Race raises money to help fight addiction

Published 10:19 pm Monday, October 21, 2019

For his son.

For his son whose addiction began with medication given to him after an injury.

For his son who could not overcome that addiction.

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For himself and the caregivers.

For the many who are addicted, so that others may live.

That’s why Len Lilley walked: For Mitch.

Team Mitch was 41 people strong for Saturday’s Driver Days StrongWILL Charity Fun Run and Walk — an event that, in its fourth year, raised a record $11,000, according to event co-founder April Brooks.

The event took place on the Suffolk Seaboard Coastline Trail ahead of the Driver Days Fall Festival.

Lilley’s son, Mitch, was 25 when he died in February 2017.

This is the third year Lilley has walked, with Team Mitch growing with every year.

“Of course, it means a whole lot to me, because of my son,” Lilley said. “But (co-founder April Brooks), she does so much with the community, the Western Tidewater Community Services Board, everybody supports everybody well.”

Lilley recalled how his son broke his collarbone and was taking Vicodin. He later tried — and failed — to get it on the streets and moved to heroin. Lilley said his son ended up taking fentanyl, “and it killed him.”

“It’s a tough thing,” Lilley said. “Addiction’s a bad thing, no matter what it is, whether it’s alcohol, drugs or whatever. It means a lot to come out and support them, because a lot of people out here are addicts that people don’t even realize, and you want to support them and help them through what they’re going through.”

There were 16 teams and 228 people overall on a cool morning, ideal for those running and walking to remember friends and loved ones lost to the ravages of addiction.

“For the most part, a team will register because of a loss of a loved one, or in honor of someone that they’ve lost from it,” said event co-founder April Brooks. “This really helps them grieve and brings support and awareness to know that they’re not alone and that they’re trying to do something about it. It turns some of the negative energy they’ve had about it into something positive and to help in the community.”

Still, she was concerned the event wouldn’t be as successful as in past years.

“Just two months ago, we were at our lowest amount of participation yet for the time of year, so I was really kind of worried — I didn’t know how this would really go,” Brooks said. “That has turned around to where this is the most successful year that we’ve had,” said April Brooks, who with her husband Nathan Brooks, co-founded the StrongWILL event four years ago following the death of her brother, who had battled addiction.

The money will go toward helping those who could otherwise afford to get treatment and get the help they need.

“It’s a good thing,” Lilley said. “It pulls everybody together, and it’s well-supported.”

The 53-year old Lilley joked that there was no way he could have run the 5K.

Still, wearing the blue Team Mitch T-shirt like the other 40 people, Lilley was able to laugh and smile.

He used that time to remember, and to walk.

For Mitch.