Former netballer now chasing Paralympic gold

2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup

Jessica Gallagher has become something of a poster girl for Paralympic sport, as the only woman to represent Australia at a summer and winter Paralympics.

Equally adept at alpine skiing and athletics, what many may not know is that the 28-year-old, pictured left, was also once a top level netballer.

Prior to losing her sight as a result of a rare condition known as cone dystrophy, she was a goal attack and goal shooter who represented Victoria at both under-16 and under-17 levels, was an emergency for Australia’s under-16 team and played in the Victorian State League.

“As a player, my main strength was my vertical jump and strength in the air,” Gallagher said.

“My goaling averages were also very good. But unfortunately with each, as I was losing my eye sight, my statistics went down.

“It was difficult coming to terms with when I was still playing. I’d grown up watching my mum play, being coached by her and spending my whole childhood and teen years playing netball with friends.

“To lose doing something I loved was hard.”

Some of Gallagher’s teammates in the Victorian underage sides included Kathleen Macleod, who went onto to represent Australia in basketball, and current Australian Diamonds squad members Julie Corletto, Renae Hallinan and Caitlin Thwaites.

Thwaites has fond memories of playing with Gallagher

“I seem to remember that Jess was a shooter like me and from Geelong, so country (sort of) like me too,” said Thwaites.

“A few years after we had played together in the Vic team and people had gone separate ways I remember seeing her in at the VIS (Victorian Institute of Sport) gym.

“I found out that her eye sight had deteriorated and she was now focussing on athletics as her main sport. I admired her from afar thinking it was so great to see that she wasn’t letting anything get in her way. “

Gallagher discovered the Paralympics in 2007 and commenced training full-time with the goal of competing at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics in athletics.

Something of an all-rounder, she was entered to compete in the 100 metre sprint, javelin, discuss and long jump events.

She unfortunately didn’t make it to Beijing due to a last minute ruling by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) that her one of her eyes was 0.1 of a degree too sighted for her to compete.

At the time she was playing state league and local netball but it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to keep playing as her eye sight deteriorated.

In 2007, Gallagher won the league A Grade Best and Fairest award playing in the strong Geelong Football Netball League competition – an achievement she is immensely proud of.

“I was quite proud of that as I missed one quarter of the games through (the season) on snow Paralympic commitments. But also because I was a goaler who is legally blind with less than 10 per cent vision,” Gallagher said.

Away from sport, she is a qualified osteopath and has worked in sports medicine, but that is currently on hold due to the heavy workload on the snow preparing for Sochi.

She says her career allows her to combine two of her loves – sport and medicine.

Pictures: Courtesy of the Australian Paralympic Committee