By Linden Moore
As competitors crossed the finish line at the 2018 Eugene Marathon, many were greeted by large groups of friends and family members.
But unlike some who celebrated by draining a carton of chocolate milk from their race bags, Justin Gallegos had a small group of people watching as a photographer documented every angle of his post-race stretching routine.
The attention doesn’t distract Gallegos as he continued his recovery; he handled himself with poise just like he did while running next to thousands of other athletes that morning.
But one thing separates him from the rest of the pack.
Gallegos has Cerebral Palsy, a condition that slows muscle coordination and movement. While more advanced cases of CP sometimes require a wheelchair and affect the ability to speak, Gallegos has a milder form of the condition.
He doesn’t let his disability define him. Coming in to Sunday’s race the sophomore from the University of Oregon had his eyes set on running sub 2-hours in the Eugene half marathon. He also saw a unique opportunity to set a record for disabled athletes with two legs.
He finished just short of his goal, finishing with a time of 2 minutes, 03 minutes. 49 seconds. While others may have been disappointed, Gallegos’ confidence remains high and considers his finished half marathon a success.
“I felt very confident,” Gallegos said. “Even though I didn’t run under two hours I still think I was very successful considering it was my first half marathon ever.”
Gallegos is part of the UO Running Club and has racing experience that extends from 1,500-meters to five-miles. Being a distance runner for most of his life, Gallegos felt ready to increase his race mileage. In November 2017 he approached his parents and told them he signed up for the 2018 Eugene Half Marathon. However, it wasn’t until January that he learned that there wasn’t a record for a disabled athlete in the half marathon.
“I really did my research around January and found out that there was no record for a disabled athlete with both legs to finish a half marathon,” Gallegos said. “Just coming out here and being able to go out there was really an exciting thing for me.”
Like his fellow competitors, Gallegos had to be mindful of his pace.
“I think I did well managing the pace,” Gallegos said. “We ran the first couple miles a little fast, but we managed to slow back down.”
His parents Brent and Tracy Gallegos were in attendance on Sunday to watch their son work toward accomplishing his goal. Having watched their son race numerous times with different results, their pride remains steady.
“He always does great. Even if he falls he gets right back up and finishes,” Tracy, Justin’s mom sad. “I’m so proud of him, he inspires and motivates a lot of people; it shows that even if you have a disability you can do anything that you put your mind to.”
His father Brent, who has watched his son make strides in each race he competes in, was pleased that his son was happy with himself despite falling short of his goal just a week after dropping 14 seconds his best time in the 1,500 m.
“He’s always worked hard to meet his goals and he set a big PR in the 1,500 a week ago,” Brent said. “Because of all this training he crushed it.”
Sunday also brought a series of emotions for the Gallegos family, as Tracy knows that she always gets nervous before her son races. This one was no different.
“I always say he doesn’t get nervous at these types of things and I’m a total wreck,” Tracy said.
“I’d much rather me be nervous and I’ll just let him go run and have a great time.”
In a way this was seen as a continuation of the whirlwind the family has been living since Gallegos’ story was first picked up in 2016. Since then, he’s become an ambassador for the Nike-branded shoe Flyease, which is built for athletes of all ages and abilities that have secure, easy to put on and easy to take off capabilities.
“It’s been like a fairytale with the running, media attention and Nike, everything that they’ve done for him,” Tracy said.
Gallegos is already looking forward to his next half marathon and has sights to accomplish a full 26.2 someday. He doesn’t know when that will be, but he knows he’s capable of completing it.
“I believe I’m capable of running a full marathon,” Gallegos said. “I see that as something that’s in the near future within the next couple years.”