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SpeakUp 5K Race Oct. 7

Four Westchase residents are serving as “ambassadors’’ at an event that raises funds and awareness for teenage depression and anxiety.

The second annual SpeakUp 5K race, which will be held Oct. 7 at Al Lopez Park, benefits the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, while advocating open communication and understanding for kids who might be struggling in silence.

Madison Decossas, Morgan Kelley and Emma Pham (all of Harbor Links), along with Alexa Westmoreland (The Fords), are among the 18 high-school SpeakUp ambassadors from 10 different high schools.

Tampa businessman Denny Gallagher, the race chairman, said the ambassadors are charged with making people aware of the cause, drumming up interest in the race through social media, seeking more volunteers from their peer group and speaking at their schools about the affliction of teenage depression, emphasizing that help is available.
 
“Just getting the word out there, just helping one person, can make a big difference,’’ said Pham, a Berkeley Prep sophomore. “It’s nice that we’re all coming together for this. Being a teenager can be hard. On social media, honestly, any one word that goes around about someone can change their whole life. This is a way to build more understanding.’’

“So many people are affected by this,’’ said Westmoreland, an Alonso sophomore. “But you can really help by just doing something simple. Sometimes, it’s just listening or being there for someone.’’

“I really like the name of the event – ‘Speak Up’ – because I think it is so accurate,’’ said Kelley, a Tampa Prep sophomore. “Talking about teenage depression can be a really uncomfortable conversation to have. A lot of kids don’t want to talk about it if they are feeling alone. That’s why it’s so important for our age group to be educated about it. The barriers need to be broken down.’’

Gallagher said the ambassadors are a big help in that respect.

“It’s so cool for a group of young people from so many different high schools to come together and work on something that is so important and meaningful,’’ Gallagher said. “I can deliver the same message. So can any adult. But it seems to mean more when it’s coming from a fellow teenager.

“When you think about it, it’s unusual for these kids to know someone their age with, say, cancer or diabetes. Those are generally things that happen to adults or older people. But depression and anxiety? Every teenager can relate. They might be dealing with it or they know someone who is struggling. So they can truly take ownership of this issue and know they are helping kids just like them.’’

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.

The SpeakUp 5K was the brainchild of Gallagher’s niece, the late Cameron K. Gallagher of Richmond, Va., who suffered from depression. She knew that other kids, while desperately needing to verbalize their feelings, often lived in denial or shame.

She wanted an event that would encourage people to speak up about depression – literally.

“Cameron was brilliant in that way,’’ Denny Gallagher said of his niece, who died in 2014 at age 16 after finishing a half-marathon (an autopsy detected cardiac arrhythmia, an undetected heart condition). “Even through her own struggles, she wanted to help everyone else.

“Just like Cameron’s concern for others in her age group, that’s the idea we have for our ambassadors. If more teenagers are aware of the problems, if they know it’s OK to talk about it and speak up and freely go to where they can get some help, everyone wins.’’

SpeakUp 5K races have been held in Tampa, San Diego, Richmond and Boone, N.C. The Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation has implemented curriculum for Richmond schools, which could one day be utilized in Tampa, that provide education on teenage depression and anxiety.

Last year’s Tampa event drew 650 runners and raised $10,000 for the Crisis Center. Gallagher said this year’s goal is 1,000 runners and a $20,000 donation.

The SpeakUp 5K ambassadors were involved in several grassroots efforts, including visits to Bayshore Boulevard on Sept. 23 and Sept. 30, when they distributed Gatorade and water to runners while passing out “save the date’’ cards for the Tampa race.

SpeakUp 5K Race

What: SpeakUp 5K
When: Saturday, Oct. 7, 9 a.m.
Where: Al Lopez Park, Tampa.
Cost: $35 for adults, $20 for students. Team entries also are available.
The Cause: The race, inspired by the late Cameron K. Gallagher, will benefit teenage depression, anxiety and mental illness. Proceeds will go to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay’s Florida Healthy Transitions program. Sponsorships are available through nannette@ckgfoundation.org. For more information on the race, the cause and volunteer opportunities, log onto http://www.ckgfoundation.org

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By Joey Johnston

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