Mike Nowak is on a mission to save one life at a time by running one mile at a time.
Mike struggled with depression a majority of his life. Mike grew up with an alcoholic father who left his mother and him when Mike was eight. The struggle of wondering why his father chose alcohol over his son heavily weighed on Mike as he grew older. After his father’s death, Mike began battling depression as his emotions and blame for things turned inward. He was great at showing a smile to everyone while feeling broken and hurting inside. Mike felt the entire weight on his shoulders and that weight followed him from high school to college and put him on a path toward alcoholism himself.
It was to the point that on two different occasions Mike tried to drink himself to death. But despite his best efforts to end his life, a bigger plan was in play. After a fraternity brother committed suicide, Mike made the choice to compete for his life. Suicide was no longer and option and he would defeat his depression.
With no training at all, Mike signed up for the 2008 Chicago Marathon. It two weeks away. Somehow, someway Mike ran the entire race with thoughts of his fraternity brother weighing on his mind. He swore he’d never run another. The actions of his late fraternity brother had ultimately saved Mike’s life and put him on a mission to save others. Three years after college, Mike was seeking purpose with his life. He knew he wanted to compete for his, but he struggled to find a way how. He was back home, working a dead-end job and craving a new start. He even remembers the depression seeping back in and Mike refused to allow it a foothold.
He decided to start Just A Mile – the initials “JAM” being that of his former fraternity brother. The mission of Just a Mile is simple: to instill life’s purpose in people battling mental illness. Mike and the “JAM” team are each out to run 50 marathons in 50 states to raise funds to “support mental health and suicide prevention programs on college campuses” through Active Minds.
“My goal is to raise $1,000 every race while still bringing to light every single story. Sometimes we hit the financial goal, sometimes we fall just short, but we continue to raise both money and awareness. I just want people to know – especially athletes – to know it’s ok to talk about mental illness,” Mike told Compete Every Day.
Five years after his first marathon, Mike is set to complete races #10 & 11 this year, hoping to personally raise $2,000+ for Active Minds. In addition, he's speaking at college campuses all over the country on his marathon trips. It’s an incredible mission by a member of the Compete community. Everyone has a life worth competing for – Mike believes that message’s power all the more after battling depression and considering ending his own.
Mike is making his life count by saving others. We challenge you to do the same – compete for something bigger than yourself.
If you are interested in getting involved with the Just A Mile team or donating to “JAM” or Active Minds, click here to learn more.