Unfinished business: Jessica Gallagher wants that summer Paralympic medal
By: Rachel de Bear
Source: SBS Zela
Jessica Gallagher should hear about her Paralympic selection for Australia’s track cycling team in the coming days.
It’s a long, nervous wait despite claiming bronze in her chosen 1km Time Trial event at the UCI Paracycling World Championships last month in Italy. Competing with a vision impairment, Jess rides a tandem bike with her sighted pilot Maddie Janssen.
It’s also despite taking the world title and record with Janssen in the tandem sprint – a World Championship event only.
If selected, the two-time winter Paralympic bronze medalist will look forward to juggling her work as an osteopath, motivational speaker and brand ambassador; with heavy training six days a week combining strength and conditioning, ergo, plus track and road sessions. Then it’s leaving Australia for pre-departure camp mid August with the Paralympics in September.
“A Paralympic year is always very busy so it’s going to go quickly and I’m very excited for what lies ahead,” she said.
Gallagher is unlikely to leave a stone unturned. Her long term sporting dream and daily motivation depends on it.
“My long term goal is to be the first Australian to medal at a summer and winter Paralympics or Olympics.
“There are only a handful of people in the world to have represented their country in both a summer and winter Paralympics and I’d like to take it that step further and medal in both,” she said.
Gallagher smashed the winter part of her KPIs with a bronze medal for slalom skiing at both the 2014 Sochi and 2010 Vancouver Winter Paralympics.
“Becoming Australia’s first female winter Paralympic medalist on my 24th birthday at Vancouver is my best sporting moment ever.
“Everything about that day was magical and continues to drive me to experiencing the moment of standing on the Paralympic podium again.”
But her summer Paralympics medal proves more elusive. At London 2012, she finished fifth and sixth in long jump and javelin respectively. She was left with no summer past-time after her best event, the long jump was removed in a contracted program for the Rio Paralympics.
The Victorian Institute of Sport head cycling coach Glenn Doney spotted Gallagher lifting weights in the gym and she soon swapped the athletics track and field for the wooden cycling one.
When you’re as good as Jessica, moving between sports looks easy – it isn’t
But it helps if you have one of the best to guide you around on your first time around the velodrome.
“Given the velodrome can be intimidating with its steepness Glenn arranged to have someone with prior experience in piloting a tandem come to ensure I would feel comfortable with the person steering the bike.
“As it turned out it was (multi Olympian track cyclist) Shane Kelly,” she said.
“I was a little hesitant and nervous but after a couple of laps…I’m pretty sure there were a few yipeees in there I was enjoying it so much.
“As soon as we started diving up and down the boards I knew it was the sport I wanted to do.”
Gallagher’s move to track cycling was made easier by the support she has received but says “it’s not easy transitioning between sports.”
“The cycling community in my area is amazing. I’m so grateful to have stumbled across some incredible people at my local bike store Beasley’s Cycles,” she said, before sharing a rather embarrassing experience.
“I went for my first ride after they taught me how to safely ride a single road bike. I was on a bike path riding along the beach, I didn’t see the path turn a corner and ended up riding straight onto the sand but I didn’t face plant. I went into the shop and they asked why there was sand all through my wheels.”
“They were pretty proud when I became World Champion.”
As a skier, Gallagher felt at home with the speeds around the velodrome, although nothing compares to hurtling down a mountain at 100kph.
“Being a skier, the guide is not connected to me like on a tandem and so I need to ski at high speeds under incredibly intense variabilities that constantly change. The velodrome is a stable environment.”
“I find the speeds more comfortable in cycling than alpine skiing. It’s safe to say I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie so am always trying to go that bit faster.”
The spiritual experience of the rainbow jersey
While Gallagher is a fairly new elite cyclist, she still understands the meaning of the rainbow jersey.
“It is a spiritual experience. When the presenter walked over to me and you see those colours and watch him pick the jersey up to put on your arm, it gives me shivers down my spine thinking of that moment.
“After the championships I went to the UK for a work commitment and one of the staff as soon as he saw the rainbows exploded with joy and happiness recalling how he spent his entire youth trying to win one.
“It was amazing to see the incredible impact that the rainbows have on everyone- regardless of if they’ve won one or not.”
“My head is not resting on her butt”
“My head sits in the lower of Maddie’s back- not her butt like most people think so it’s not uncomfortable at all.
“Getting aero when you’re 5’11 and your pilot is 5’7 can be hard. I need to ensure I have great flexibility so I can get as low as possible without compromising my power output.
“Sitting on the back I do take a lot of the bike’s movement, so it’s critical I have a strong core and back so that I don’t get thrown around from side to side.”
You get that close, there’s got to be tension, right?
“Maddie and I have haven’t cracked it at each other (yet?!).”
They are too professional to not work cohesively as a team, but she acknowledges they can personally have bad days.
“i think every athlete cracks it at some stage or another. We as individuals have bad days, or moments or things that challenge us so having a good partnership means we can give each other the space if it’s needed.
“We have individualised programs to get the best out of ourselves which in turn gives us the best result on the tandem.
“It’s an incredibly unique relationship in the world of elite sport,” she says.