Miles for Mike raises funds, awareness

SHADYSIDE – Hundreds participated in the second Miles for Mike 5K Run/Walk, which was held this past Saturday as part of Shadyside’s Sixth Annual Loop Festival.

The race was held in honor of Mike Karkowski, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who committed suicide in 2009 while suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His widow, Melissa Karkowski, organized the race as a way to raise money for others afflicted by PTSD.

The first race, which was held last October, raised $2,000 for PTSD-oriented charities. Saturday’s race managed to double that total, with over $4,000 raised. The money will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project and K-9s for Warriors.

“It was an amazing day,” said Karkowski. “It far surpassed anything we thought would happen.”

Top finishers were awarded with dog tags. Karkowski received assurance from many participants that they would return for next year’s race, which will again be held during the Loop Festival.

Before the race, a memorial balloon release was held. Attendees were able to write the names of people they know or knew suffering from PTSD on the balloons.

Karkowski shared a few remarkable stories from the event. Several members of the Ohio Valley Runners and Walkers, who had already participated in a morning race elsewhere, showed up to give support for the cause.

Dr. Tim Bowman, of Ohio Valley Medical Center, gave a speech regarding PTSD before the race. One individual, after realizing he suffers from PTSD, chose to participate in the run. He was unprepared and ran in work boots. Karkowski gave him a set of dog tags for coming forward.

Karkowski also said an emotional moment produced tears from many onlookers. Garson Taylor crossed the finish line wearing full turnout gear in honor of Dave Green, a firefighter who was also a veteran of the war in Iraq. Green committed suicide last year while suffering from PTSD.

Karkowski herself was able to run the race thanks to a recent shape-up. As a cast member of ABC’s “Extreme Weight Loss,” Karkowski began working to lose a dramatic amount of weight last year. She will appear in an episode of the show airing July 1 at 8 p.m. Many area residents who participated in the October Miles for Mike may also see themselves onscreen, as the first run was filmed for a segment of the show. A community viewing for the episode is currently being organized, and details will be announced at a later date.

Warner may be reached at mwarner@timesleader online.com.