ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — With each step, and in every stride, Michigan State Police detective Karl Schmitz runs for the one.
“It represents the one person out of five that will suffer from some type of mental disorder this year,” Schmitz said.
Saturday morning at Millennium Park in Kent County, Schmitz and his fellow troopers will lace up their sneakers for the Hope Network One in Five Marathon Relay. The event was created to raise awareness for mental illness, and to raise money to fight it.
Mental illness is a struggle not exclusive to a certain age, ethnicity or profession. For Schmitz, that includes his brothers in blue. That’s why he runs.
“There’s an expectation that when we’re there (on a scene), we’re there to do a job. We’re kind of — not to be melodramatic — we’re kind of the last line of defense,” Schmitz said.
It’s a line of work that is tough and at times downright dangerous. The reality is, it can be difficult for officers to shake what they see when their shift ends.
“I’ve been on the phone with a person who was contemplating suicide. And then I sent two troopers up there and they actually watched this gentleman commit suicide,” Schmitz said.
That’s part of why the detective is piling up the marathon miles: to remind people that behind the badge — and the at-times tough exterior — is just another human being. And one not immune to mental illness.
In fact, over the past couple years, the Michigan State Police have placed an increased focus on the mental well-being of their troopers. Their 2.8 program was created in part for just that.
“The ultimate goal is to start a conversation about mental health issues. To bring awareness and to eliminate stigma,” Schmitz said.
While Schmitz is racing for his fellow officers, there will be hundreds of people lacing up their sneakers at Saturday’s race for someone else.
“Some folks are running because they’ve lost a loved one to mental health crisis — to suicide. But some have come through it,” Meg Derrer told 24 Hour News 8. She’s the executive director of the Hope Network Foundation.
The non-profit is putting on the race to raise money to support their mission. But no doubt, what happens at this race will be much more than just a fundraiser.
“We wanna bring it to the forefront…we wanna talk about it,” Derrer said of mental illness.
“That’s in your backyard — that’s people you know. And you may not even know that they’re dealing with depression, something else, but this gives a voice to that.”
The marathon relay features teams of five. Four participants will run a 5-mile loop, and one will run a more challenging 6.2-mile route to represent the one in five facing a mental illness.
There’s also a community walk at 10 in the morning if you don’t want to run. Day-of-registration is available.