One year after her best friend and cousin’s passing, Illinois State senior physical education major Emily Yacko organized the Run Today for Tomorrow 5K in Ottawa.
The 5K was not only to honor Molly Yacko but to spread awareness about mental health. The goal was to send the message “It’s okay to not be okay,” and break down the stigma around mental health.
“The one-year anniversary of her passing was the day of the race,” Yacko said. “She absolutely loved running and she was really good at it. I figured a 5K would be a great way to honor her and help raise money for the cause.”
The race was held June 29. The title of the race, Run Today for Tomorrow, is to show that “tomorrow has so much potential for great things to happen.
Tomorrow needs you here to see it,” Yacko said. “There’s a day next week that needs you here to see it and there’s going to be a day down the road that needs you here to see it.”
Before the event, Yacko’s main goal was to raise $5,000, and expected 75 to 100 participants.
The morning of the race, over 350 people were registered. Even more people attended the event to volunteer and show their support for the cause. Not including costs for the event itself and t-shirts, the 5K raised around $20,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The run was an emotional, busy and impactful day for Yacko.
“When participants started showing up, it really hit me that they are here because of me.” Yacko said. “They are here because they want to bring hope and awareness to this.”
Over winter break, Yacko had the idea to create the 5K to honor her cousin and to bring hope and awareness to her community. With the support from others, she planned and organized the event.
“[I wanted] to use [Molly’s] story to share and make a difference because she deserves it and it’s what she would want,” Yacko said. “[I was] just hoping that Molly would be proud of me for everything that I’ve done, it was all for her.”
Among the large number of participants for the race were a variety of first responders who ran in full uniform to spread awareness of how much suicide affects first responders.
Yacko adds she was grateful they ran, and that they are helping break down the stigma around mental health.
The event also had a booth set up for mental health resources and a raffle for a free counseling service.
Yacko and her friends made multiple inspirational posters to hang at the race. Aside from posters, they also made a variety of beaded bracelets.
Each color of bracelet had a different meaning as to why participants showed up to the event. Some of the colors represented a support for the cause, the loss of a loved one and for personal struggles.
In her speech before the race, Yacko asked participants to raise their hand if they were wearing a certain color.
“It was a good way to help put in perspective that you’re not alone in what you’re going through,” Yacko said.
Yacko plans to make the race an annual event, and for it to always be held on the last weekend in June.
“The ability to [organize this event] while being a full-time student and having a job is just really impressive,” Yacko’s friend and former boss Drew Ison said.
“Seeing a student being able to build this from the ground up and having it be successful was so impressive. I just hadn’t seen anything like it before,” Ison said.
After college, Yacko plans to be a physical education teacher in an elementary school. Her goal is to incorporate mental health into her teachings as well.
“I don’t want anyone else to feel like their life is not worth living,” Yacko said. “If you choose not to talk about mental health, it’s just going to cause people to feel more isolated and feel like they shouldn’t get help. We need to talk about it.”