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Student athlete named 2007 Paralympian of the Year

Melissa Mitchell, News Editor
217-333-5491; melissa@illinois.edu

Jessical Galli racing
Click photo to enlarge
Photo courtesy USOC
Jessica Galli, a graduate student in community health from Hillsborough, N.J., holds three world records in women’s wheelchair track and field events.

1/18/2008

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — University of Illinois student athlete Jessica Galli has been named the 2007 Paralympian of the Year by the United States Olympic Committee.

Galli, a graduate student in community health from Hillsborough, N.J., who holds three world records in women’s wheelchair track and field events, is being recognized for her outstanding contributions to Olympic sport and for exemplary sportsmanship and strength of character on and off the field.

In a news teleconference that followed the award announcement on Jan. 17, Dave Somers, USOC manager of education programs, noted that Galli was being singled out, in part, for “beating her own record this year.”

Galli first gained recognition in 2007 for besting the previous world record in the 400-meter competition, with a time of 55.82 seconds, at the European Wheelchair Championships in Switzerland in June. Three weeks later, at Meet in the Heat in Atlanta, she surpassed her own mark by 0.40 seconds and set two more world records, in the 200- and 800-meter races.

An international competitor since the age of 14, Galli also won a gold medal this year for her performance at the U.S. Paralympics National Championships.

In 2000, she participated in her first Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia, bringing home a silver in the 800-meter competition. She competed again, at the 2004 games in Athens, Greece, and is now preparing for the 2008 games, which will be held this summer in Beijing.

Jessica Galli
Click photo to enlarge
Photo courtesy USOC
Jessica Galli is being recognized for her outstanding contributions to Olympic sport and for exemplary sportsmanship and strength of character on and off the field.

“I am truly honored to be recognized with the Paralympian of the Year,” Galli said during the teleconference. She added that the achievement is “not only a reflection of my accomplishments, but of all who’ve supported me over the years.”

Specifically, she credited her family for motivating her to become involved – and remain active – in athletics. She initially began racing and participating in other sports as rehabilitive therapy after being injured in a car accident when she was 7 years old.

“They’ve been a great support,” Galli said, referring to her parents. “They’ve never said, ‘You don’t have to do anything.’ They’ve always encouraged me to do something with my life. I’m not allowed to just sit around and be lazy. Thank goodness for them.”

She also expressed appreciation for support demonstrated through the years by friends and coaches, among them Adam Bleakney, her coach at the U. of I.

“He’s been tremendous in transforming me into the athlete I am today,” Galli said. “He’s a great coach; he’s an athlete himself. I think Beijing will be his last Paralympic Game, so it will be sad to see him leave that arena, but I’m so glad he’s coaching. “

Among Galli’s biggest fans is her college’s top academic officer.

“This is a wonderful honor for Jessica, and we are especially proud of her accomplishments,” said Tanya Gallagher, the dean of the U. of I. College of Applied Health Sciences. “Her recognition as Paralympian of the Year reflects a long tradition by the University of Illinois and the College of Applied Health Sciences of supporting persons with disabilities both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Galli’s award was one of four announced by the USOC on Jan. 17. Sprinter Tyson Gay, swimmer Katie Hoff, and the U.S. Women’s World Championships Gymnastics Team received the committee’s SportsMan, SportsWoman, and Team of the Year honors, respectively.

Winners are selected annually from the individual female and male Athlete of the Year and Team of the Year nominations of the national governing bodies for the Olympic, Pan American, Affiliated and Disabled Sports Organizations within the U.S. Olympic Movement.

Galli is the fourth athlete to be named Paralympian of the Year. The first award was given in 2004.