Holly Wever will never again experience another holiday back home in Utah with her vivacious, loving sister, Kristi Lowell. Of all of the consequences of Lowell’s death from a heroin overdose at 28 years old, that’s one of the hardest, Wever says. “I just miss seeing her walk through the door and hugging my kids, and I miss lying on the couch and joking around with her,” she says. “I just miss normal stuff.”
In the wake of her sister’s death, Wever has grieved, but she has also taken action, hoping to empower individuals struggling with addiction and to offer support to their families.
Wever, a Las Vegas resident, partnered with the family of Leah and Amber Schlauder, local sisters who died just two years apart from prescription drug overdoses, to create the Second Chance 5k walk/run. The annual event, now in its second year, is about more than exercise and beautiful scenery: It aims to uplift people struggling to overcome their addictions.
“I really want them to come,” Wever says. “I want them to feel like we’re cheering them on. I want them to feel connected.”
That desire stems from watching a loved one suffer. Amy Schlauder, who witnessed two of her four sisters battle prescription drug addiction, explained that being involved has helped her family heal.
“This is a second chance for us to think about drug addiction a little bit differently,” she says. “I wish I would’ve understood it more as a health problem, not a morality problem. Unfortunately, it took two of my sisters dying for me to think of it that way.”
Wever says it’s difficult not to initially be critical as the family member of someone who struggles to get clean only to relapse, but that not showing unconditional support and love can lead to lifelong regrets.
Lowell, who had suffered from painkiller and heroin addictions for years before she died, was training to become a firefighter and wanted to become drug-free, her sister says. Things seemed to be on the uptick for a while.
“Now I know all the signs that I should have been looking for,” Wever says. “I just thought she was depressed. She wasn’t washing her hair. She didn’t want to socialize.”
In the months after her sister’s death, Wever reached out to the Schlauder family, who she knew had suffered similarly heartbreaking losses.
Leah Schlauder, who loved ones describe as a joyful, sweet woman, died in November 2011. The tragedy was followed by the death of one of her sisters, fun-loving Amber, in September 2013.
Both women struggled with addictions to painkillers, though they also had trouble with methamphetamine and other drugs. They each left behind children—two for Leah and one for Amber—and a family struggling to make sense of it all.
“Our message for people going through addiction right now is that there are people who want them to recover,” Schlauder says.
The first annual Second Chance 5k, held last year around the first anniversary of Lowell’s death, raised nearly $15,000. Money from the event will fund renovations at the WestCare Women and Children’s Campus in Las Vegas, as well as is currently supporting behavioral health treatment at the location for a woman selected by the families.
Funds from this year’s run, to be held March 3 at Linda Rankin Givens Elementary, will also benefit WestCare.
The donations make a difference to the nonprofit, which relies heavily on community partnerships to aid women struggling with behavioral health issues, including addiction, says Bob Vickrey, WestCare’s community relations director. Vickrey says the woman whose treatment was funded by the race has received a particularly special gift.
“The female who has been sponsored might not have otherwise found the door to getting treatment,” he says. “When she transitions back into the community, she will have a new life waiting for her.”
That’s what makes all of the planning worth it, says Schlauder, whose mother and sisters recently presented their story to the women at WestCare and cheered them on.
Wever agreed, adding that the event is a bright spot in the wake of her sister’s death.
“What if we can help hundreds of people because of them?” she asks. “Then it doesn’t hurt so much.”