The little boy struggled to finish the race, running well behind the others. So, race organizer Gabriela Gallegos sent a couple of volunteers to run with him. The boy finished the race with a huge smile on his face.
“After he finished, he started trading war stories with other kids. He felt so proud of himself; it was really cool,” Gallegos says.
Gallegos, president and race director for Race El Paso, says these races “have changed lives in ways I never predicted. We so often get bogged down in nuts and bolts. Then I get approached with these heartfelt stories and thank yous.”
Gallegos is responsible for five races: Mighty Mujer, which has now expanded to Austin, Tucson and Miami; Splash and Dash for children 7-15; Mission Valley Duathlon (run-bike-run); Eagle in the Sun Triathlon; and the Anthony Flying Horse Half-Marathon.
She is the first and only Latina on the USA Triathlon board, the governing body for the sport.
“The board has undergone positive changes. We now have two have African American members and the first female president.”
COVID-19 has presented challenges to the sport.
“Initially when COVID-19 was taking hold, we had to learn how different countries were handling it at the Olympic and qualifying level. There were economic impacts, and championships had to be postponed.”
Locally, the races have changed to virtual events, where people sign up, but race on their own, reporting their times.
“Thankfully people are looking for ways to set goals. It’s been a real challenge. Fortunately, we have a loyal and motivated following.”
Her interest in racing started when she was working in Dallas as a lawyer.
“Crossing a finish line creates an exhilaration you don’t get often as an adult – working toward a goal and having it play out.” She worked up to a half ironman then a full ironman in 2012.
Gallegos started a new position in February as an associate professor in the Department of Management, Policy and Community Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center School of Public Health in El Paso.
She is working on a healthy food financing initiative, helping identify food deserts, when communities don’t have close access to healthy food.
“We have pockets throughout El Paso. Low-income and few grocery stores relate to more diet-related death. Our county became first in the country with this initiative.”
Gallegos says she comes by her drive naturally.
“Since I was little I’ve always been very entrepreneurial and thought outside the box. At the age of 6, I made a little newspaper to sell at the local Big 8. My parents always supported me in these things because it was in my nature.”