We are so pleased the Nike has signed Justin Gallegos as a sponsored athlete. He’s a terrific cross country runner and the first athlete living with cerebral palsy to be signed by them. This is exactly what we, in this community and AccesSportAmerica feel is long overdue. We believe in compelling athletes everywhere living with varying challenges and disabilities.
Our Run for Access is, perhaps, our best example of that world when athletes who push to their limits are compelling. We ran this past Saturday at the Reservoir by Boston College. Some ran half marathons, some ran in relays, others did 5 or 10K’s, some in handcyles or tandem bikes, and others in our Gait Training program ran/walked as far as they could in 2 hours! Close to 40 people came out in the rain and cold and literally tore up the soft track for 3 hours. The event is designed so, based on training times, everyone finishes near the same time.
At each race I worry about the more elite runners who come to us, hoping ours will be a sanctioned typical 5K, 10K, or half. Without fail, once they’ve understood the format and run with us, they comment that this is one of their favorite all time races. Whether passing another or being passed, all run/walk/cyclists are really encouraging and pushing each other to go farther and faster. This is an amazing positive piece that comes with this community and the one created with each race.
Most importantly, we see participants as equally elite. We don’t see or hear anything condescending. There’s nothing cute about any athletes. We know about the overuse of the word “inspirational” when attached to people living with disabilities. We shouldn’t shy away from the word when it’s appropriate, however. Some of our Gait Trainer athletes were inspiring. Gutting out a race with a bad ankle foot orthosis (brace) is equal to the half marathoners who’s time was under 2 hours for the first time or the hand cyclists pedaling on a soft surface with narrow tires or the young parent pushing two kids through the course with incredible splits.
Back to our Nike sponsored athlete, Justin Gallegos. When I first heard his story, it was on the CBS Morning news. The newest anchor, in response to the story commented “I just want to hug him.” My goodness, how unfortunate to hear that after his great story. Finally an athlete living with a disability becomes more than a “mascot” or second level athlete. He is sponsored and recognized as elite. Then this host takes 10 steps back by, essentially, describing his story as “cute.” Comments like these will continue. I have to believe this kind of stereo typing does not come from a malicious or bad place. Rather, we need to educate each other as to our potential and our compelling, and yes, elite athletic side. Justin Gallegos with Nike, and in our way, the Run for Access, are teaching us to see more in each other.