Yesterday it was announced that Justin Gallegos, a student at the University of Oregon, has signed a professional contract with Nike. Not so unusual, except that Gallegos runs with an awkward, knock-kneed gait due to the mild cerebral palsy he was born with. Gallegos is the first Nike-sponsored athlete with cerebral palsy.
Home to the famous Hayward Field and Nike’s birthplace, Eugene and the University of Oregon are a hotbed of running. Gallegos fell in love with running in grade 9, and one of his coaches had gone to UO, so Gallegos became determined to study there and to compete with the running club.
Gallegos used a walker as a toddler and preschooler, and had a lot of physical therapy as a child to improve his gait. He came to Nike’s attention while still in high school in California, and has been helping the brand develop a shoe for runners with disabilities–the FlyEase–with a zippered heel to make it easier to get on and off. (Previously, he wore the Nike Pegasus.) The FlyEase running shoe, which also has an innovative lacing system to ensure a snug, comfortable fit, is made in men’s, women’s and kids’ sizes.
Justin Gallegos (@zoommagic98) has become Nike’s first professional athlete with Cerebral Palsy. pic.twitter.com/uCeRBAcnWo
— FloTrack (@FloTrack) October 9, 2018
Gallegos’s first cross country meet with the UO Track Club was in October, 2016. According to the student paper, Daily Emerald, one shoe came off 50m into the race. Gallegos picked it up and carried it through the rest of the 8K race. He came dead last, but he inspired a lot of fans that day, and he continued to compete and get faster.
Gallegos dreams of breaking 2 in the half-marathon. In April 2018, with the help of a team of pacers, he completed the Eugene Half Marathon (his first) in 2:03:49.
His contract will no doubt ease the financial burden of attending college out of state.