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She Gave The Eternal Gift of Dance

Posted August 5, 2009, 9:42 am in GB Topics
Credit Bill Shafer


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When I got the news I sat there in disbelief. She was vibrant, healthy and beautiful. How could it be? Cathy Gillaspie was dead.

She was just 58. An athlete. A runner. A dancer. Apparently, the beginning of the end came just twelve weeks before.

A small spot on her uterus. A one-word diagnosis: cancer. A hysterectomy. Complications. Another surgery.

Growing up in Denver she was curious and competitive. She wanted to try it all, and more times than not, she didn’t just master new skills, she conquered them! She was the State Champion in the 100-yard dash and the State Champion in the uneven parallel bars. She lived life in the fast lane and drove her way to a National Championship in Quarter Midget Racing.

She’d rally, then fade. Fever, nausea. Something’s wrong. Intestines. More surgery.

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She blossomed even brighter in college. At the urging of friends she entered and was chosen Miss Colorado 1971. Then it was on to the Miss America pageant, where she won a special award for her performance in the talent competition. It was a dance routine. Unforgettable.

Not recovering. Intensive care. Can’t eat. Oxygen level too low. More surgery.

After the pageant she was chosen to perform across Europe in the USO. The Miss America people invited her back to dance again the following year. They chose Cathy to crown the new Miss America. Other TV shows called, and she made many guest appearances. Dance. It was all about dance. Cathy was determined to spread her wings, shine as bright as she could, and dance. It was like a dream! She put together her own nightclub act. Las Vegas came calling! Performing was intoxicating, but eventually, she felt something was missing.

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It’s getting worse. Feeding tubes. Bedridden. Surgery. Improvement. Turned the corner? Tubes out. IV out. Short walks. Food, her first in weeks. Home.

She realized as much as she loved dance, there was another passion burning in her heart. Cathy wanted to teach. She moved to Orlando in 1980 and opened the Showtime Dance Studio. She built it, and they came! Soon after, Showtime became the largest children’s dance school in the country. She stood out because the lessons she taught went far beyond dance. She taught life. Confidence, discipline, poise, health and nutrition. Cathy knew she could teach children to conquer life’s greatest disability, fear. It was a magical combination.  Her students competed in many national dance competitions. One group won the $100,000 dollar grand prize on national television, on Ed McMahon’s Star Search.

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Didn’t even make it through the day. Vomiting. Fever. Dehydration. Vomiting. Back to the hospital. Back on the IV. More nausea. Tests. Tests. Tests. Biopsy. Cancer has spread. Cancer in the liver. Weak. No visitors allowed.

Cathy was on top of the world! A success beyond her wildest dreams. She was married and all set to welcome a new baby into the world. Then, the unthinkable. There were complications. Her baby son did not survive. But Cathy was not a quitter. Two years later, she was set to welcome another boy into the world. He, too, was born with life threatening issues. She was terrified, unsure whether to attach herself emotionally. Did she have the strength to survive another loss? Just then, something changed. Faith began to bloom inside her. Love began to overwhelm her fear.
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Thanks to her doctors, the hospital staff and her new found strength, Billy survived. Not just survived, he thrived! And Cathy had discovered a brand new purpose. She would teach of her experiences. She would use them to inspire her dance students to apply their talents to make a difference in the lives of others. She joined the board of directors of the Orlando Health Foundation and became a tireless fundraiser. Through the students at her Showtime Dance Studios she established Kick for K.A.R.E., and taught everyone that Kids Are the Responsibility of Everyone. Through their efforts, fundraisers and performances they raised over a million dollars for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Children. Cathy could not have been more proud.

Chemo. Getting weaker. Holding on to faith. Fearing the worst. Rebound? Sent home! Back two days later. Trying to hold on. Home yet again! Can’t do it. Hospital. Let go of the fear. Acceptance. Faith. Peace. Peace.

Cathy passed away on July 31, 2009.
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“For a Dancer,” Jackson Browne

Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive
But you’ll never know


Below:
See video of Cathy at the neonatal center,  with some of her dancers and with her son Bill at Showtime Dance Studio.

Then please leave a comment at the bottom of the page, or by clicking here.


 

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Comments


  • Posted 7:05pm August 22nd, 2009

    I knew Cathy back in High School in Denver, and she was a remarkable teenager as well. In 10th Grade, I was an understudy for the opening dance number with 8 dancers which she had choreographed for the "All School Show."  Cathy was ill for several days before the matinee was scheduled, and I was being fitted for a costume to fill in for her just a few hours before the show, when she showed up at school after all -- looking pale, but willing to work hard so the show could go on.

    She quickly realized that I had expected to fill in -- mediocre dancer that I was -- and immediately told the director and me, "You know, I really should just rest up a few more days for the evening performance.  I'm so glad Diane has been rehearsing and can fill in for me on the opening number.  That will really help me recover!"

    I believe we were about 15 years old at the time.  Few kids that age would have been so gracious and had that much empathy!

    Obviously, she continued that grace and genuine warmth throughout her life.  Cathy:  everyone was shocked and saddened at our 40 year HS reunion this past weekend to learn why you were unable to attend.  May your family and friends know that the GW class of 1969 all remember you as an outstanding and wonderful person!




  • Posted 12:03pm August 11th, 2009

    A very beautiful lady!

    My prayers are with the family.

    God bless.

    Nancy-S.C.




  • Posted 10:45am August 7th, 2009
    I cried-a lot!!  Beautiful piece-beautiful woman.  She was my sister-in-law-but in all truth she was my sister.  You explained all of the beauty, the truth and the pain that Cathy endured.  Thank You.  Iris Glau


  • Posted 6:25pm August 6th, 2009

    fantastic story not only of courage and determination, but also of love and compassion of fellow man. This lady was a Saint.

    Thomas Fenning

    Volunteering as a teacher's helper at age 88




  • Posted 12:46pm August 5th, 2009

    Bill, thank you so much for posting this about our friend Cathy.  Thank you for the way in which it is written also.  God Bless you, I know Cathy would be pleased for she thought the world of you.  You were a big part of her journey and I know too how very fond you were of her.

    We miss seeing you and now that we found you, your fan club will increase in the thousands. 

     

    God bless,

    Linda Burton 





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Channels: GB Topics, Living, Health, GB Topics - Bold In Business, GB Topics - Making a Difference, GB Topics - Passions, GB Topics - Reinvent Yourself, Living - Volunteering, Health - Cancer

Tags: legacy - showtime - dancing - surgery - cancer - infants - died - treatment - fundraising - dance - fitness - babies

 

 

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