No challenge seemed too big for Tim Gallagher to overcome.
Gallagher was a standout athlete in his youth and played middle linebacker for the football team at California State University, Chico, where he graduated in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology.
After spending a short time in the NFL, Gallagher moved from Chico to Sonora in 1989 and co-founded Sonora Sports and Fitness Center in 1992.
He later participated in triathlons, Ironman races, 100-mile and 200-mile bicycle rides, and completed the Southern Traverse in 2002, a five-day race covering more than 330 miles in New Zealand that involves hiking, kayaking and cycling.
Gallagher was also known for being intelligent and enjoyed restoring old vehicles in his free time, even building an entire vintage Porsche engine by himself with only an instructional book as his guide.
On March 8, Gallagher died from traumatic brain injuries he had suffered decades earlier. He was 58.
His wife, Shari Gallagher, said he started growing frustrated about seven years ago due to having difficulties with tasks that previously came easy to him, such as installing a new seat in a pickup truck.
He sometimes would also come home from working at the gym with bumps and bruises on his head and told her he kept hitting his head but didn’t know why.
At first, Shari Gallagher said her husband attributed the issues to stress from trying to protect his business at a time when the U.S. economy was in the midst of its worst downturn in decades.
It wasn’t until May 2012, after competing in the Wildflower Triathlon at Lake San Antonio, as he did every year, that the pivotal moment came while his wife and their youngest son were working together on a wooden puzzle in the family’s trailer.
“He came in and went to help, picked up a piece and tried to put it in the puzzle, and it was so blatantly not the right piece,” she said. “All of a sudden we looked at each other, and that was the moment we knew that something was seriously wrong.”
They started seeing doctors after that in hopes of figuring out what was going on with him.
Shari Gallagher said more news was coming out at the time about the effects of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries on retired football players, and her husband started to suspect that some concussions he suffered earlier in life were at the root of his issues.
In addition to concussions sustained while playing football, Tim Gallagher was also struck by a drunk driver while riding his bicycle at Chico State in the 1980s and was knocked out from the impact.
His wife said he wasn’t wearing a helmet, as many people didn’t at the time, and suffered a concussion that kept him in his room for a week.
Shari Gallagher said another injury happened before the birth of their eldest son more than 16 years ago, when they were driving in Oakdale and struck on the left side by another vehicle that caused his head to hit his pickup’s rear window.
A doctor at Mt. Diablo Medical Center in Walnut Creek later told the couple they should consider getting their affairs in order because the injuries to Tim Gallagher’s brain had impacted his executive planning and spatial abilities, and there was no known cure or way to reverse the condition.
“I was in shock, both us were,” Shari Gallagher said. “We took off for Montana after that and stayed with some friends for about a month to breathe, take it in, absorb the news and come up with a plan.”
The couple went to the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California, San Francisco, where doctors did testing and confirmed what the previous one had suspected.
Shari Gallagher said doctors at UCSF were confident at the time that new breakthroughs would lead to a cure and that her husband — an intelligent, healthy, and active former athlete — was the perfect specimen for clinical trials.
However, Tim Gallagher didn’t qualify for some of the trials because he was too young. Others that he did qualify for weren’t helping.
The couple would travel from Sonora to UCSF at least once a month for the next six years, but eventually they had to take a break.
“It was taking a toll on our family financially and emotionally,” she said. “It’s a full day, you leave at the crack of dawn and don’t get back until 8 at night, and we still have two kids who have a life.”
At the end of June, Tim Gallagher went to stay at a care facility in Turlock because he needed more care than his wife could provide alone while taking care of their two sons and managing the gym.
Tim Gallagher died on March 8 at the Vista Gardens care facility in Vista, where he was moved to in late December.
“We miss him a lot,” Shari Gallagher said. “The world is a better place because he was in it. That’s something I really want my boys to know.”
The family has seen an outpouring of support from the community in the days since his death, especially on social media, where dozens of people have written about their fond memories of him at the gym and through his work in the community.
Tim Gallagher moved to Sonora in 1989 after going to the Mother Lode Roundup Parade with his friend and Chico State teammate, Sonora native Roger Canepa, because he fell in love with the area and people.
Canepa’s parents, Bill and Carole, owned land in East Sonora and he proposed that they develop it into a gym with Tim Gallagher.
The partners worked on the project for three years before the doors opened on April 1, 1992. They also opened Valley Springs Sports and Fitness Center in 1998.
Shortly after moving to Sonora, Tim Gallagher met his wife through mutual friends. They married in 1993 and had two sons, Sean, who will soon turn 16, and Michael, now 10.
Tim Gallagher also spent time volunteering in the community by helping coach young athletes in the Pop Warner Football program, as well as coaching wrestling at Jamestown Elementary School, track and field at Sonora High School and was an assistant to Roger Canepa when he coached the school’s varsity football team in the 1990s.
Shari Gallagher said one of her husband’s proudest personal athletic accomplishments was the completion of the Southern Traverse in New Zealand.
A story by The Union Democrat in December 2002 said he slept just 15 hours during six days of physical challenge as a member of a four-person, mixed-gender team that took turns competing around-the-clock through 10 stretches of hiking, biking, and kayaking.
“He was the epitome of good health,” Shari Gallagher said.
Even years after his diagnosis, Tim Gallagher kept exercising by competing in half Ironman races, cycling and swimming.
Shari Gallagher said the condition affected his ability to remember the steps that it takes to accomplish tasks, such as buttoning a shirt, eating with a fork and sitting down on a chair.
She described it as if there was a Rolodex in your brain with cards listing the steps that your body has to take to sit down on a chair, but someone threw all of the cards up in the air and mixed them up.
“If something was routine and didn’t have a lot of steps to it, he could pretty much do it, but as things progressed he couldn’t do it,” she said.
Tim Gallagher made the decision while going through testing that he would donate his brain for research in hopes of helping doctors better understand it and find a cure, something that Shari Gallagher said their sons are very proud of him for doing.
“He wanted to have a purpose and was searching for a purpose because he felt like he didn’t have one anymore (after the diagnosis),” she said. “Hopefully, they’re going to see something that’s going to help them understand what caused this and how to heal those portions of the brain that were damaged.”
In addition to Shari Gallagher and their sons, Sean and Micheal, he’s survived by his parents Jack and Mary Gallagher, of Laguna Niguel, sisters Elizabeth Conley and Sarah Duffy, both of Laguna Niguel, parents-in-law Doris and John Fuentes, of Sonora, and multiple other siblings-in-law, nieces and nephews.
Mass will be held at 10 a.m. March 23 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Sonora, followed immediately by a celebration of life at the Sonora Elks Lodge.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to either the UCSF Memory and Aging Center at UCSF, or the Boston University Center that focuses on chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.