Person of Distinction: Brianna Gallaher

An undersized girl from an undersized school went on to accomplish something only a handful of athletes did

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Brianna Gallaher was able to accomplish a feat only four others have been able to do in the state of Texas over the last 27 years.

On the cross country course, she was an individual state champion every year of her high school career, mainly due to the fact that she only ever had one teammate over that time.

In fact, it was the first year of the span so for the majority of her streak, she was the lone female donning Faith Academy of Bellville’s blue and white colors.

There was never a lack of inspiration, however, as head coach Ann Howarth alongside Gallaher’s mother, Shazta, picked up the slack and continued to push Brianna, although she didn’t totally need all of it.

When asked who influenced her most on her path to the top, she included herself in the answer along with her coach and mom, although not in a bragging way, but quite the opposite.

Gallaher was talking about not knowing exactly how to handle the recognition and attention following her winning the first of the string of titles, but who was able to help her stay grounded?

“My coach, my Mom and sometimes me because I don’t like being prideful like that,” she said. “Yes I’m happy I got all this, yes I am proud but I never wanted to be overly boastful.”

Her mother added; “I was always the one to tell her, ‘They’re congratulating you, you need to say something in return.’”

Soon enough, it became old hat but not before quite an up-and-down journey which Gallaher notes she wouldn’t have changed for the world.

It all started with the mile-long run everyone was forced to do in junior high.

Nobody really tries to do well at that thing, right?

Well, all those kids ate Brianna’s dust.

It was her first time really running and it was also her first, and only, year at public schools, this one in Burton ISD near Brenham.

It wasn’t long before the seventh-grader Gallaher had to be placed in eighth-grade races after winning too many in her own grade level.

But she still had little knowledge of how to run a real race and mentioned the announcer had to help her out in her first official meet to let her know it’s OK to move down a lane.

“The first mile I ever ran I didn’t know that you had to get over to lane one,” she said. “So for a whole lap I ran in the lane I started in until the announcer came on and said, ‘First place runner, can you please get over?’”

But once her mother’s divorce was final, the two, along with Brianna’s younger siblings in Lillian (10 years old) and Waylen (8), moved back to Austin County.

It was then that they were introduced to the cross country coach at Faith Academy in Howarth, and Shazta said it couldn’t have been better timing for her to come into their lives.

“When I got divorced that was really tough on all of us and I think God put her in our life when we needed her the most,” she said. “And she’s grown into our family; she became that second parent for Brianna.”

Gallaher reiterated how important it was for her transitioning back to an unfamiliar school while also getting acclimated with a fairly unfamiliar sport still.

She got more and more comfortable with it despite the early wake-up calls consisting of a honking car horn at 5 a.m.

Going back on her time in high school, she included that those early-morning practices were her favorite memories in her recent rearview mirror.

For the better part of her career, the boys’ team was her only company at practice but she mentioned nothing compared to the sights (or lack thereof) sounds and smells of the beginning of the day and it only helped that her teammates made her laugh.

“Since I ran with a bunch of guys they cracked the best jokes,” she said. “And then my coach is hilarious too.”

Even those boys were unable to consistently keep pace with Gallaher and soon enough, she was heading to her own separate meet while those young men competed against schools of similar size.

It was in those long car rides that Howarth and Shazta got to really get to know each other with Brianna falling fast asleep both on the way to and from the meet, regardless of how far away it was.

Clearly, those pre-race snoozes did the trick as she kept on winning and winning despite not having the same support as those she was running against.

“I was always by myself, you would see giant groups of girl teams huddled together and then there’s just me, ready to start my watch ready to go,” Gallaher said. “And you’d have all their teammates cheering for them and I’d just pass them by.”

Of course, Brianna did have her own fan section made up of her mother and siblings, one of which made it to nearly all of her sister’s races.

“Lillian has been to almost every single one of them and at one point would not miss it to save her life,” Shazta said of her daughters’ support.

The middle child herself meandered her way through the living room at one point during the conversation and mentioned a moment where she was joined by another runner in supporting Brianna.

“I was cheering once and another girl runner that ran earlier was cheering for you when they heard your name,” Lillian recounted the story to her older sister who hadn’t heard it before.

The youngest child, and man of the house, made his support known early on and has since been excused from making the journeys with the girls and instead shifted his focus to the diamond and the game that he loves.

Shazta mentioned all three of her children owning a gene that makes them extremely competitive and she’s already noticed it even within the first decade of the younger ones’ lives.

“That’s why we don’t have very many games in the house,” Brianna included, citing games that have not ended all too well.

That stubbornness, if you will, paid off in other ways for Gallaher who summed up just how much she wants to win, anything.

“I remember in ninth grade I held a plank for 13 minutes against this eighth grade boy just because I didn’t want to lose to him,” she said with a laugh.

That wasn’t the only time she beat a boy at something, mentioning a race during the spring track season that she ended up with the top time, in the history of the meet.

“Sophomore year for track I ran with the boys and now I hold the Bellville Meet record in the two-mile,” Gallaher said with a smile. “11:38,” she announced her time.

But it was in those first two years that she excelled the most on the cross-country course, registering the top time in the state at the final meet of the year not only in her class of 1A, her times were legitimately the best in the entire state across all classes, 1-6A.

The first meet Brianna ever ran on the varsity stage her freshman year, she came in first and her Mom knew right away there’s something here.

“I remember it was the first meet her freshman year and she won and all the parents looked at me like where did she just come from? I said ‘We’re not messing around,’” Shazta recounted. “I said it then when everyone was looking at me, ‘Yeah she’s going to college with this.’ Nobody talked to me after that for a little bit but I was serious, I knew it.”

She was spot on and now for the first time in her running career, Brianna will actually have a team full of girls by her side in the college ranks.

It will be an adjustment for Shazta to say she has a kid in college and it will be a transition for her younger siblings as well but their impact on their older sister has already helped her get to this point.

Brianna mentioned that being that eldest sibling has assisted her growing into the leader she is today because of all the time she’s spent watching them and looking out for them.

“Naturally with people younger than me or just around me, I’m just subconsciously taking that leadership position,” Gallaher said.

She said she doesn’t always have to raise her voice or deliver a speech to be that person of influence, but instead puts her head down and goes to work every day, punching her time clock which will always be faster than yours.

“I like to see how far I can go with things,” Gallaher said. “See how strong, how fast I can get and to see where I can take this and I think that’s what a lot of people should do. Go out and explore the world, go push yourself,” she finished.

At the end of the movie, she looked back on her journey and the route she took to get here, noting she took the time to enjoy it wholeheartedly.

“It was an up-and-down journey,” Gallaher said. “It’s like running down on our dirt roads, rocky, up and down but yet, a good run.”

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