The Observatory

Q&A with Jess Gallagher

Jess Gallagher is both a Summer and Winter Paralympian, having competed for Australia in Long Jump, Javelin (track and field), Slalom and Giant Slalom (alpine skiing). She has since transitioned to track cycling and in March she heads to the UCI Para World Championships.

  • You’re an ambassador for Vision Australia and Seeing Eye Dogs Australia, Disabled Wintersport Australia, and Vision 2020 Australia. What do you enjoy and want to achieve in these roles?

I enjoy giving back to organisations that are incredibly close to my heart and helped me when I was diagnosed with my eye disease. I want to ensure these organisations continue to move forward to allow them to give to the community and help people like myself. I love that I am able to share the things I have learnt over the years and really provide a first-hand perspective of what someone with low vision may require to live an independent and fulfilled life.

  • You’ve been both a summer and winter Paralympian across athletics, alpine skiing, and now cycling. Why the switches? What do you enjoy most?

I love all three sports and they provide really different experiences. Skiing allows you to travel the world, racing in the beautiful fresh air and the incredible beauty of the mountains but I also love that cycling allows me the ability to stay in Melbourne full time ­­- I think I get the best of both worlds. I really just fell into the different sports and I have worked incredibly hard to allow myself the ability to represent Australia in three different sports.

  • What is the hardest thing when you’re in training and competing phases of your sporting career?

During heavy training phases it is definitely the fatigue levels. Every day you push the limits of what you can do so life essentially involves training, sleeping, eating and training but I also love that feeling of knowing you are breaking the boundaries of what you think is possible. The hardest part in competing are the days leading in when you have so much energy and just want to get out there and compete!

  • What needs to be done to make participating in sport for blind or vision impaired people more accessible?

I think getting the information out there that services exist is really important. When I was diagnosed as legally blind at 17 I was playing high-level Netball and Basketball and not one person in my world ever mentioned that spots existed for a person who was vision impaired. These days I meet so many people who have no idea that, for example, Disabled Wintersport Australia provide access, equipment and guides to make skiing accessible for the vision impaired. I meet blind people who tell me they want to ride a tandem bike but potential pilots ask to be paid just to go for a social ride. It breaks my heart people aren’t being able to participate in sports because of barriers like these. Ensuring vision impaired people can gain access to information and these services is vital to allow participation.

  • You travel a lot as part of your sporting and philanthropic commitments, what have been the biggest joys and challenges?

Travel is one of life’s greatest blessings. I love exploring and experiencing new places, widening my horizons and gaining new perspectives. You learn so much from putting yourself in unfamiliar situations. Naturally when pushing boundaries challenges arise, in particular when you’re in foreign countries and can’t read signs or maps, but I find these are the moments when you learn the most and grow into a better version of yourself.

  • Tell us something most people don’t know about you.

Growing up I played the trumpet and through my high school years played in a jazz band that toured along with the school orchestra and brass quintet. It was one of the first things that made us pick up my deteriorating vision- I started not being able to read the music sheets and we had no idea why!

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About the Author

Dr Jessica Gallagher

Jessica is the only Australian female Paralympian to compete at both a summer and winter games. She is a dual medallist, winning bronze in skiing at both the Vancouver and Sochi Games. She is currently training for Rio in cycling and practices as an osteopath. In 2011, she became the Global Ambassador for Vision 2020 Australia and is a newly appointed Vision 2020 Australia Board member.View author's posts
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