Nike signs its first professional athlete with cerebral palsy

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Justin Gallegos, a junior at the University of Oregon's (UO) running club, can now consider himself in the company of sporting luminaries such as Neymar, Serena Williams and Kevin Durant.

Like them, the cross-country runner is now a professional athlete sponsored by sportswear giant Nike.

However, Gallegos, 20, has had a tougher sporting journey than most, as he was born with mild cerebral palsy, a condition that permanently affects muscular coordination and balance. This causes him to run with an awkward, knock-kneed gait.

In a video by film company Elevation 0m, Gallegos sobs and falls to his knees in sheer joy when he first hears about his contract. The news was shared with him by Nike's insights director John Douglass at the end of a race on Oct 6.

His teammates cheer and applaud for him as Gallegos takes in the full weight of the news. He will become the first professional Nike athlete with cerebral palsy.

He wrote on his Instagram account later that day: "I was once a kid in leg braces who could barely put one foot in front of the other. Now I have signed a contract with Nike Running!

"Growing up with a disability, the thought of becoming a professional athlete as I have said before (is) like the thought of climbing Mt. Everest."

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According to Running Magazine, Gallegos had a lot of physical therapy as a child to improve his gait, but started running at about age 13 and fell in love with it.

One of his coaches went to UO - renowned for its athletics team - so Gallegos was determined to study and train there.

At his first cross-country meet in 2016, his shoe came off just 50m into the 8km race and he came in last, but he still inspired many, reported the university's student paper, Daily Emerald.

Gallegos' dream is to break the two-hour mark in the 21km half-marathon. In April this year at his first half-marathon, he clocked a timing of 2hr 3min 49sec.

He had previously also helped Nike develop a shoe for runners with disabilities.

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