Mikayla Miller’s focus could have easily been overwhelmed by the pain in her feet or the burning in her lungs. Running her first marathon, she chose instead to focus her thoughts on the good times she had with her mom, which helped push her across the finish line.

It was her mother’s death in 2014 to a drug overdose that led Mikayla to the course in Detroit this past October. The marathon represented Mikayla’s long journey to find peace with her mother’s addiction and the desire she has to share her story with others.

“There was a lot of hate and darkness in my heart,” said Mikayla, who was a senior at Charlotte High School when her mother overdosed. “After a couple years, I decided I didn’t want to live like that, and wanted to remember my mom in a good way.”

So on her 19th birthday, Mikayla announced she was going to run the Detroit Free Press Marathon, and started the movement “Running for Awareness” to raise money for substance abuse and addiction awareness.

“My mom passed away on Sept. 19, 2014, so I decided I would dedicated the entire 19th year of my life to running and raising money in her honor.”

She raised $1,300 through sponsorships for each mile she ran over the course of the last year. On Tuesday, Nov. 14 Mikayla presented the Eaton County Substance Abuse Advisory Group (ECSAAG) with a check for $1,300.

Mary Beth Roe, ECSAAG chair, said the board is deciding how to best utilize the funds, and plans to involve Mikayla in the decision making process, which should be completed in December.

For now, Mikayla is deciding whether or not Running for Awareness will continue on. She said she would love to continue to raise money and speak out about addiction.

“It’s not just about me, it’s about every other family out there who goes through it, every other kid, just like my sister and I, who have gone through the same exact thing and know what it’s like,” Mikayla said. “I just want people to know they’re not alone and that it’s ok to feel the way you do to have addiction in your life.”

Her sister, Brianna, who is currently a senior in high school has been inspired by her sister’s actions and has reached out to officials in Eaton County about how she might be able to help others.

“I’m very proud of her,” Brianna said. “Seeing her run 26.2 miles drives me to want to do more for others — whether it’s going to talk to people and helping them or something else, what she’s doing pushes me.”

The two know how important it is to have someone to talk to while witnessing a loved one battle addiction. Brianna said they leaned on each other often as they watched their mother go through addiction to prescription medication.

“Mikayla would always be strong for me,” Brianna said. “We were always there to pick each other up.”

“I’m proud of both my daughters,” said Bert Skowronski, Mikayla and Brianna’s father. “Substance abuse is an ugly thing, it’s a hard thing to watch someone spiral down hill. I’m very proud of my girls for the resilience they’ve had and the strength they have to talk about it and face it.”