Years ago, Oak Park native Sara Haliczer felt that the only way she could feel relief from the suffocation of depression and her suicidal thoughts was to injure herself.

“My brain told me I did not have a choice, the only way to feel better was to cut myself deeply.”

She wore long-sleeves and pants and mostly stayed indoors… she didn’t want anyone to see the visible scars of her nearly decade-long battle with mental illness.” I did not exercise. Athletic endeavor was for healthy people; I was damaged,” she says.

In 2008, Sara experienced a severe asthma attack that provided a much-needed turning point in her life. “I was not ready to resign myself to being heavy and out of breath for the rest of my life, so, I started running.”

At first it was just a few very breathless steps at a time, and eventually the length of the neighborhood schoolyard, and then half a mile out to the road. The first mile took about 10 weeks.

“For a while I ran only at night, because I was ashamed to run in the light of day.”

Then came the next five, 10, 13.1 miles. And something incredible started happening as Sara ran; her mental health improved dramatically. “Now I run three to five times a week, practice yoga one to three times a week, lift weights and do core conditioning two to four times a week. And I am well. I am mentally and physically healthy. Medications are both more effective and less necessary.”

In 2010, Sara first participated in the Mind Over Matter 5K Charity Run/Walk. There, she found a place to express the many complicated emotions that come with mental illness. “MOM, for me, is both a celebration for those of us who have made it through and a somber reminder that many, too many, far, far too many, don’t. Some of those were friends of mine, and now they’re gone, and can’t ever feel the joy of running a race, so I run for them.”

In 2013, Sara ran her first marathon in New Orleans. Completing 26.2 miles was something a few years back she never could have imagined. And now when Sara runs, the only thing that covers her scars is a brightly colored tattoo that reads, “Never Give Up.” She is brave enough to bare her arms and legs and, even more importantly, her story, in hopes that they it will reach others who struggle with mental illness.

“Turning suicide into an unmentionable scar on a family causes more suicide. We should talk about it until no one is ashamed of it. The MOM race helps in these and many other ways,” she says.