Last October, Kathleen Hooper trained for and successfully completed her first marathon at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. This year, she is back for more.

“It was an amazing experience on race day. The crowds lift you,” Hooper reflects. “Running through all the distinct Chicago neighborhoods, you see the diversity of our great city.”

In 2018, Hooper will again run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on the Erika’s Lighthouse Charity Team. Erika’s Lighthouse is an organization that educates and raises awareness about teenage depression, striving to break down the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Hooper has been on the Erika’s Lighthouse Council since 2015.

“I first learned about Erika’s Lighthouse in August 2014 when my family moved from Connecticut to the Chicago area and settled in Winnetka,” Hooper says. “I met Ginny and Tom Neuckranz, the founders of this wonderful charity, and was moved by their story and strength to give back amidst such difficult circumstances and wanted to be a part of it.”

The organization began in 2004 after 14-year-old Erika Neuckranz committed suicide; Ginny and Tom decided to help prevent similar occurrences among youth, teens and their families by starting an educational program. They founded Erika’s Lighthouse that same year, and 14 years later, the charity is impacting over 60,000 individuals a year, with programs in 18 states. The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is the organization’s third-largest charity event.

Originally, Hooper started running to challenge herself; long-distance running was not easy for her nor did she think she would be the best at it. She ran track in high school and continued shorter distances in college, but a marathon never seemed to be on her radar.

“I expected running to be lonely since I like team sports, but and it’s not,” she says. “I received so much support and advice, from all the people I ran with, whether it be how to hydrate, fuel, or gear. Plus, my family has been behind me 100 percent from start to finish; I couldn’t do it without them.”

For her first marathon, her goal was to just finish. Now, Hooper wants to beat her previous time, and have a stronger finish.

In 2018, Hooper will be sharing the experience with her niece, Nikki, who is also on the Erika’s Lighthouse charity team and will be running her first marathon.

“What I enjoy most about running are the kinds of people it attracts. They are generous, encouraging and committed,” she adds.

Originally featured in Chicago Athlete Magazine – Author Mark Buciak