The cyclist and skier writes about Oz’s sporting obsession – by Jess Gallagher
While Australia Day means different things to different people, and we may mark the day differently, I love that on our national day, we see people from all walks of life coming together as individuals, families and communities under our national identity as Aussies. And I believe sport is one of the things that brings us together.
Sport is somewhat of a national obsession in Australia and even as the nation grows and changes, it seems to remain a big part of who we are, deeply rooted in our national identity. Big sporting moments like we see at the Paralympics and Olympics have the ability to create powerful and long lasting memories. They can cause our hearts to race, move us to tears, and have us near bursting with pride at the efforts of our fellow Aussies.
I have always loved sport. As a kid, I looked up to my Mum as she ran around our local netball courts. I acted out my own major sporting victories in our backyard, imagining myself decked out in the famous green and gold uniform. Never in a million years though, could I have dreamt of the path I have taken since those days.
I’ve been fortunate enough to represent our country at both the summer and winter Paralympic Games, becoming the first Australian athlete to medal at both of these events. I’ve competed for Australia in three sports – alpine skiing, athletics, and most recently track cycling.
There’s no feeling like the medal ceremony. The electricity running down your spine, you stand behind the dais, and wait for your name to be called by the announcer, followed by ‘Australia.’ The crowd roars.
In those moments, the thoughts I have are about the people who have helped me get there – the countless opportunities and support I’ve been offered by so many people back home. I have similar thoughts and reflections on Australia Day every year.
As a Paralympian, I have spent my fair share of Australia Days overseas – typically in Europe or North America chasing the Para-Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit. On 26 January, I feel a mixture of gratitude and pride. I’m reminded to reflect on being Australian, and what that means to me.
Representing my country as an athlete has certainly been a thrill, but I feel a greater sense of personal pride in being Australian. When abroad on 26 January, you’re given a special reason to talk about home, our culture and our history, and to share that story with people from across the globe. Our country is home to more than 200 languages and cultures, as well the oldest continuous living culture on the planet, and that makes us pretty unique.
Aussies are loved in every part of the world I’ve explored. I relish the conversations about Vegemite on toast and the delicate art of spreading it correctly. I chuckle at being confused for an Austrian on the ski slopes, or when greeted with obligatory screaming of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie,” “g’day mate,” or the jesting to “throw a shrimp on the barbie.”
I think our reception abroad is probably a response to our easygoing nature. It’s our open, accepting and diverse culture that makes us the lucky country, and there’s no better time to acknowledge and think about that than on Australia Day.
For me, our national day is also a timely reminder to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are going as a country. It’s a chance to think of our fellow Australians and ensure that we’re all doing what we can to contribute to and share in the quality of life that we pride ourselves on.
With understanding, openness and empathy, Australia Day is a day to reflect on the true beauty and diversity of our country – both its unique landscape and its people
This Australia Day I’ll be at home and spending time with my loved ones. I’m thankful to live in a country where we can freely and safely follow our hearts and live the life we choose. That’s incredibly special.
Originally published: Womens Health Magaizne http://www.womenshealth.com.au/article/women-in-sport/paralympian-jess-gallagher-on-australia-day