SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. — The Olympics have wrapped, but the Paralympic Games are on. Top athletes with disabilities are in Tokyo competing for a spot on the podium. The list is comprised of many from Southern California, including Mike Gallardo.    

What You Need To Know

  • Mike Gallardo's birthday is Sept. 11

  • Part of his right leg was amputated after an IED exploded during his deployment in Iraq

  • Gallardo was planning to play pro baseball, but the 9/11 attacks changed his plans

  • The javelin competition will be held Aug. 30 in Tokyo

Gallardo has been involved with sports since he was a kid. 

"My main sport was baseball," he said.

He wanted to become a professional ballplayer. In 2001, he was a senior in high school and had plans to head to college on a baseball scholarship. But something happened that would change his plans. 

"I believe in signs," Gallardo said. "And my birthday is on 9/11."

He took the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, as a sign that he was meant for something different than baseball. Gallardo said he felt like he was "meant to do something more to help people. Do something more. So, [he] joined the military."

While deployed in Iraq, Gallardo was helping to clear a route for his fellow soldiers to pass through safely. The team he was on saw some improvised explosive devices or IEDs. All the communication was down with his platoon because of lightning and thunder. So, they came up with a plan, he said, after shooting at the IED did nothing. 

"We figured if we ran it over with a tire, then it would absorb all the explosion and save everybody from being blown up into pieces. So, and that's pretty much what we did. We just ran over the IED. And next thing you know, I'm missing a leg, or a foot," he said.

His life was changed forever. Gallardo is an amputee — his left leg was amputated from the knee down. He said he witnessed other veterans in the same situation give up on life and some even ending their lives. But Gallardo made a decision about his life. 

"It's either you get back up or stay down. And at that time, I just wanted to be that person that people can look up to and be like, 'Oh man,' not necessarily, I want to be like him. But, 'If he can do it, then I can do it,'" Gallardo said. 

And Gallardo did it all. He did cross-fit, Triathlons and finished his first Ironman just nine months after his amputation. But he had another goal.

"I always wanted to go to the Paralympics. But I never had time. I had a job. I had two young boys, so I always had to take care of them," he said.

Gallardo thought it was now or never. In 2019, he quit his job as a graphic designer for the MLB to start training full-time. 

"People thought I was crazy," he said, adding he they still probably do. But Gallardo said nothing was going to stop him. And he got right into competing.

"[I] starting running track doing 100 and 200 [meters] and then during a competition, I saw a javelin on the field," he said, adding he thought it was a spear at first.

Gallardo threw it for fun and was told he threw it pretty far. So, he switched sports. The decision to change things up was not only because he was able to use his baseball skills for javelin. Gallardo said running was exhausting. 

"I can eat whatever I want," he said of doing javelin. "When you're running and sprinting, it's just like, 'oh, you have to watch your calories and how much intake you have.' And now I have all the freedom in the world, well, to an extent."

He still has tough practices to get through and a coach to keep him on track. Gallardo's coach happens to be a former Olympian in the javelin throw. Erica Wheeler competed at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. She said Gallardo is the kind of athlete who comes around once in a blue moon – naturally talented – but also "his mindset, his mentality, his work ethic, you know, it's just a coach's dream," Wheeler said.

Wheeler has only been coaching Gallardo full-time since January. 

Even in a short time, all the training has paid off. Gallardo made the U.S. Paralympics Team. 

And Wheeler says she couldn't be prouder of Gallardo.

"I just keep getting goosebumps," she said as she rubbed her arms.

Just days away from their take-off to Tokyo, Gallardo still had some more exercises to get through at a training field in Orange County. Though he lives in the Los Angeles area, he drives hours to get to the field to train.  

Gallardo was standing on two inflated discs while holding a yellow ball on a rope. The objective was to balance on the discs while swinging the ball around in a circle. 

"[Wheeler] comes up with some creative s#$% [expletive], I'll tell you that," Gallardo said.  

Even when he thinks there's no way he can do something or something is "nearly impossible, she's just like, 'You can do it, Mike. Just do it, just do it,'" Gallardo said. 

He said it's only with that kind of encouragement from his coach and loved ones he was able to earn a spot in Tokyo. 

"By yourself, it doesn't really matter if you made it to the top because if you don't have anyone to celebrate with, it means nothing," he said.

And to be able to share his experience to inspire people who may be struggling with something in their lives is everything to the Paralympian.  

Gallardo will compete Monday in Tokyo.