In another world, Justin Gallegos might’ve been an athlete of another kind.
He tried MMA fighting and karate as a kid, and though he enjoyed it, it was something he decided not to pursue. Growing up in southern California, he was an avid USC fan, taking in multiple games as a fan inside the LA Memorial Coliseum.
If he could’ve had it his way, he, too, would’ve suited up and played football.
“But due to certain circumstances it didn’t work out that way,” Gallegos told KOIN 6 News over FaceTime.
Instead, Gallegos, who lives with cerebral palsy, picked up running. And on Saturday, the University of Oregon student and distance runner became the first professional athlete living with the condition to sign with Nike. Watch the moment Justin finds out about the endorsement deal.
Gallegos thought the cameras were following him to capture one of his cross country races. But after he finished the race on the trail named for another famous University of Oregon runner, Steve Prefontaine, he found out the real reason for the cameras. The director of Nike’s Insights Division, holding a folder in his hands, announced to the running group that inside was a contract for a runner who had been working really hard. It was for Justin, and it would make him an official Nike athlete.
Immediately, Gallegos, wearing a pink and yellow Nike headband, brought his hands to his face. He hugged the Nike representative and dropped to his knees as tears continued to flow.
Though it was a surprise, Gallegos had a feeling it was a possibility. He said he talked with Nike previously. He told some of his fellow runners about it, but he said he kept it on the down low.
“I knew it was a long shot,” he said.
A long shot, sure, but a dream made a reality on Saturday, which happened to be World Cerebral Palsy Day.
Like a cross country race, it’s been a long journey for Gallegos. A few months ago, Gallegos completed a half marathon in a little over two hours. He hopes to break the two-hour mark eventually. He said the half marathon wasn’t easy, but there’s one thing that he never even considered.
“I never thought about quitting because eventually, I began to see what running was doing in my life,” Gallegos said. “It was improving my quality of life.”
And simply finishing is all that matters to Gallegos.
“It really didn’t matter that I was finishing last, because I and everyone around me could see it was making me a stronger person,” he said, “day by day.”