Belfast Telegraph

Queen's honour for Paralympic golden girl Kelly Gallagher

By Rebecca Black

One of our most prominent Paralympians is set to be honoured by Queen's University today for her outstanding talent and determination.

Bangor woman Kelly Gallagher is the first athlete from Northern Ireland to compete in the Winter Paralympics.

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During the 2014 Games at Sochi she won Britain's first Winter Paralympic gold medal for skiing, helped by her guide Charlotte Evans.

Born with the genetic condition oculocutaneous albinism, Gallagher is severely visually impaired and uses her sighted guide Charlotte to compete.

Both women will today be awarded a DUniv for distinction in sport from Queen's.

Kelly lives in Bangor, Co Down, and before she came to international sporting fame worked as a statistician with the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

Just before she was selected for the British disabled Ski Team, Gallagher began a part-time Masters course in the School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at Queen's, which is currently on hold.

Kelly has spoken of her delight that both her and Charlotte are being honoured.

"I am so delighted to be honoured in this way by Queen's, which has a well-deserved reputation not only for academic excellence but for impacting on society and changing lives," she said.

"For obvious reasons, that sense of empowering students to fulfil their dreams and ambitions is something very close to my heart.

"I also love that Charlotte is being recognised, as we are very much a team."

As the sighted guide for Kelly, Englishwoman Charlotte helped win the gold for skiing in the women's Super-G in the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games.

This joint achievement marked Britain's first ever Winter Paralympic gold medal.

A former English skiing champion in her own right, Evans became interested in coaching and working as a guide while going through rehab for an injury. She has spent the past four years as the sighted guide for Gallagher.

Of her honorary degree, she said: "It is a great honour to be recognised in this way and I'm very much looking forward to my visit to Belfast and to celebrating with Kelly and all the other students on the day."

Charlotte announced last month that she plans to take a break from competition after suffering a serious head injury in January.

She suffered severe concussion in a training accident in Austria, and now plans to spend some time coaching young skiiers.

Charlotte described competing with Kelly as an "amazing experience" that she will always treasure.

Team GB performance director Duncan Freshwater said Charlotte will be very hard to replace.

Kelly confirmed then that she intends to continue competing with a new guide.

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