By Will JonesJessica Galli spoke of her excitement as she prepares to compete in her fourth and, potentially, last Paralympic Games in London this summer.
The New Jersey-born wheelchair athlete, who has firmly established herself as one of the world’s leading Paralympians, believes that the U.K. offers an ideal setting for what promises to be a landmark competition.
“I know that England is the birthplace of the Paralympic Games so it will be unique to have the games come full circle,” she said. “To finish in London would be pretty awesome because I know that they’re very excited for the games. To hear that some of the events are already sold out is really amazing.”
The Opening Ceremony of this summer’s Olympics falls on the same day the Paralympic movement was born in 1948. Since then, the competition has developed from an afterthought to an integral aspect of the Olympiad. According to Galli, this exponential growth was illustrated at the 2008 Paralympic Games in China.
“In Beijing we had full stadiums and packed crowds,” she said. “It showed that we’re finally at a place where we’re considered first and foremost as athletes and we get to match our Olympic counterparts.”
Those games proved to be a landmark competition for Galli as she raced to five medals, including gold in the 400m, three silvers and one bronze. That medal haul placed her as the leading member of the U.S. Paralympic Track & Field team.
Galli’s success at the international level can be greatly attributed to the Lightning Wheels Athletic Club in Mountainside who oversaw her development on the track. The Hillsborough-born athlete was introduced to the club at the age of seven after a car accident fractured her spine.
“My family drove an hour every week to practice but it was worth it because it gave me that chance I needed. I loved it. My teammates were great and I loved the feeling of getting back into sport again,” she said. “Kids with disabilities don’t have enough opportunities to play sport. They can’t go to their community recreation center, so the team was created to give us that opportunity.”
Galli’s development on the track soon caught the eye of national talent scouts.
After competing at the 1998 World Championships at the age of 14, she won silver two years later at the Sydney Paralympic Games. That achievement is now a distant, yet fond memory. “I look back on those games and it’s just one big blur but a blur of fun and goodness.”
Despite her success in Sydney and subsequent World Championships, Galli was unable to maintain that medal winning form at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens. But on a memorable night in Beijing four years later, Galli stormed to 400m gold in world record time.
“Sometimes you don’t know if you can meet your expectations until you do it so when I crossed the line and saw the time, I saw that I was first, it just brought me to tears,” she says. “I hope that I have that moment again but if not, that was probably the greatest moment of my life.”
With less than six months until the London Paralympic Games commence, Galli remains confident that another magic moment lies ahead. Nevertheless, she’s fully aware of the caliber of her competitors and certainly isn’t getting complacent: “The competition in London is going to be fierce. It’s the world’s stage, everybody is watching, so you better show up with your ‘A’ game.”