Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation celebrates 10 years of the Speak Up 5K

The 10th annual Speak Up 5K will take place on September 9
Speak Up 5K Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation
Posted at 7:13 PM, Aug 31, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Speak Up 5K was once just the dream of a 16-year-old girl who desperately wanted others to know that they weren’t alone.

Cameron Gallagher designed the race to bring the community together to speak up for those who were suffering or battling any type of mental illness, including depression and anxiety. She wanted a place where others could simply show up without any stigma or judgment.

This year, the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the SpeakUp 5K.

“Every time at the start line, I take a second and I look around at the thousands of people out there and I say, ‘Cameron, they do care. Look at what you did!’” Cameron’s mother Grace Gallagher said.

Tragically, on March 16, 2014, Cameron passed away in her parents’ arms, just moments after crossing the finish line of a half marathon in Virginia Beach. Doctors believe Cameron died from an undiagnosed heart defect. Just a few days after her death, Cameron’s brother discovered plans for the SpeakUp 5K in her journals.

Grace says she clearly remembers the day Cameron thought of the idea.

“She comes running down the steps and she’s talking a mile a minute,” Grace said. “She started to share with me what she wanted to say, and I said ‘wait, Cameron, slow down a little bit. Not everybody knows how deep and dark this has been for you. You want to think about what you’re sharing with the community.’ And she looked at me with those piercing eyes and she said, ‘If I’m the one struggling and I’m not afraid to talk about it, why are you?’ That was a big eye-opener for me as a mother."

Despite their overwhelming grief, Cameron’s close-knit family, including her aunts, uncles, and cousins knew the race must go on. So, with Cameron’s journals and blueprints in hand, they created the CKG Foundation and organized its first SpeakUp 5K. That September, more than 3,500 people signed up to walk or run in honor of Cameron at Richmond’s Byrd Park.

“To be able to take that in was overwhelmingly, beautifully difficult,” says Cameron’s aunt Clair Norman. “They say joy and pain really coexist often and that was really a part of that day and continues to be really.”

“The foundation started as a coping mechanism for us, for us just to say we’re not ready to let go of Cameron,” says Cameron’s sister Sydney Gallagher. “But it turned out we’re not letting go of her, we’re just giving her out now. Everyone can feel a sister’s love.”

Over the past decade, the SpeakUp 5K has launched in several cities around the country and the CKG Foundation continues to shed light on mental health issues through its community programs and SpeakUp Clubs in schools.

Cameron’s cousins say they knew how important it was to her that other people never felt ashamed or isolated when experiencing challenging obstacles, especially in adolescents.

“I just think shame is one of the most uncomfortable emotions or things that we experience,” says Kathleen Norman. “When shame is tied into… I’m depressed, and I don’t know how to be in a crowd and I’m so anxious on top of that, it really can be isolating.”

“Her presence is always around, and I think, from a very young age, it taught me the importance of being compassionate for yourself and toward others and how infectious that is,” adds Cameron’s cousin Jane Norman.

Cameron’s family says they feel her absence every day, but they know their pain has a purpose in helping others feel empowered and a part of a community.

“Cameron not only had the wisdom to know that the world needed this message, but she also had a kindness and hope that we could,” Clair said.

The Gallagher family says whether you run, walk, or meander along the course at this year’s 10th anniversary SpeakUp 5K celebration, the day is all about the mission to speak up. They say with no judgments, no stigma, just fun for all!

Today, in the echoes of crowds, Cameron’s mother says they can still hear her voice. They say it’s a rallying call from her favorite Bible verse.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

“I don’t want to live my life without my daughter,” Grace says. “But I want to live my life with her and for her and I will do anything as a mother, no matter how painful, to make sure her voice is heard.”

The 10th anniversary celebration and SpeakUp 5K will be held Saturday, September 9 at Byrd Park. You can register for the 5k, here.

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