Justin Gallegos is a runner. He dreams of breaking the 2-hour barrier in the half-marathon—something that for even the healthiest person is a major achievement. But for Justin? Almost an impossibility. Almost.
Justin suffers from cerebral palsy, a disability that can affect muscle and brain development, posture, and range of motion. This disorder can cause tremors, epilepsy, blindness, deafness, and difficulty speaking, eating, and swallowing. Walking can be an incredible challenge, which means running is often damn near impossible.
But not for Justin.
As seen in this viral video shared by Sports Illustrated, Justin runs hard. As a cross-country runner at the University of Oregon, he probably covers more miles in one race than I do in a month. And his disability doesn’t stop him.
At a recent cross-country meet, however, a few extra cameras and spectators were there. And although this determined athlete didn’t know it, his life was about to change.
The video starts off showing Justin and his teammates fist bumping and supporting one another after completing the race. And then it pans to a man holding a folder. Unassuming, in a flannel shirt and baseball hat, the man holding the folder is actually John Douglass, Insights Director for Nike. And he’s about to give Justin Gallegos some pretty big news.
“I just wanted to share something with you guys,” Douglass says to the group. “One of your teammates has been working really hard the past couple years and Nike has recognized that. So today, I am inviting Justin Gallegos to be an official Nike athlete.”
And then there’s the moment this hard-working athlete, who faces daily challenges that most of us cannot imagine, hears the news. I’ve watched this video over 10 times and have ugly-cried every time. You can see his shock, his joy, and the love and support he feels from his teammates. Overwhelmed by emotion, Justin hugs the man who just gave him the best news of his life before falling to the ground in tears.
“You’re just a Nike athlete,” Douglass tells this determined runner from Oregon. “In our eyes, you’re just a Nike athlete.”
“Yeah,” Gallegos says in response, with a smile.
As the first Nike professional athlete with cerebral palsy, Gallegos is making history. And he’s reveling in the moment, as he should. “Hard work pays off! Hundreds of miles, blood, sweat, and tears has lead me here along with a few permanent scars!” Gallegos says on his IG page. “I was once a kid in leg braces who could barely put one foot in front of the other! Now I have signed a three-year contract with Nike Running! … Thank you everyone for helping show the world that there is No Such Thing As A Disability!”
And thank you, Justin Gallegos, for showing today’s children who might be wearing leg braces or facing what seem like unsurmountable obstacles, that they, too, have the right to dream. That they, too, can achieve greatness. And that superstars come in all shapes and sizes.
(Also, pretty sure everyone in my family is getting Nikes for Christmas this year.)