Jessica Galli: Living and leading

By Traci Hendrix | March 13, 2013, 11 a.m. (ET)
Jessica Galli
Jessica Galli, a track and field athlete at the last four Paralympic Games, is now the vice president of the Athletes' Advisory Council. The group fosters a relationship between athletes active in the Olympic and Paralympic Movements and the United States Olympic Committee.

Jessica Galli has never let anything slow her down in her pursuit to greatness. 

At the age of 7, she was paralyzed in a car accident. Today, she is a seven-time medalist at the Paralympic Games, where she competed four times including last summer in London, and holds multiple titles from the International Paralympic Committee World Championships.

The Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games proved to be her most successful year when she medaled in each of her five events. In the women's 400-meter race (T53), she claimed the gold.

“I’ll never forget the Beijing Games,” said Galli, who holds multiple world records. “It was the height of my performance; it’s the most prepared I've ever been and it was the best I have ever raced. Even after winning gold, it was still a huge learning experience for me.”

Galli had trained for two previous games, Sydney 2000, where she took home a silver medal, and Athens 2004, but she said her coach Adam Bleakney brought her regime to a new level for let her slack while prepping for Beijing. 

Bleakney, her wheelchair track coach at the University of Illinois since 2006, pushed her harder than ever to reach her goal of making the podium.

“He would pressure me to constantly give 100 percent. He would ask, ‘Are you trying for mediocrity or are you striving for excellence?’ And that has stuck with me ever since,” Galli said.

She called Bleakney, her U.S. teammate at all four Games, one of the most influential people in her career.

Her ambitious coach has not been the only significant motivator within her sporting career, but her family and fiancé have also helped her reach her full potential. Having her biggest fans at the Games, Galli stated, was beneficial whether she succeeded or did poorly. 

She said they are the best people to celebrate with but an even better support group when she does not compete at her best.

Gavin Cloy, her fiancé, helps to keep her moving forward because he, too, is a wheelchair athlete within basketball. But knowing how his successes and failures are a group effort, Galli cherishes the fact that racing is a direct result of her individual performance.

“If I do well, it was my hard work that brought me to win and it’s completely for myself,” she said. “I like going fast and I like taking ownership for my performance whether it’s good or bad.”

Galli’s winning nature and strive for excellence has gotten her far within the world of sports. Once just an athlete, she is now taking leadership roles that will help her further the Paralympic Movement in a new respect.

She was recently elected vice president of the Athletes’ Advisory Council, an organization which is responsible for broadening communication between the United States Olympic Committee and active athletes. The council serves allows athletes to have a direct pipeline for input to the USOC board of directors.

Starting as a Paralympic summer representative and serving four years as a Paralympic track and field representative, Galli sought out an even larger leadership role.

“My main goal has always been to make an impact for Paralympic athletes and give them a voice,” Galli explained. “What’s so great about [the AAC] is that I can bring up issues athletes have to the people who can actually make a change.”

She has conveyed her desire to spread awareness about Paralympic sports and its equality while serving as vice president. Galli is the highest ranking Paralympian in the group.

Galli admires the group’s leader, Nordic skier Sarah Konrad, for getting an immediate start on change within the Olympic and Paralympic Movements. The AAC has already jump started the new strategic plan for the organization.

With support from Konrad, Galli has also begun her initiative to create an internal AAC for Paralympic athletes.

“I want to bring the sports together as well as the lesser spoken for NGBs. I want to get them involved with each other, give them a more prominent identity and provide them with a safe place to voice their concerns,” said Galli.

Galli's main focus on growing awareness of Paralympic athletes and sports results from the constant help she's received from others.

“I just want to give back to everyone and everything that has been given to me,” she said. “I want to make a difference in an athlete’s life because there are so many people that have made an impact on me that have no idea they did so.”

When Galli hears or reads about other Paralympic athletes who help others, it continually inspires her to do the same and expands her desire to let people know that anything can be overcome with effort. Galli is consistently putting forth efforts in multiple areas of her life.

Galli and her fiancé have recently moved from Illinois, where Galli is from, to Georgia, where Cloy is originally from. Since the move, she has enjoyed the warmer southern air and continued to train after making the 2013 U.S. Paralympics Track and Field National Team. 

Her daily routine consists of training in the morning, working for the AAC, volunteering in her local community and topping the day off with wedding planning. With a full daily schedule, and preparing for one of her most important events, her wedding, it is difficult for Galli to concentrate solely on racing.

“I love racing, but right now I am training for myself. I took four months off and started back up in January, so I feel good and I just can’t bring myself to stop," Galli said. "But we are getting married at the end of June, so I’ll be honeymooning during the world championships."

Galli faces a struggle of deciding whether to retire from racing or not, but she has declared one thing certain: being active will always be a necessary aspect of her life. 

"Athletics help you to feel your best and keeps you fit physically and mentally," she said.

And for her, sports give her “a reason to get up in the morning.”

While on the 2013 U.S. Paralympic Track and Field National Team, Galli continues to stress the importance of healthy living and appreciation for all the encouragement and support she has received. She plans to advance the awareness of Paralympic sports through her work with the AAC and her belief that anyone can overcome the odds thrown at them.

“No one is born amazing,” stated Galli. “It is the opportunities and chances people take that make them great.”