By MOLLIE WARNER
Times Leader Staff Writer
SHADYSIDE- - Melissa Karkowski wasn't always able to run 10 miles. In fact, just five months ago she couldn't run a quarter-mile lap around a track.
Left is Melissa Karkowski before she began her weight loss journey. Right is Mike Karkowski, a former member of the Army Reserves’ 339th battalion.
However, this Saturday Melissa will participate in a 10-mile run called "Miles for Mike," to raise money for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) awareness. The run is dedicated to Melissa's husband, who committed suicide in 2009 while suffering from PTSD. As a member of the Army Reserves 339th Battalion, Mike Karkowski served his country in the war against terror in Afghanistan.
The run will begin at 8 a.m. at the Shadyside Little League ballfields. Participants are asked to arrive by 7:30 a.m. Registration for the run will be open until 8 a.m., and everyone in the community is invited. Anyone is welcome to run, but those who are unable can help out by volunteering at water stations and making signs to support those who are running. Donations will be accepted and t-shirts will be sold for $10.
At the end of the race, food will be served and there will be a DJ. All money raised will be donated to fund PTSD awareness and support, though Melissa does not currently have a specific charity or organization to donate to because she is having trouble finding one. Melissa said, "the military doesn't want to talk about it. I'm hitting a brick wall," and she is open to suggestions as to where she could donate the money.
About the run, Melissa said, "it is so important to have my community participate. I would love it if a lot of people turned out. I'm praying for it in honor of my husband."
Anyone who does participate in the run will have to sign an appearance release, because the run will be filmed as part of a television show Melissa will appear on in May of 2014.
This past May, Melissa was chosen to be part of season four of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition", also called "Extreme Weight Loss," a program in which contestants lose at least 50% of their body fat.
Since May, Melissa has been part of an intense program to lose weight and get healthy. To be featured on the show, she wrote a letter to celebrity trainer Chris Powell and traveled to Colorado for three months of weight-loss boot camp. Melissa started out at 301 pounds, and since she began exercising and eating healthy, she has lost 81 lbs.
Melissa says she has two reasons for wanting to be on "Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition."
"I wanted to raise awareness for PTSD, I needed a platform," she said. "It was two-fold, I wanted to raise awareness and get healthy."
Melissa also says she felt her weight was embarrassing to her sons, though they never explicitly told her such.
"I'm the only one they have left, I want to be around as long as I can," Melissa said, and she felt that at 301 lbs., her chances for a long life were not good.
Melissa said her boot camp experience was, "the hardest thing I've ever done...physically, emotionally draining" and that it was hard to be away from her children, who were being taken cared for by her boyfriend of two years, Kirk Hood, and her mother Barb.
However, Melissa says it was worth it "a million times over." Her physical quality of life has drastically improved, as she can now run, do push-ups and chin-ups, and it is easier to do fun things like go to an amusement park and ride roller coasters.
Melissa says going on the show was also for her son who battles being overweight, because she wants to set a good example as a parent.
Melissa has been working closely with the fitness producer for "Extreme Weight Loss" Serena Settlemier, who says, "we're trying to get the community involved. That's our mission."
Settlemier hinted that Melissa will get to meet a surprise celebrity at Saturday's run, which she said is "a milestone for her." Settlemier has produced 13 episodes of the show, and she travels to be with cast members after they have participated in the weight loss boot camp. She said, "we try to get them out of those habits and live again..their quality of life isn't good and they need somebody to help them." Settlemier said that Melissa's story was compelling, and that there is a community that can relate to the tragedy of her husband's PTSD.
Melissa says that she would recommend the experience to anyone that is in the situation she started out in, and now that she is getting healthy she wants to pay it forward and help her community of Shadyside and the whole Ohio Valley.
Anyone who wants to support Melissa and help raise awareness for PTSD is encouraged to attend Saturday's run, as a participant or spectator.
Warner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org