On Oct.12, Nike representatives surprised University of Oregon junior Justin Gallego with a three year professional running contract. This makes Gallego the first athlete with cerebral palsy to sign an athletic contract with Nike.
“Cerebral palsy is a disorder of movement,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “People with cerebral palsy may have problems swallowing and commonly have eye muscle imbalance, in which the eyes don’t focus on the same object. People with cerebral palsy also may suffer a reduced range of motion at various joints of their bodies due to muscle stiffness.”
Cerebral palsy is rated on a 1-8 scale of severity, and although it does not worsen over time, patients with cerebral palsy can experience different symptoms progressively. For Gallego, when he first started running in high school, he faced many motor movement difficulties.
“Before, I would tilt my feet inward a lot and that would cause me to fall down quite frequently,” said Gallego to Runner’s World. “I would drag my feet frequently as well in the beginning. I did fall two to three times per week for awhile, but eventually, the reason I never quit or expressed interest in quitting is simply because I saw that it was doing more good in my life than it was doing bad.”
Now, Gallego is a junior and runs on Oregon’s club team, competing in the 5k for track and 8k for cross country. In addition, he also runs half marathons. His personal best is 2:03, which he set at the Eugene Half Marathon. This year he hopes to break two hours.
Gallego has defied all odds. He originally joined his high school track team to improve and maintain his quality of life with cerebral palsy.
“This was perhaps the most emotional moment in my seven years of running!” said Gallego on his Instagram. “Growing up with a disability, the thought of becoming a professional athlete is as I have said before like the thought of climbing Mt. Everest! It is definitely possible, but the odds are most definitely not in your favor! Hard work pays off! Hundreds of miles, blood, sweat and tears has lead me here along with a few permanent scars!”
Cerebral palsy is an obstacle, but athletes like Gallego continue to push ahead and fight. Bonner Paddock is an athlete with cerebral palsy who successfully climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Among the accomplishments of other athletes with cerebral palsy, Gallego is the first to be offered a professional contract with Nike.
“I’m sure once I start getting more involved it will fully sink in,” he said via FaceTime to Runner’s World. “But for now, I’m more in shock that it’s happening. I knew they were thinking about giving me a contract, but with something like that, you don’t expect it to happen.”
Although cerebral palsy can be a crippling sickness, a handful people with it continue to push their limits and prove to the world that they can do anything they set their minds to.
And as Gallego believes, “There is no such thing as a disability.”