Jan. 20-21: Salpointe Catholic Khalil Gymnasium and Ed Doherty Football Stadium
Jeannie and Manuel Gadea used to attend local wrestling matches as parents, cheering on their son Diego, his teammates and wrestlers from other schools they had come to know and also love. All that changed on Friday, June 11, 2011.
Like a lot of kids, Diego played Little League and youth soccer. He played football at Salpointe for a couple of years but he shined in wrestling, so much so that he was named captain of the squad as a junior. Unfortunately, also like a lot of kids, Diego also suffered from childhood depression.
Every effort that could be made to help Diego was made, many times over. I knew him as a funny kid with a great smile but I don’t really know him. It haunts me that perhaps I could have been the difference for him but my brain tells me otherwise. My soul tells me I can now help others in pain, we all can.
Diego took his life that day. As a teacher of 35 years, I’ve lost several students to cancer, accidents and other diseases but I have also lost a couple to childhood suicide. I can only imagine the pain of a parent in these situations and all I can draw upon is the hollow, empty stomach feeling I feel, grieving for other people’s children.
Children, and adults, need to know there is no stigma in asking for help. Help for depression but especially help for when you think the pain is too much. And we need to listen to the ones seeking help. Mental health is real.
Jeannie and Manuel attend the Salpointe wrestling tournament that now bears the name of their son Diego. They hand out medals and trophies and Manuel sports Diego’s Letter Jacket.
“I want to say this to anybody here if you’re down, if you’re depressed ask for help. … Talk about it,” Manuel told me a few years ago. “If one person is touched as a result of this tournament, it will be extremely rewarding for Diego, Jeannie and me and the family … I wish good luck to all the wrestlers.”
Jeannie and Manuel mentioned to me it is a difficult experience, but a rewarding one, coming to Salpointe annually for their son to be honored as part of this invitational that includes wrestlers from more than 30 schools.
“It’s always emotional to walk back into this gym for this tournament … talking about it will always bring tears to my eyes,” Jeannie told me. “I really admire Salpointe for having the courage to bring us here and bring awareness to Diego’s life and his depression. It’s not an easy thing to talk about. There’s still a lot of stigma. We feel by being open and present, that it takes away a little bit of that fear of talking about it.”
Added Manuel, “If we can help one kid, it’s worth it. It’s hard to be here. We want to be a parent that’s sitting in the stands, but it’s a reality and we accept it. If there is one life that is touched, one kid that can be helped because of this tournament, it will be rewarding.”
Dial 988 for the new Suicide Prevention Line.