Last night, we invited friends, local donors and supporters to join us at Keagan's for a surprise announcement and a special guest speaker. Everyone arrived with an appetite and eagerness to hear what we had in store. Countless times, I was asked for a hint although just about everyone already had their suspicions. My answer? "It is bigger than any athletic challenge I could ever take on."
Often through tears I slowly told my story and announced the surprise. For those of you who could not make it, here is my story. I recently found a video of Kenny Chesney's final performance of "Better As A Memory" before he took a break from performing in 2009. It starts with a monologue where he says
Through songs in memories and lives people live right inside your songs, remarkable things can happen to pretty average people. I never thought we'd play football stadiums with people singing along. It's not something you dare to dream and then suddenly you're standing there and you realize we had built this together. It is the fan's as much as it is mine. That became clear in Indianapolis knowing it was our final show. Realizing we had come so far and it hit me during "Better as a memory." What the fans had helped us build. What the fans carried when I couldn't. When I couldn't find the voice they sang that song for all of us. I realized just how much it means. How much they care and anyone who tries to tell you that songs, friends or dreams don't matter, well I can tell differently in ways not a lot of people can.
Due to not having an equally enchanting voice as Kenny despite being just as handsome, I will not ever play a football stadium. I can however tell just as many stories. I can go on and on about how each of you have carried me through to my dream. Whether it is getting a good morning text from friends who were excited to be "rocking the Welch racing" shirt during their ride through Yosemite. Or the time when a car I didn't recognize inconspicuously passed me and stopped at the corner ahead so my friend Cort could step out and wish me a safe and great ride on his way to work. And about all those times when I see you still wearing our first shirt. The laws of fashion would say it's a different season and thus it's time for a new style but you continue to wear it proudly.
This year has been an emotional one for us. Throughout the year, I have realized just like Kenny, the immense power and inspiration all of you provide me to continue to dream. In February 2015 just a couple months after finishing the No Country for Old Men 1000 mile race, my biggest athletic achievement to date, I had lost my "voice."
I remember that day clearer than any other. Sitting on the couch in my boss's office, after an extremely difficult discussion Michael (boss and good friend) somehow removed himself from the situation at hand and asked me as bluntly as possible, "Are you depressed?" At that moment, tears began to uncontrollably fall from my eyes as the relief that the charade was over took control. After 10 plus years, my ability to mask the feelings which had engulfed me for so long was no longer good enough to keep someone from noticing.
In response to his question, all I could do was nod my head up and down. He asked if I had ever thought of hurting myself. If I had thought of how I would do it. In my head, the thought of how despite battling depression since my mid-20's I had finally fallen into a dark place where there was no light and I had been to the spot where my story was all going to come to an end just days before. Of how I had been clinging to anyone who I could be around since that day. Of how I had spent the last few days going into work early and staying late so that I wouldn't be alone after Jenn went to work. Of how frightened I was to know that I didn't have the inner strength to fight alone any longer. On that day, I shared it all with him and then Jenn and my dear friend Jill who found me someone I could to talk to.
That night I got the soundest sleep in memory. I awoke the next morning to Jenn kissing me goodbye before heading into work and my good friend Thin Mint there to spend the day with me. He, Lindsay, Quinoa and Michael would spend the next couple of days with me whenever Jenn wasn't able to be there. I can only imagine what was going through their minds. I imagine our minds were going in opposite directions. Theirs being worried and scared for me while mine had already started to head down the long road of being healthy again thanks to the relief of knowing others knew and I didn't have to hide it any longer.
Here we are a year later and I am sharing my story. I am sharing it because we have exciting news to announce. For the past 3 years, I have been reluctant to put my name in the hat to take on the challenge that is the Race Across America despite it being a longtime dream of mine and have had multiple standing qualifying times. I had always told myself that when I did it I would want to raise awareness for something bigger than me. For someone who needed help just as I did. Despite the many great charities out there, I knew deep down I wanted to help those who were battling depression and suicide but I wasn't prepared to let anyone know why I felt so attached. I knew I would have to share my connection in order to impact the lives of others. The truth was, I was scared. I was scared to allow anyone to think I wasn't the strong willed and determined person they all saw. In hindsight, I've come to understand it were those qualities that allowed me to hide for so long.
Today I am happy to say the days of not being prepared to talk have passed and in conjunction with the Cameron K Gallagher Foundation, we will be entering the Race Across America in 2017. We will spend 2016 preparing both physically and logistically for the race all while continuing to share my story in hopes it may inspire at least one other person to find the courage to SpeakUp.
The night wouldn't have been possible without the help of many. Thank you to Michael for having the courage to say those three words to me on that day. Thank you to David Gallagher who set the stage by sharing the incredible story of his daughter Cameron's struggles and her forever lasting legacy. Thank you to everyone, especially Jodi at the Cameron K Gallagher Foundation for opening both their door and their hearts to myself, my family and my crew over the last couple of months. Thank you to Tina and Lighten Up!
Your love and support for Jenn and I over the years has been second to none. Thank you to Louis Garneau for sending some swag for the evening. Finally, thank you to each and every one of you who were in attendance both physically and in spirit. Each of you were my "voice" when I needed it the most and for being my eternal companions on this journey.
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