The “MOMorial” is a tribute that includes photos and messages posted by Mind Over Matter 5K race participants who lost a loved one to suicide.

The “MOMorial” is a tribute that includes photos and messages posted by Mind Over Matter 5K race participants who lost a loved one to suicide.

Photo provided by Gruz Photography


Mind Over Matter 5K to shine light on mental illness, suicide

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published April 16, 2019

 Walkers and runners begin the Mind Over Matter 5K at Starr Jaycee Park in Royal Oak last year. The race will take place at 10 a.m. May 4 this year.

Walkers and runners begin the Mind Over Matter 5K at Starr Jaycee Park in Royal Oak last year. The race will take place at 10 a.m. May 4 this year.

Photos provided by Gruz Photography

 Race Director Julie Farhat speaks to attendees of last year’s Mind Over Matter 5K at Starr Jaycee Park in Royal Oak. Farhat and her siblings launched the event to erase the stigma around mental health and suicide, as well as to fund brain research and suicide prevention programs after losing their mother to suicide in 2005.

Race Director Julie Farhat speaks to attendees of last year’s Mind Over Matter 5K at Starr Jaycee Park in Royal Oak. Farhat and her siblings launched the event to erase the stigma around mental health and suicide, as well as to fund brain research and suicide prevention programs after losing their mother to suicide in 2005.

Photos provided by Gruz Photography

ROYAL OAK — The U.S. suicide rate is at a 50-year high. Most people’s lives have been impacted by mental illness or suicide in some way, and a local event wants to break the stigma surrounding those topics and also unite those in the throes of grief in a positive way.

At 10 a.m. May 4, the 14th annual Mind Over Matter 5K will once again kick off at Starr Jaycee Park, loop around the picturesque Vinsetta Boulevard neighborhoods between 12 Mile Road and Main Street, and provide networking opportunities for those connected by common threads.

The event, originally launched by four siblings impacted by the loss of their mother to suicide, has grown in number, from less than 300 participants to more than 1,500 annually. Individuals and teams have, to date, raised more than $350,000 to enact change.

Nonprofits that benefit from the event include the University of Michigan Depression Center, KnowResolve and Common Ground to expand brain research and suicide prevention programs.

The charity run/walk is open to all fitness levels, and advance online registration is required by Tuesday, April 30. The rates are $30 for ages 18 and younger and $35 for adults older than 18, plus online processing fees. Children 12 and younger participate for free, but they must be accompanied by a registered parent or guardian. There will be no in-person registration.

Race-day activities include free mini massages provided by Irene’s Mysomassagology Institute, face painting and tattoos by Dixieland Face Painting, a warmup provided by Red Effect Infrared Fitness, counselors on hand, live music, refreshments, raffles and the opportunity to add loved ones’ photos to a “living MOMorial.”

A unique aspect to the event is the opportunity to purchase color-coded silicon wristbands for $2 that delineate how suicide has particularly impacted individuals, who then can visit corresponding color-coded meetup trees.

The categories include lost a child to suicide, lost a parent to suicide, lost a spouse or partner to suicide, lost a sibling to suicide, lost a friend or relative to suicide, lost a military member to suicide, suicide attempt survivor, so much more than my mental illness, and I <3 MOM.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47,173 Americans died by suicide in 2017, and suicide, along with opioid deaths, is beginning to contribute to a drop in life expectancy. Suicide is currently the 10th-leading cause of death in America and the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-olds.

The statistics are sobering, but the MOM 5K aims to help reduce suicide, connect participants with resources, provide a sense of hope and community, and break the silence.

Race Director Julie Farhat lost her mother, Gail Boledovich, to suicide May 1, 2005, just days before her mother’s 49th birthday. Despite giving her children a childhood full of laughter and joy, creative adventures and unconditional love, untreated schizophrenia eventually caused her to lose her job, home and stability.

Two weeks before Boledovich was scheduled to move in with Farhat, who took a job transfer to Kentucky, Farhat learned that her mother had overdosed on prescription-strength Benadryl, despite promising her family that she would not take her own life. 

“It was more than she could handle,” Farhat said. “We were left to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all.”

Instead of remaining in a tortured state of wondering what could have saved her mother, Farhat and her siblings decided to move forward and channel their pain into purpose.

“I am who I am today because my mom lived and also because she died,” she said. “I had to try to find a way to make sense of this. Even though nothing could bring my mom back, we could prevent another family from going through it and bring this issue to light.”

In 2006, Farhat and her siblings formed Mind Over Matter, lovingly referred to as MOM, in their hometown of Royal Oak. Starr Jaycee Park is located right across the street from where the family lived for 20 years.

The race is professionally timed and certified, and it includes age group awards, a team challenge competition, fundraising opportunities, prizes and more.

“I like getting to know the teams who come out. They are very spirited and remember their loved ones for the life they lived,” Farhat said. “They have their own custom photo T-shirts, and I love hearing all the stories and really putting a face to the cause.”

Brandy Butcher, along with her sisters, began participating in the event three years ago, and since then, they have grown their team to include more family and friends. The family commutes to Royal Oak from the Lansing area.

Butcher lost her mother on Halloween 2015 to lung cancer, and her father took his own life on Halloween 2016. Within a month of losing her dad, a close family friend also died from suicide. Their team name is Running for Redbone, her dad’s nickname.

“You think (losing a loved one to suicide) would never happen to you, but now it’s everywhere,” she said. “I don’t think he had a mental illness. He died of a broken heart.”

She said the whole experience is intensely personal and meaningful, the connections made are invaluable, and the candid conversation cathartic.

“This year, we have a big banner,” she said. “Our team brings a grill and gets there super early to cook some hot dogs. It’s the one day a year we’re able to just talk freely about it and everybody around is either supportive or going through what we went through. When we’re here, we can all just talk about it and cry and just share everybody’s pain. It’s such a good event.”

Starr Jaycee Park is located on 13 Mile Road, east of Crooks Road.

To sign up for the race, make a donation or volunteer, visit www.momrace.org.

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006.