The Kokomo Tribune/Kelly Lafferty Gerber
Cameron Balser runs along the Nickel Plate trail in Kokomo, Ind., June 19. Balser, along with his uncle, Mark Keith Balser Deitzer, both of Elwood, started the Run Love Ride Charity in February, a nonprofit bringing awareness to mental health through Balser’s competition in ultramarathons.
The Kokomo Tribune/Kelly Lafferty Gerber

Cameron Balser runs along the Nickel Plate trail in Kokomo, Ind., June 19. Balser, along with his uncle, Mark Keith Balser Deitzer, both of Elwood, started the Run Love Ride Charity in February, a nonprofit bringing awareness to mental health through Balser’s competition in ultramarathons.

By LAURA ARWOOD Kokomo Tribune

ELWOOD, Ind.  — In January 2017, Cameron Balser, 28, checked himself into the hospital. He was grappling with an undiagnosed Major Depressive Disorder and struggling with suicidal ideation and attempts.

“After my last attempt, I knew I was either going to get better or I’m not going to be here,” he said.

Now, Balser, along with uncle, Mark Keith Balser Deitzer, both of Elwood, started the Run Love Ride Charity in February, a nonprofit bringing awareness to mental health through Balser’s competition in ultramarathons. Eventually, Balser would like to host 5K runs and other events for the community.

Ultramarathons are any race longer than a marathon, and Balser has come toe-to-toe with the definition of “ultra,” even racing 100 miles. Running comes naturally to Balser, who ran track and cross-country at Oak Hill High School and went on to run at a small college.

“Running was more my therapy than I realized as a kid,” he said. “Now if I don’t run, it definitely affects me.”

When Deitzer and Balser decided they were going to pursue Run Love Ride, the runner started on a bike. He wasn’t sure he was going to be able to hit the pavement.

“I didn’t know if I could run again because of my feet,” he said. “If you run that many years in a row, your feet start giving out. I started out on the bike and then I started running.”

Then he told his uncle he was going to kick the charity off with a 100 mile ultramarathon in Kokomo in February, and he did. He got up at 3 a.m. every morning and trained in the weather, sometimes below zero. He swam and biked at the Kokomo YMCA. Balser spends a lot of time in Kokomo because his mother, Paula, lives in town.

“I put in the work, I was out there every day training so when it was time to run the 100 miles, I was ready to do it,” he said. “I hope someday to have people come out and run with me and we can share our stories.”

Balser races regularly, running the Cry Me a River Trail Run on July 6, completing 100 miles in 29 hours and 31 minutes. The trails have an elevation gain of more than 23,000 feet.

On Saturday, Balser ran 48.2 miles in eight hours in The 8-Hour Dream Endurance Race at Butler University, winning the race.

Two teammates Balser ran track with at Oak Hill High School died by suicide. Their families have helped remember them in Balser’s runs.

“If their (families) want to give me a piece of their clothing, I’ll wear it when I run, or shout them out on my page,” he said. “We have so much to learn from the people we’ve lost. I want to remember them and honor them.”

Training is intense. Sometimes friends drop him off in Marion and he runs home to Elwood. While he is talented, he said talent is 20 percent of it.

Running comes naturally to Balser, and so does helping people, which is why he wanted to start Run Love Ride. He grew up as an athlete with a carefree spirit outwardly, but struggling inwardly.

“I just brushed it off, I was this happy, go-getter person so I couldn’t show that,” he said. “Now I know my family and friends, if I said something, they would have stayed up all night to talk to me about it. But then I just felt I couldn’t talk about it.”

Eventually, Balser couldn’t brush the sadness off. He had a good job, nice car and a loving relationship with his girlfriend, Jennifer Spencer, but it didn’t matter. Eventually, it overwhelmed him to the point of attempting suicide more than once.

“When I decided to go in (to the hospital), I had a great support system with my family. We went in there with an attitude of we weren’t sure what was going to happen but it had to be better than what I was dealing with then,” he said.

After Balser left the inpatient treatment program he did an outpatient therapy program for a few months. He continues to take medication and see a therapist.

“I have to be able to express myself. If I feel low I reach out to my friends. I’m a lot better because my path is better, but that’s the thing about depression, it’s not about what you have or don’t have, it continues,” he said. “I want people to know that they aren’t doing anything wrong or bad for feeling like this.