Monday, October 15, 2018

Nike gives runner with cerebral palsy a contract: 5 things the viral video doesn't tell you

Over the last few days, people kept sending me links to the story of Justin Gallegos. As you may know by now, he is a junior at Oregon University and a cross-country runner in the track club who has cerebral palsy. On October 6th, World Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day, a Nike representative was waiting for him when he finished a race to present him with a three-year pro athlete contract. People around the country have been bawling over the video ever since. Me, too. Gallegos' sense of accomplishment was so palpable.


A few things people wouldn't know from watching this video:

• Justin Gallegos deserves a contract not because he is a person with disability who is "trying" to run but because he's got real athletic cred. A respectable time for running a half marathon (13 miles) is two hours; Justin ran his first one in April, at 2:03:49. He aspires to run a full marathon, and to become a Paralympian. Let's hope that Nike continues to give contracts to athletes with disabilities.

• Justin started running as a high school freshman. Like every other outstanding athlete, he got where he is with a whole lot of practice—or as he noted on Instagram, "Hundreds of miles, blood, sweat and tears has lead me here, along with a few permanent scars!"  

• Justin does not "suffer" from cerebral palsy, as the video notes. That word implies he has a reduced quality of life because of his condition or that he is a victim of his disability—hardly the case. You can have a good life and have CP, as I know from raising Max. As Justin told CNN back in May, "You are not defined by your body—you are defined only by your mind."

• Justin is the first pro athlete Nike's appointed with CP. Yes, it's about time—Nike has hundreds of athletes under contract—yet Nike is once again leading the way. Six years ago, the company customized basketball sneakers for a young man with CP who was having trouble tying his laces. A few years later, it came out with FlyEase, sneakers with a wraparound zipper around the heel that make it so much easier to put them. Max has a pair, and they're awesome. 

• Justin's said, "I was once a kid in leg braces who could barely put one foot in front of the other." Cerebral palsy affects everyone differently. Some people walk or run; some get around using wheelchairs and walkers. Some people do not have intellectual disability; some do. Some people have spasticity in one arm or leg; some have it in all four limbs. Max has spastic four-quad CP, which means he has tightness in all limbs. He used to be a kid in a walker taking things one step at a time. He is also full of determination. Early one morning, during our recent cruise, I watched him dash around on the deck. He was running for the pure joy of it and I felt so happy, too.

Images: Elevation Om video screenshots/YouTube

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