Belfast Telegraph

I've cut off shackles of fear, reveals Gallagher

In control: Kelly Gallagher during the 2018 Paralympics in Pyeongchang
In control: Kelly Gallagher during the 2018 Paralympics in Pyeongchang
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

When Kelly Gallagher talks of the fine margins in life as a downhill skier, it's not the tenth of a second that can be the difference between success and failure.

Fresh from taking silver and two bronzes from the Para-Alpine World Championships, Britain's first ever winner of a Winter Paralympic gold medal was left to reflect on just how close she came to walking away from competitive skiing.

A serious injury in 2017, sustained in a training run ahead of that year's World Championships, left her with an injured leg, a dislocated elbow and three fractured ribs.

The knocks healed in time for her to get back on the snow 10 months later, but the mental strain lingered on.

Back in time to defend her Olympic title in Pyeongchang, visually-impaired Gallagher (right) says fear was holding her back from reaching her potential.

"I had to overcome a lot of fear and apprehension," admitted the Bangor native. "But I'm in such a better place now than I was this time last year.

"I just didn't have a positive outlook. Now, I feel so much more in control of my skis and my skiing.

"I'm looking forward to skiing again and it's just that progression from being frightened last year and not being frightened this year.

"I'd spent time in the fourth position, the fifth position, falling back to last, and it was so depressing just that weight of feeling like a loser, feeling like I wasn't very good, and feeling like I was no use. It was just sad and a real downer.

"To then ski with freedom and have the support and confidence again going into a race, to just ski it was a real buzz."

Recent results speak for themselves, but for Gallagher, the return of her competitive edge is only part of a wider picture. Married last June to architect Gerard Tohill, she has been able to find the right blend of competition action and work thanks to the support of Sport NI.

"I'm just a lot happier in myself," she explained. "I feel a lot less pressure. The only pressure I feel is coming from myself. I have such great support from Sport NI, the Civil Service, from home and it's been great.

"I've always had that support, but now I think that I really notice it more, I acknowledge it more. I'm able to focus on working and not just skiing.

"It was a time when I got a little overwhelmed and I wasn't working very well after the accident, I thought it was going to end my career. To make the comeback, have that process where I'm not worried about the result, just trying to get better, I just feel on it again."

For a woman who jokes that she needs at least eight hours of sleep to function, hers is a schedule that few would envy, using the mathematics degree she earned from the University of Bath in her day job as a statistician.

"I've been supported by Sport NI since 2009, all my success has been through Disability Sport NI and Sport NI together," she explained.

"Every injury I've ever had has been supported by Sport NI and the competition costs too, so it means I can take unpaid leave and not worry where the money is going to come from.

"I'm very lucky to have that financial support. So I train in the morning on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then I've physio on the days in between.

"Then I work 10-6. Everyone in the office, they're really supportive of my skiing. The day before I go away there's always a cake.

"That's been really important to me. Getting to train full-time, getting to work full-time, it's been really special. It's tiring and I'm not much craic when I get home but there's research to show that things outside of sport, for the young and old, it can be really beneficial to both your sport and your happiness."

Never more so than when back on the podium at the World Championships.

"I was really happy and content with being able to prove that progression from Pyeongchang to be able to finally get a good couple of medals and show that all the support and help and that encouragement to find my own self-confidence again was worth it," he said.

At 33, Gallagher jokes she is the "old lady" of the circuit but has not ruled out making a run at the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

After all she went through, walking away is no longer on her mind.

Belfast Telegraph

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