MADDY HOLLERAN STORY
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
Why? Why? Why? Why?
She was smart. She was bright. She was a beauty.
She was an athlete. She was a champion.
She was a friend. She was a teammate.
She was a darling daughter. She was a loving sister. She had just become an aunt.
She seemed to have it all.
Until Friday night, January 17, 2014, when she gave it all up.
Why? Why? Why? Why?
Why did Madison Stacy Amelia “Maddy” Holleran lift her herself to the rooftop edge of a parking garage
in Center City Philadelphia, look down and tell herself she could never again look up,
to any of the wondrous possibilities a 19-year-old might expect in life?
Why did she tell herself there was no alternative but to end it all when her
life was, in effect, simply at the starting line?
Why did this young lady, who had already made her mark in the world of longer
distance running, as a high school state champion, and now as a rising collegiate star, not take a longer look at the life she might have led,
a lesson she might have learned from her sport?
Why, like so many other runners, hadn’t she taken the view that there would always be another race to run, and another, and another, for as long as she could continue living
and breathing? That today’s result meant nothing, really, in relation to tomorrow’s,
and next week’s, and next month’s, and next year’s?
Why couldn’t she grasp the simple truth that the world was destined to roll on,
with her or without her. Why had she not seen that if she’s only elected to see it out, she had the potential to make that world a much better place, in so many ways, all of her own choice.
Yes, a better world for her Mom and Dad, her sisters and brother, her new niece, her grandparents, her University of Pennsylvania friends, classmates, teachers, coaches, friends, and for all those she might have encountered in a long l
ife as a productive citizen of this
To some, the act of suicide is one of bravery. To others, it is one of selfishness,
leaving survivors the task of living out lives of personal grief.
But to most experts in the field, it is a form of illness, of major mental disorder.
These are the statistics: I n approximately 80 percent suicides the individual has seen a physician within the year before their death, and 45 percent of them have seen a physician within the prior month.
Yes, she had been seeing a therapist. Yes, her battle with depression was not a secret.
But again: Why? Why? Why? Why?
Why hadn’t that therapist detected that possibility of her taking that
fateful, ultimate step?
Why hadn’t her Dad, Jim Holleran, who’d called her “the happiest girl on the
planet” at the time of her graduation as an academic star as well as athletic star
at New Jersey’s Northern Highlands High School. star, see that this was no longer
true as she progressed through her freshman year at Penn?
He told the New York Post, “There was a lot more pressure in the classroom at Penn. She wasn’t normal, happy Madison. Now she had worries and stress.”
He went on, “My daughter’s stress was self-induced, and although we had started in therapy to address her issues, she hid the severity of these issues from everyone.”
Why hadn’t someone – somewhere -somehow – see the imminent danger?
Then again, maybe they did see it. Maybe they still had no answers.
And so one more suicide-struck family, one more suicide-struck community, will
have to live with the knowledge that it let another wonderful life slip away on its
“Madison was a sister, daughter, aunt, granddaughter, but she wasn’t defined by one
thing,” sister Ashley told the Bergen (N.J.) Reco
rd. “To everyone she something different. I just wish and pray that Madison is truly at peace now.”
Added her Dad, Jim Holleran: “Whether it be on the track or on the soccer field, everyone looked up to her as a role model, someone they aspired to be. She was beautiful, kind,
cared and loved by so many.”
And that’s another reason the tears flowed so steadily at the funeral at a candlelight vigil at the Northern Highlands football field, and at the funeral on a snowy Tuesday in Northern
“She was just the perfect person; athletic, smart, funny, beautiful, jut the last person
you would expect (to take her own life),” family friend Matt Friedland told the
And thus his bottom line: “You never know.”
They never knew about Chester “Chet” Bowman, about Barry Brown, about Al Heppner, about Antonio Pettigrew, either.
Chester Bowman was a sprint great and football star at Syracuse University, a many-time U.S. champion who placed fourth in the famous “Chariots of Fire” 100-meter final at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. But he’d take his own life – by asphyxiation – in his West Long Branch, N.J. home, an event that’s still shocking to those in that Jersey Shore community.
Barry Brown was the pioneering middle and long distance runner, out of Providence College, a member of the sensational Florida Track Club group that included the likes of Frank Shorter,
Marty Liquori and Jack Bacheler in its 1970s heyday. He ran his 3:58.8 mile best in 1982, and his son Darren ran 3:59.99 in 2003, making them the first father-son combination to break four.
But Barry never lived to see Darren’s 3:59.9. He took his life – by asphyxiation – in December 1992. No one really knew that Barry Brown’s business interests – insurance, investments – had taken an apparently irrevocable turn for the worse.
The 50K racewalk – 31.1 miles of it – is not for the faint of heart or weak of knee. Al Heppner surely would have been America’s best – maybe one of the world’s best – over the last decade if only he’d stuck at it. But Al Heppner, too, endured a depression few recognized. And when he narrowly missed making the 2004 Olympic team, and took his own life by
hurling himself over the side of a San Diego County bridge, it was an unfathomable event.
Some of America’s greatest racewalkers – Curt Clausen and Tim Seaman most notably – had been logging the long miles over long hours with Al Heppner for long periods. But they were as oblivious to Al Heppner’s underlying depression as a shocked rest of the track and field community.
Antonio Pettigrew’s portfolio of major honors at the 400-meter distance was assembled over a period well over a dozen years. He took the gold medal at one lap at the 1991 World Championships and was a member of the 1998 world record-setting U.S. 4×400 relay team,
as well as the gold medal 4×400 team at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
But you won’t see those relay feats in the books these days; the medals were stripped after
Pettigrew’s later admission of EPO use.
To most, he seemed to have his life under control as a University of North Carolina assistant coach – until his body was found in the back seat of his locked car in August 2010. The private demons had caught up, after few humans could.
Why Chester? Why “Barry? Why Al? Why Antonio?
And now, so sadly, Why Maddy?
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