for his friends who were facing similar struggles. Some of his friends have admitted that they are alive today because of Mike's help. He felt a constant need to be "normal" and thought he could manage this struggle on his own. He lost his struggle at age 27 after a period of relapse.
The day before he died, I talked to him twice. Once during a run (I always took his call no matter what) and once after my run – that was a Tuesday. The next day, I experienced the worst day of my life. I found out Mike had passed. The next Tuesday, I got a visit from one of Mike’s best friends who told me, “You should go for a run today, Ash. It is what Mike would have wanted you to do.” And so I did. My brother, now my guardian angel, gave me the strength to run again and it was a strong 3 miles. Since his passing, I have committed every Tuesday to run. I do it for him. Whether outside or on a treadmill, I make it a part of my routine and use it as a tribute to my brother. It is also my own version of therapy. Because he was such a social media fiend, I try and use the hashtags: #ThisRunsForYou, #TuesdayMLFruns, #MilesforMike.
In February, I found Shatterproof. I love this organization’s mission to shatter the stigma of addiction—something that Mike always fought. I kicked off my fundraising campaign, #FennstarForever, on his birthday and asked my network of friends and family to donate $28 – for what would have been his 28th birthday. It was a tremendous success, and I met my goal of $2,800 within the first three days. I am continuing to fundraise for this cause through my running. Every MLF Tuesday run, I donate my mileage to this cause. Same goes with each race I run. I encourage my network to do the same. I hope to continue this campaign through 10/12 – his passing date – and culminate the year by participating in Shatterproof’s Rise Up Against Addiction 5K Run/Walk in DC on October 21st! This day is meaningful to my family, as it is the same day we held Mike's celebration of life last year.
Shatterproof has helped me honor Mike’s memory and I am beyond appreciative. My primary goal, above all else, with this advocacy and fundraising campaign is to make my brother proud. Beyond that, I hope my participation can inspire others to have a conversation with their loved ones about addiction. Together, we can become a stronger network to fight addiction. I can only hope some of my efforts can prevent other sisters from suffering the loss I experienced.