SpeakUp 5K continues to lend voice to teens struggling with depression

The race, slated for Saturday at Al Lopez Park, fights against the stigma attached to mental health and suicide.
The death of Cameron Gallagher, and her passion for shinging a spotlight on depression and anxiety among teens, inspires the SpeakUp 5K running series. The event's Tampa race will be held Saturday (Oct. 13) at Al Lopez Park. Photo courtesy of Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation
The death of Cameron Gallagher, and her passion for shinging a spotlight on depression and anxiety among teens, inspires the SpeakUp 5K running series. The event's Tampa race will be held Saturday (Oct. 13) at Al Lopez Park. Photo courtesy of Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation
Published October 8
Updated October 8

TAMPA — There will be competition, of course, and many people will strive for personal-best times on Oct. 13 when the third annual SpeakUp 5K run is held at Al Lopez Park. But it’s not just a race — not really.

It’s filled with fun and positive messages.

It’s a chance for mindfulness, for thought-provoking moments, for sharing what’s really important. The SpeakUp 5K, presented by WellCare and inspired by the memory of the late Cameron K. Gallagher, promotes the awareness of teenage depression and anxiety.

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.

Gallagher, who was 16 when she died in 2013 because of an undetected heart condition, suffered from depression during her upbringing in Richmond, Va. She constantly wondered aloud why mental-health issues had to be concealed when other sicknesses were brought into the sunshine for fundraising efforts. Before her death, Gallagher wrote a detailed business plan for her SpeakUp 5K, where she visualized a backdrop of fun and open dialogue.

“I have done five marathons and I don’t know how many half-marathons and 10K’s, but none of them compare to the SpeakUp 5K in terms of fun,’’ said businessman Denny Gallagher, Cameron’s uncle, who added Tampa to the nation’s growing list of SpeakUp 5K sites in 2016. “If you blow through our 5K trying to set a personal record, you might want to go back and walk the course again because you have probably missed a lot of stuff.

“This was written completely and designed by a 16-year-old girl who knew what fun was like, but she battled with the ability to have fun because she was struggling with depression. She conceptualized this event with fun and exciting things through the lens of a 16-year-old. What the SpeakUp 5K might lack in terms of a bigger race — say the Gasparilla Distance Classic — it totally makes up for during the on-course experience. It’s a blast.’’

There are stations for squirt guns and silly string. There are areas with electronic music and flashing lights, like a rave party. There is Quote Alley, large reproductions (in Cameron’s handwriting) of the quotes that 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.

“It’s a different race than what you’re used to,’’ said Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Darren Farfante, a veteran runner and SpeakUp 5K supporter. “When you know the back story, it’s more compelling. I’d say it’s more of an experience than a race.’’

Added attorney, sponosor and veteran runner Mike Bedke: “There is just a great vibe,’’ said attorney and veteran runner Mike Bedke, a SpeakUp 5K sponsor. “There are some fun, silly components to the event that add a lot. The biggest thing is how this actually makes an impact on our community. It truly saves lives. It reminds us all of these issues that we are all confronted with. It reminds us that being kind and understanding to someone could have a bigger impact than any of us actually realize.’’

Proceeds from the SpeakUp 5K go to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay’s Florida Healthy Transitions Program. It’s part of a growing network of help, which features SpeakUp 5K races in various parts of the country, along with a developing public-school curriculum that addresses teenage depression and anxiety. But in the end, it’s about help on a basic level.

“It’s about that one person who says, ‘I have been in a dark spot, but today I feel better,’ ‘’ Denny Gallagher said. “They might say, ‘Today, I’m going to tell someone hello or smile. Today, I see people who actually understand and know what I’m going through.’

“This whole area has become a stigma. It’s that whole thing of, ‘Hey, my life is great,’ so people project that on their Instagram or Facebook feed. But when they’re alone in their room, they’re struggling and no one knows that. We’re helping to bring that into the light. This race is a vehicle to help that. And part of the way we help is by giving people a safe place, an area to have fun.’’

Contact Joey Johnston at [email protected]

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