By David McPherson
The only Australian to win medals at a summer and winter Games chose track cycling because the sport offered her the opportunity to compete at the Commonwealth Games.
Jess Gallagher didn’t immediately begin her para sport career when she was diagnosed with the rare eye disease cone dystrophy late in high school.
“I grew up in elite junior pathways for netball and basketball. When I was diagnosed when I was 17, it was actually around the time of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne,” she says.
“I wasn’t able to play sport as much as I had because of my eyesight deteriorating and playing netball and ball sports don’t really go together [with the disease]. I’d kind of lost the ability to play sport I thought.”
Gallagher’s flirtation with para sport began with a working holiday skiing in Colorado
“I had a friend that I’d studied with at university – she was a ski instructor in Colorado in the summer holidays,” she says.
“She asked if I wanted to go over and I said yes and had a working holiday. When I came back someone just mentioned the Paralympics.”
Her next move was to make a phone call to the Australian Paralympic Committee.
“I didn’t know anything about them so I googled them and rang up the APC office in Canberra at the time. I said I’m a person who’s got low vision, are there people at the Paralympics? It kind of just stemmed from there.”
Gallagher has competed in athletics, alpine skiing and track cycling at international Games events. She tried athletics first.
“I spoke with Tim Matthews who’s from the APC – he works with new talent. I sat down with him and we had a look at all the different sports.”
“I’d done really well with athletics in high school so I decided that athletics would be the sport that I pursued. He set me up with a sprints coach, a throws coach and a jumps coach at the old Olympic park.”
Gallagher was on track to compete at the 2008 Paralympics before misfortune struck.
“In Beijing I was banned from competing for not being blind enough and I’d also been talented identified for skiing so the next progression was to go back to skiing because I knew I’d be ready for Vancouver in 2010.”
Her switch to slopes paid off when she became the first Australian woman to win a winter Paralympic medal at the Games.
Gallagher’s vision deteriorated to a point which allowed her to compete at the 2012 London Paralympics in long jump and javelin.
Another bad break led to yet another change of direction.
“The main reason I stopped doing athletics was because the long jump – my main event – was dropped from the Rio schedule,” Gallagher says.
“For me to continue pursuing a summer Paralympic dream of winning a summer Paralympic medal I needed to look elsewhere.”
Gallagher was back in the hunt for a new sport.
“The two sports I was choosing between were rowing and cycling. The main reason I chose cycling, besides falling in love with the speed element of it on a velodrome, was it offered the opportunity to go to a Commonwealth Games,” she says.
“The VIS cycling coach saw me and said – ‘we’ll take you’.”
Gallagher secured a bronze medal in the women’s 1km Time Trial in Rio last year and is now setting herself to compete in front of friends and family on the Gold Coast.
👍👍 for breakfast with @borobi2018! Having an amazing time here on the #GoldCoast. Breakfast at Palezzo Versace hotel followed by @cedricdubler & I being the first athletes to get a sneak peak into the athletes village… btw it's amazing! Stay tuned for some more pics throughout the day & check out my insta story for more bhs…! @gc2018 @queensland @cyclingaus @athsaust #sharethedream #thisisqueensland @palazzoversace
“Having been to a summer and winter Paralympics, the Commonwealth Games was something that I haven’t experienced and the opportunity to compete on home soil for me is a really big one.”
“I can’t even comprehend how amazing it’s going to be. Track cycling was one of the first events to sell-out and the velodrome is so amazing when it’s full.”