DOWNERS GROVE – Ben Silver will be remembered for a lot of things, but for his mother, it's his athletic prowess that stands above the rest.
"Ben was an amazing athlete," Jamie Silver said. "He provided a lot of excitement for Downers Grove fans."
Ben Silver, 22, a former stand-out track and cross country star at Downers Grove North High School, died July 2.
Ben started running in seventh grade after his soccer career sputtered. Jamie Silver said her son was nicknamed "Turbo" because of how quickly he moved around the field.
The 2011 North graduate had a very successful high school career in both cross country and track. He was an all-state cross country runner three times, and is the only North student to accomplish that feat. He finished 17th, 18th and 10th in the cross country state finals in his sophomore through senior years, respectively, and finished eighth in state in the 3,200-meter run in track his senior year, even though he was unable to train because of an injury.
Will Kupisch, who worked with long-distance track runners and was the head cross country coach at North, met Ben for the first time when he was in seventh grade. Running a five-minute mile was a rare feat for a middle-schooler, but Ben took it to "another level of unbelievable," Kupisch said.
He couldn't remember the exact time, but said Ben ran a mile in about 4 minutes and 40 seconds. That's when Kupisch knew he'd found someone special.
"He was an incredible competitor," he said. "He was a determined young man."
Kupisch said Ben was a warrior on the track, but was well-loved off it as well. He said Ben was creative, charming, musical and had a smile that was "as large as the state of Texas."
Ben received a full-ride scholarship to Miami University in Ohio to run cross country, where he spent two years studying engineering.
Aaron Silver, his older brother, said Ben did well in his freshman year of college cross country, but was hampered by an injury that caused him to miss a significant amount of the season. However, Ben's determination shone through as he worked to get back on the course to help his team.
"He really wanted to be running. And he was fighting to get back," Aaron Silver said.
Ben studied on his own for several Advanced Placement tests and passed them, getting nearly 20 college credit hours in the process during the summer after his freshman year. By his sophomore year, Ben was taking "very rigorous classes," Aaron Silver said, including advanced engineering and physical chemistry.
"He was a smart guy," Aaron Silver said.
Starting in Ben's sophomore year, his grades began to slip and he started experiencing difficulties, Aaron Silver said. Jamie Silver said her son was diagnosed with a mental illness and took his own life.
"Despite all of the family's efforts to help him in various ways, I really believe that he's a victim of a broken-down mental health system," she said.
North head cross country coach John Sipple, who was the assistant cross country coach when Ben was in high school, said he was an awesome kid.
"Ben was just a really fun-loving, outgoing individual," he said. "Someone who truly cared for his teammates and went out of his way to support them."
Ben was a leader and the captain of the cross country team his senior year, as was his brother. Sipple said the two had a good relationship on the course and always worked to make each other better.
"Aaron helped really bring Ben along," Sipple said. "Aaron really was a great role model for Ben. Ben looked up to Aaron."
The family will hold a celebration of Ben's life July 12 at American Legion Post 80, 4000 Saratoga Ave. There will be a Buddhist ceremony at 10 a.m. and a life celebration at 1 p.m.