In the last week of her life, 16-year-old Cameron Gallagher came to her parents with an idea. She wanted to launch a community footrace to promote awareness about childhood depression, from which Cameron suffered.
Her parents suggested that she focus instead on school. “We said, ‘We love the idea, Cameron, but you’re failing English,’ ” David Gallagher recalls telling his daughter six days before her death this March.
Cameron’s depression was serious, prompting her to miss two months of school and requiring medication. But she fought it, posting uplifting quotes all over the house. Afflicted with a desire to stay in bed, she forced herself out of it for pre-dawn swim practice, a sport at which she excelled. She also ran, signing up last November for a half marathon in Virginia Beach on March 16. Throughout the winter, her darkest season, she forced herself to train.
On race weekend, her parents left their other children with family back in Richmond and drove Cameron to Virginia Beach. During the race, Mom and Dad rushed from mile marker to mile marker, cheering their daughter and taking photographs. They stood just beyond the finish line when Cameron crossed it in 2:19:21. Falling into their arms, she inexplicably died.
Cameron died of causes that remain unknown even after autopsy, as is not uncommon with a syndrome known as sudden cardiac death in young athletes. “We know that it was an electrical abnormality in her heart, but we may never know the exact cause of that abnormality,” says David Gallagher, chief executive of Dominion Payroll Services.
Thousands attended her wake, underscoring how well Cameron had fought the impulse—common among depression sufferers—toward isolation. “At every single swim meet we were at, she literally ran up and down the pool cheering for you,” a teary teenager, in line outside the funeral home, told a Richmond television station.
“On a really bad day, Cameron wouldn’t want to talk with anyone. But then the next day she’d be back to being the most energetic person in the room,” says Abby Donelson, 16, Cameron’s best friend.
For days after her death, her parents avoided Cameron’s room. When finally they entered it, they found something startling. The girl who was struggling to pass sophomore English had composed a 16-page proposal for a footrace called the SpeakUp 5K, to be dedicated to raising awareness about childhood depression.
The proposal included an email exchange in which Cameron’s psychiatrist accepted her invitation to speak at her race. The package also included printouts of emails Cameron had written to local businesses, including a hospital where she had received outpatient treatment, encouraging them to sponsor the event. In those emails, “Cameron sounded like a 30-year-old marketing person,” says Grace Gallagher, Cameron’s mother.
Cameron’s email so impressed executives at sweetFrog, the national frozen-yogurt retailer, that it was in the process of joining her cause when she died. “We were devastated,” Victor Di Pace, sweetFrog director of marketing, said in an email.
Her parents will launch the first SpeakUp 5K this fall, the exact date to be announced at a May 31 fundraiser. “We (are) on board,” says sweetFrog’s Di Pace.
Write to Kevin Helliker at email@example.com
— My thoughts and prayers go out to Cameron’s family! I am so sorry, and I am so glad you are able to continue her dream. Hugs!
I found this article to be extremely sad, but afterwards, I found myself thinking, what can I do, maybe? Especially since my INTJ said, “I thought you might find that inspiring because, you know (I didn’t, but I didn’t ask for explanation), and so I thought you might like it.” It was so nice of them! So I started thinking about what they might mean… then I thought of some of my big plans and dreams, and so it made me feel maybe that is a great idea to forge ahead and start planning it and not thinking “It’d never happen, why start now?” So, that was cool. Hopefully, it was inspiring to you too! —