Cameron Gallagher was a bright and talented teenager. Although ever-smiling, she faced her own personal battles with depression and anxiety. She began to grow weary of keeping her struggles a private battle, and knew that there were many teens just like her who were in great pain behind closed doors. Her dream was to create a 5k race in her community to raise awareness of teenage depression. She began making plans for the race, and titled the race the SpeakUp5k in order to draw attention to the issue of teen depression. She wanted to let other teens like herself know that it was okay to “SpeakUp” about their personal battles.

During this time, Cameron also set a personal goal for herself and began training for the Shamrock Half Marathon. On March 16, 2014, sixteen-year-old Cameron completed her goal of finishing the race, and passed away suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition after crossing the finish line.

As her family discovered more and more of Cameron’s plans for the 5k, her family fulfilled her dream by holding the first race in her honor. Over 10,000 people participated in the May 2014 launch party, and 3,500 participated in the inaugural 5k race in Richmond in September 2014. Since then, the SpeakUp5k race series has expanded, and Cameron’s message has spread across the nation.

A father's perspective

We knew our Cameron the way other parents know their children. We know them as beautiful but flawed, caring but sometimes selfish and often aloof. We rarely get to see our children the way other people see them. How often has a stranger said to you, “Your daughter is so nice,” and you’ve thought, “You mean my daughter?”

The community commitment to Cameron has been amazing. Immediately after her death, thousands of people started sharing that she had made them smile or had hugged them when they were sad. Her girlfriends started telling us that she would walk the side of the swimming pool to support her fellow swimmers. She smiled constantly and sent positive vibes. We were beginning to see Cameron for who she really was. Cameron was a special person; her loss has become a community call to action. I have fought the good fight. The truth is that Cameron struggled with sadness. There were times when it got so hard on her that she couldn’t go to school.

"The journey began Sunday morning two weekends ago. My daughter Cameron and her best friend Abby Donelson, both 16 years old, had trained for months and were ready for the Anthem Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach. Once the race started the girls were overwhelmed by the kindness of fellow racers and the nice people. At mile 10 they were committed to finish, looked strong and were happy. As they came to the end, my wife, Grace, and I sprint for the finish line so we can snap photos of their accomplishment. They cross the finish line, they hug and we photograph.Cameron smiles and falls to the ground, Grace and I gently catching her. Cameron died almost immediately.

Moments after her death, Grace showed me a Bible verse that has become our personal mission and captured Cameron’s spirit: 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” It was as if God told us that verse would become her legacy and would become an inspiration to other people. Cameron lived that verse, it was her daily pledge. It’s as if Cameron is asking you directly … have you?

 

Grace and I stayed by her side, but it was her battle to fight. But every day Cameron woke up committed to fighting her good fight. She was constantly developing new strategies to cope with her sadness. She would fill notebooks with positive quotes, write them on paper and hang them on her walls. She fought every day to become the person she could be, a happy and positive leader. Little did she know that is how the entire world saw her and has made a commitment to act more like her. Are you fighting the good fight?

I have finished the race. We all have races to run, whether it’s a foot race, career or a relationship.

Cameron prepared every day for her races. When she was swimming, she would wake up at 4 a.m., swim for two hours, come home and shower, go to school, often return to the pool for an hour, then do homework. When Grace and she were on a training run recently, Cameron had made a commitment to create a 5K race dubbed the Speak Up 5K. After she died, Grace and I found the complete plans for the race, the sponsorship request — even the speeches she would give. Cameron wanted to “speak up” for positive causes and challenge people to “be nice.” We had no idea that she had been working on this.

She had prepared her life for her legacy and she completed her race. It’s fitting that her final moment was the completion of a life goal and a smile. Are you finishing your race?

 

I have kept the faith. This is the hardest, especially in tragic moments. Faith means different things to different people. For Grace and me, it’s our commitment to God and to live with purpose.

For others it may be a promise or a vision. Maybe it’s your future, or your commitment to the golden rule. I submit to you without faith in something you have little purpose in your life. We wake up to be more like Cameron, kind and willing. We wake up with a purpose that she has given us and an entire community now does that as well. Have you kept your faith?

We now know that Cameron was much different than the 16-year-old girl we knew. What a gift as a parent to receive — the knowledge that your child is an inspiration to so many people. The world was a better place because Cameron lived in it, but the world is an even better place because of her legacy."

David Gallagher, Cameron's father.