Heather Freed has been competitive in all parts of her life from school to athletics.
At 13, she joined the middle school track team as a way to stay in shape for hockey season. Heather remained on the track team throughout middle school and into high school competing in the 400m, 800m, 4x400m relay and 4x800m relay. She was also the captain of her track and tennisteams, and even competed on the boy’s ice hockey team, due to the lack of a girl’s team at her school. After high school, Heather hung up her running shoes, but continued to play division III ice hockey at Lake Forest College from 2003 to 2005.
Nearly a decade after graduating college, Heather decided to rekindle her relationship with running; she signed up for the 2015 Rock ‘n Roll Chicago Half Marathon, and despite the humidity, she finished with a time of 2:20:13 and a smile on her face. Not only did that smile display a feeling of accomplishment, but pride that she was representing an organization she is devoted to: Erika’s Lighthouse.
Heather is a licensed clinical social worker and Executive Director for Erika’s Lighthouse, “a very special charity in Chicago working to educate school communities about teen depression, eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness and empower teens to take charge of their mental health,” Heather says.
The organization began in 2004 after 14-year-old Erika Neuckranz committed suicide; her parents understood that in order to prevent similar occurrences among youth, teens and their families need to be educated, and the stigma of depression needs to be eliminated. They founded Erika’s Lighthouse that same year, and 12 years and five employees later, the charity is impacting over 60,000 individuals a year, with programs in 18 states.
After being thoroughly involved with Erika’s Lighthouse, and picking up her running career, Heather has decided to compete in her first marathon this fall, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Oct. 9.
“Erika’s Lighthouse has been involved with the Chicago Marathon for the last two years and I have attended the event as a spectator and supporter each time,” Heather says. “For me, it was impossible to watch and not want to be a part of it myself. The spirit of the Chicago Marathon is palpable.”
The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is Erika’s Lighthouse third largest annual fundraiser – this year, there will be 35 runners on the team, some of who have dealt with teenage depression themselves, according to Heather.
“Interesting fact: running is a just as effective as anti-depressant medication,” Heather adds. “When you work in a profession of serving others, I love that it is a part of my day that is just for me … I really enjoy connecting with my body, pushing myself physically and clearing my mind.”
Heather admits that finding the time to train is the most difficult part for her. Although the long distances can be challenging, they are also gratifying; she remembers running 10 miles for her first time and feeling very accomplished. She has also learned the importance of taking care of her body and mind, claiming, “With the right attitude, anyone can do it.”
Now feeling prepared to run her first full marathon, Heather shares that she is going to dedicate each mile to someone, or something, that she loves in honor of her charity.
“I am looking forward to carrying those people with me in my mind and heart throughout the 26.2 miles,” she says.