When 16-year-old Cameron Gallagher crossed the finish line of her first half marathon, it was a proud moment she had trained for months to accomplish. But the moments after completing the 13.1-mile run, the Virginia teen’s victory turned to tragedy as she collapsed near the finish line and later died at a Virginia Beach hospital.
Though devastated, Cameron’s dad says that he is comforted knowing that his daughter died surrounded by family and friends and doing what she loved.
“Her friends, her family and the entire Virginia Beach community was out there with her celebrating,” David Gallagher said. “I can’t imagine a better way to feel in the last moments of a lifetime…to feel accomplishments and set a goal.”
After finishing the Virginia Beach’s Shamrock Half Marathon on Sunday with a friend, Cameron said she felt faint and collapsed about 50 yards from the finish line. She was treated at first aid tent near the finish line before being rushed to a local hospital, but doctors were unable to revive her, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.
The high school sophomore was on her school’s swimming and softball teams, and had trained for nine weeks for the race, which she completed in two hours, 19 minutes.
A cause of death has not been released, but the teen’s parents told media that the death may have been due to a cardiac arrest. WebMD reports that strenuous exercise like that of a half-marathon can temporarily damage heart tissue and that runner should acclimate slowly to longer distances during training.
Though the weather in Virginia Beach on Sunday was relatively mild, clear and in the mid 50s, extreme heat, dehydration, sun exposure are all health concerns that serious runners should be aware of when competing in the elements.
Family members and friends who had come to cheer Cameron on from the sidelines are now grappling the loss of a young athlete who had big goals. Before her death, Cameron was working on organizing a 5K to promote suicide awareness, the “Speaking Up 5K,” which friends will continue in her memory, the New York Daily News reports.
David Gallagher hopes his daughter will be remembered as a hero who never turned down a new challenge.
“Please use Cameron’s story as an inspiration to set goals, overcome obstacles and fight the good fight,” Gallagher said. “She did that every day.”