Each year, Appalachian State University’s Top of the Rock recipient is recognized for outstanding achievements and contributions to the success of others. 2018 recipient Rachel Gallardo, a senior nutrition and foods major from Eden, is more than deserving of the honor.
Between being a manager for Appalachian’s wrestling team and percussion section leader in the Marching Mountaineers, as well as a member of the Broken Pancreas Club, the Hispanic Student Association and the Appalachian Student Dietetics Association, Gallardo has become part of the support system for many.
She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 3 years old. For her, the desire to support those around her stems from the support system she had growing up: A health care provider and a nurse practitioner who each took care of her and helped her learn how to live with diabetes, and parents who taught her how to advocate for herself.
That support shines brightest for Gallardo’s passions — wrestling and fellow and future diabetics.
‘Wrestling is tough like diabetes’
The same day Gallardo was named Top of the Rock, she and the rest of Appalachian’s wrestling team received their jewelry for winning their third straight conference title.
Gallardo’s role as the team’s manager involves keeping score and time, as well as database management and office duties, but for her, it goes beyond that.
“Wrestling is tough like diabetes,” she said. “Watching them win, it’s great, but when they lose, emotionally it’s really hard. I try to be there and be that emotional neutrality, even for the coaches. It is more than keeping score. It is being there and showing that support.”
As a woman creating her own identity in what she describes as a “male-dominated sport and community,” Gallardo is following in the footsteps of her mother, who was also a wrestling manager at Appalachian.
“I love knowing that I am doing my part to further the involvement of women in this sport,” Gallardo said. “You don’t have to wrestle to do well. You don’t have to fit in those norms. There is something for everyone in it.”
She said she aspires to be a coach, to start her own wrestling club program and to “spread the good word” about a sport she says isn’t as mainstream as others.
Representing more than the diabetic community
As a Top of the Rock candidate, Gallardo was representing the Broken Pancreas Club, Appalachian’s chapter of the College Diabetes Network. The club is new to campus — she said the club organized in spring 2018 and, so far, has about 30 members.
“We are here to educate. We are here to advocate. We are here to make ourselves better,” Gallardo said, emphasizing the importance of the club. “There are so many young people who live with this illness in silence, and they sit and they suffer alone, and it’s not fair.”
That, she said, is why she is studying dietetics, and why it means so much for her to be the megaphone for the diabetic community.
“I love that I can make a difference,” she said. “I’ve had people message me on Facebook, and they say, ‘I have diabetes,’ or ‘I need to get involved,’ or ‘What do you do? How’s living with it? How do you manage?’ I’ve had people tag their siblings or whoever in posts and say, ‘You need to talk to her.’”
Gallardo hopes to see the Broken Pancreas Club expand beyond students with diabetes to include students with other chronic illnesses.
“We share a lot of the same experiences,” she said, “and having a chronic illness in college is so hard, and you feel so alone, and you feel so robbed of so many things.”
Gallardo said being named Top of the Rock is an “explosion of being proud and thankful and grateful” to be able to represent “so many great groups of people.”
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About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.