Friday, December 15, 2017
Events

Teenager's legacy sparks teens to 'SpeakUp' about depression

She was a statuesque teen, blond, classically beautiful, athletic, outgoing, funny, popular, razor sharp, compassionate, artistic, creative, so very much alive.

On a typical day, Cameron Gallagher awoke to an unexplainable darkness in her mind.

Sometimes, she couldn't get out of bed at her home in Richmond, Va. She'd pull out of school — or skip it altogether — if things were crashing. She couldn't hold a job. She wallowed in deep pits of sadness.

Nearly three years ago, at age 16, she died in her parents' arms shortly after finishing a half-marathon, leaving behind a grieving family, a devastated community, so many unanswered questions — and a cause.

Cameron suffered from depression, a condition that often lurks in the shadows. She knew its vast fallout was much larger than her own crippling pain. Even in the most desperate moments, she imagined ways to help.

Cameron's dream plays out again Oct. 22 when Tampa's Al Lopez Park hosts the SpeakUp 5K, a race that benefits the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. Proceeds will fund programs for teenage depression and anxiety while advocating for open communication and understanding.

"Her feeling was, 'I'm going to speak up about teenage depression and anxiety … you might not feel you can speak up because of the stigma, so I'll do it for you,'" said Grace Gallagher, Cameron's mother.

"She knew an event like this would bring a community together and shine some light on this. She knew it would help people."

Depression, the most common mental health disorder for young people, afflicts approximately 20 percent of teenagers before they reach adulthood. It increases a teen's risk for attempting suicide by 12 times.

"It's an absolute monster," said David Gallagher, Cameron's father.

Cameron hated that some kids lived in denial or shame, refusing to verbalize their needs.

She noticed that teenage cancer had vocal armies. Teenage depression was concealed with whispers.

So in the last weeks of her life, she built a plan.

• • •

From the moment Cameron came down the stairs, her family just knew.

"I could always see it in her eyes,'' Cameron's mother said. "It was like a strained look on her face.''

Many days, even medication and therapy were no match for the hopelessness felt by Cameron, the second of the Gallagher's five children.

"Depression is not some sort of character flaw, as if you could keep yourself from doing it," said Clara Reynolds, chief executive officer of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. "It's a biological-based disorder. If it's diabetes, if it's cancer, if it's high blood pressure, if it's any number of things that we often see on television, people understand. With depression and anxiety, people don't understand."

In her final weeks, Cameron ravenously attacked plans for her first SpeakUp 5K, working on everything from corporate sponsorships to the course layout to a speech that detailed how she coped with depression.

Her parents had no idea.

"We weren't saying no, but we weren't encouraging it, either," Cameron's father said. "She knew exactly what she wanted."

Cameron's final weeks were, in her father's words, "glorious." She was in great spirits, maybe because she was on the verge of earning her first car. Cameron's father agreed to buy it if she achieved a challenging goal.

So she entered the Shamrock Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach. She was a competitive athlete, winning awards for her swimming and drawing attention from college coaches. Running was her happy place.

Cameron's parents were also running the course, taking short-cuts here and there, snapping photos, shooting video, documenting their daughter's big day.

As she crossed the finish line, Cameron smiled at her parents and walked toward them. She quickly went into distress and collapsed into their arms. She was rushed to the hospital, but couldn't be revived. An autopsy detected cardiac arrhythmia, an undetected heart condition.

No one had ever seen a larger visitation. Her funeral drew a few thousand people.

• • •

About a week after Cameron's death, her parents worked up the courage to visit her room.

It was the way she always left it — a mess, clothes thrown here and there. But on her night table, in a carefully arranged stack, were detailed plans for the SpeakUp 5K.

When the parents shared the discovery with friends, there was a universal reaction.

"The community wouldn't allow us to just sit in our grief," Cameron's mother said. "They said, 'Don't go to bed and cry about this. It's a real problem. Do something. Take this ball and run with it.'"

The third annual SpeakUp 5K was held in Richmond on Sept. 10. Previous races were staged in San Diego and Boone, N.C.

Why Tampa?

It's the home of Denny Gallagher, Cameron's uncle and David's younger brother.

"It was a long time before I knew what Cameron was dealing with,'' Denny Gallagher said. "You don't even talk about it with family. I have been part of the other races. They are cool, even euphoric. Afterward, people pour their hearts out. They talk about depression and anxiety. They talk about their pain. It's very impactful.

"Cameron was so charismatic, such a wonderful heart. This is just a reflection of her giving spirit. I wanted to help the cause in Tampa."

There will be Cameron-inspired "Fun Stations'' along the course — some that shoot the runners with silly string, others that have electronic music and flashing lights, like a rave party.

There will also be large reproductions, in Cameron's handwriting, of the quotes she placed on the walls of her room. Even in her darkest moments, Cameron wrote down positive messages and leaned on them.

They are from songs or the Bible. Some were made up by Cameron. Many feature her own twist.

You Are Worth It All.

A Smooth Sea Never Made a Skilled Sailor.

Inside Of Us All Is A Wild Thing.

I Will Hold On.

Moments after Cameron died, her mother leaned on another message, a Bible verse from 2 Timothy 4:7.

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.''

On her headstone, there's another Bible verse, this one from Isaiah 66:9.

"I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born."

"We look at those words,'' her father said, "as Cameron's legacy."

     
 
Comments
Top things to do in Tampa Bay on Saturday, Dec. 16

Top things to do in Tampa Bay on Saturday, Dec. 16

Love Never Dies: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. 2 and 8 p.m., Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. Start at $45. (813) 229-7827. Ice Skating at Tampa’s W...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Dec. 17

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Dec. 17

Trans-Siberian Orchestra: The critically-acclaimed, multi-platinum band is bringing an updated presentation of "The ghosts of Christmas Eve." This winter tour will be celebrate the accomplishments of the group’s late creator and composer Paul O’Neill...
Published: 12/15/17
Inside Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s first Christmas without leader Paul O’Neill

Inside Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s first Christmas without leader Paul O’Neill

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A half hour to curtain, Al Pitrelli unwinds on a couch in his spartan dressing quarters, fresh off a loading-dock Marlboro. He’s deep inside an arena, about to play the 29th show in the 18th city of the Trans-Siberian ...
Published: 12/15/17
Tavis Smiley theatrical show canceled at Straz Center in wake of sexual misconduct allegations

Tavis Smiley theatrical show canceled at Straz Center in wake of sexual misconduct allegations

The theatrical tour about the death of Martin Luther King Jr. that Tavis Smiley was slated to bring to Tampa’s David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts has been canceled in the wake sexual misconduct allegations against the broadcaster.Death...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
This week's top holiday events: Parades, Christmas lights, theme parks and more

This week's top holiday events: Parades, Christmas lights, theme parks and more

PARADES Homosassa Christmas Boat Parade Parade begins at Marker 75 by Bird Island. Free. Homosassa Springs Marina, 10806 W Halls River Road, Homosassa. 6 p.m. Dec. 16.   Indian Rocks Beach Boat Parade It begins at the Holiday Inn Harbourside and...
Published: 12/14/17
Bar review: Spanish flair at Bulla Gastrobar in South Tampa

Bar review: Spanish flair at Bulla Gastrobar in South Tampa

Take a second and try to think of a few of the world’s biggest drinking cultures. Ireland is a freebie, but then you’ll probably move onto Germany, Russia and possibly even South Korea (yep, South Korea goes hard).How about Spain? No, I’m not just ta...
Published: 12/14/17
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Dec. 15

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Dec. 15

Katy Perry: The Teenage Dream songstress is ready to Roar as she sets off on a tour in support of the album, Witness. Synth-pop duo Purity Ring opens. 7:30 p.m., Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $45.75-$195.75. (813) 301-2500.John Prine: T...
Published: 12/14/17
From Crystal River to Brooksville, branch out to shop on these unexpected main streets

From Crystal River to Brooksville, branch out to shop on these unexpected main streets

You don’t have to stare at a greeting card to picture a bustling old main street lined with decorated shops and lampposts. Historic small-town shopping districts are easy to find, and more charming than Walmart. Beyond the downtowns of St. Pet...
Published: 12/14/17
New locations for Tampa’s New Year’s Eve fireworks, plus a Mario Lopez appearance

New locations for Tampa’s New Year’s Eve fireworks, plus a Mario Lopez appearance

New Year’s Eve fireworks in downtown Tampa will be a little different this year, as free, public viewing moves from Channelside Bay Plaza to Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park behind Amalie Arena due to ongoing construction. Meanwhile, the Pied Pipe...
Published: 12/14/17
Review: Kevin Young gives readers the truth about ‘Bunk’

Review: Kevin Young gives readers the truth about ‘Bunk’

We live in the age of the hoax.Believe me.And if you don’t believe me, believe Kevin Young, author of the sometimes disturbing but always fascinating new book Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News.In it, Yo...
Published: 12/14/17