In 2007, Jessica Galli (Hillsborough, N.J.) established herself as one to watch at the upcoming Paralympic Games in Beijing, and stamped her name all over the record books in the process. For her accomplishments, the 24-year-old track & field star was selected as the U.S. Olympic Committee’s (USOC) 2007 Paralympian of the Year.

The USOC made the announcement on Thursday afternoon, along with its selections for the 2007 SportsMan (Tyson Gay, track and field), SportsWoman (Katie Hoff, swimming) and Team of the Year (U.S. Women's World Championships Gymnastics Team) winners.

"It’s a great honor to receive this award," Galli said. "Finding out before Christmas was a great present for me and my family. I had a great year. I didn’t expect to do as well as I did, but I’m very happy with how everything turned out."

Galli, a grad student at the University of Illinois, set new world records in the T53 200, 400 and 800m over the summer – and did it all at one competition, the Meet in the Heat in Atlanta this past June.

The event marked the second time she had broken the 400m record in a matter of three weeks (she originally broke the record at the European Wheelchair Championships in Switzerland). During that time, Galli shaved nearly a full second off the old record.
In addition, Galli was named Athlete of the Meet at the 2007 Visa Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, Great Britain, after winning gold in both of her events, the 200 and 400m.

"Jessica had an amazing year in 2007, and we are all very proud of her accomplishments," said Charlie Huebner, Chief of U.S. Paralympics. "She is a great representative for Paralympic sport in the U.S. and the positive impact of an active lifestyle for individuals with physical disabilities."

A two-time Paralympian at the age of 24, Galli became involved in adaptive sports soon after she was paralyzed in a car accident at the age of seven. She was 14 when she first competed internationally, and her first Paralympic Games came in 2000 in Sydney, where she won a silver medal in the 800m. In Athens in 2004, though, Galli never saw the podium, finishing fourth in two races.

Missing out in Athens may have only provided motivation for Galli in her quest for Beijing.

"She hates to lose, and that really drives her," said Adam Bleakney, Galli’s coach at Illinois and fellow member of the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field Elite Team. "She can use races where she’s not happy with her performance and use that as a catalyst."

In 2006, Galli won two gold medals at the Visa Paralympic World Cup before going on to win three medals (one gold, one silver, one bronze) at the World Championships in The Netherlands. Those performances, it turns out, only foreshadowed the big year that would follow.

Coming off such a successful year in 2007 and another solid World Championships performance the year before – she has won six medals at her last two Worlds – Galli says she wants to realize that success that has previously eluded her at the Paralympic Games.

"To go to Athens and finish short in every race, and to leave those Games feeling like, ‘What did I do wrong? Why was I not as prepared as I should have been?’ has definitely been driving me and motivating me to keep training," Galli said. "In 2006, to do so well at World Championships, it showed me that I could become something better than what I had been."

Galli is quick to attribute her success to her time working with Coach Bleakney, who is also a two-time Paralympian looking to compete in Beijing, and her teammates at the University of Illinois. Three other members of the U.S. Elite Team are also on the Illini roster: Anjali Forber-Pratt, Josh George and Amanda McGrory.

"I’m incredibly excited that Adam’s been our coach here for the last couple years, and to have a consistent coach and a great team around me has made a huge difference," Galli said.

Looking forward to 2008, Galli said she is training hard to avoid a repeat of the Games in Athens. But she’ll enter competition in Beijing with confidence, she said, knowing what she’s already accomplished and that her opponents will be looking at her as one to beat.

"I’m really excited for Beijing," Galli said. "I think it’s going to be a great year

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