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Osteopath heads to Rio Paralympics

1 September 2016

Jess GallagherMeet Jessica Gallagher. She’s Australia’s first female winter Paralympic medallist, having won medals in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014. She’s a global ambassador and Board Director for Vision 2020 Australia. She’s an ambassador for Disabled Wintersport Australia and Vision Australia. She’s a sought-after motivational speaker. And did we mention she’s an osteopath too?

Growing up in Geelong, Jess was diagnosed with a rare eye disease, cone dystrophy, when she was 17 years old. It caused her to lose much of her eyesight and she is now classified as legally blind – but that hasn’t stopped her from achieving amazing things.

At the age of 21, she discovered Paralympic sport and was soon selected to represent Australia in multiple events at the 2008 Beijing Summer Paralympics; but due to the sight in one eye being 0.01 per cent, she was deemed ineligible to compete for being “too sighted.” And so, when she returned to Australia, she transitioned to alpine skiing.

Osteopath Jess at Winter olympicsJess made her representative debut at Vancouver 2010 and became the first Australian female to win a medal at a Winter Paralympic Games, finishing third in the women’s slalom. Just eight months later, she became the first Australian to medal at both a winter and summer international event when she won silver in the long jump and bronze in the javelin at the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand.

In 2012, Jess qualified for the London Summer Paralympics in long jump and javelin, but unfortunately tore her meniscus just six weeks out from competition. Despite being severely hampered by injury, she finished fifth and sixth respectively.

She has since added another Winter Paralympics medal to her name, placing third in the Giant Slalom at Sochi in 2014, and now she’s aiming to conquer yet another sport: track cycling.

In March, Jess represented Australia at the 2016 Para-cycling Track World Championships in Montichiari, Italy. Along with her sighted pilot, Madison Janssen, they became world champions in the women’s tandem sprint, breaking the world record along the way.

Outside of her sporting activities, Jess graduated from RMIT and is a fully qualified and registered osteopath. She practises at Liforce Osteopathy in Malvern and with a professional sporting team in Melbourne. She uses a holistic focus, incorporating both structural and cranial treatment techniques and likes to tailor treatment specific to each individual. She believes that “life is about seeing the bigger picture and creating a holistic balance in today’s busy lifestyle.” Jess enjoys treating a wide variety of patients but has a special interest in sport- it’s not hard to see why!

You have accomplished so much already and you’re still going! Do you have a favourite achievement so far?

Becoming Australia’s first female Winter Paralympic medallist on my 24th birthday at Vancouver is my best sporting moment ever. Everything about that day was magical and continues to drive me to experience the moment of standing on the Paralympic podium again.

Jess osteopath cycling paralympicsWhat’s next for you?

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. Rio will be my opportunity to achieve this so it’s really now a short-term goal!

How has your osteopathy background helped your athletic training?

It has helped immensely, in particular for the complexities of transitioning my body from one sport to another where there’s a high risk of injury. I have an incredible understanding of how my body works, its strengths, weaknesses and most importantly how hard I can push it and when I need to slow down. It gives me a deeper understanding of the physiological and biomechanical aspects of my sports, which allows me greater ability to be the best I can be. My experience as an athlete has also significantly enhanced my knowledge when treating patients, in particular other athletes.

Why did you choose to study osteopathy?

Growing up playing as much sport as I did, sports medicine was something that interested me. When researching the differing professions I came across osteo and just fell in love with the philosophy. When I lost the majority of my eyesight it gave me an incredible perspective on life at a young age and the osteopathic philosophy of being whole really felt like it embodied who I am as a person and what I believe in. It seemed like a natural fit. I love that there are so many varying techniques that give the body such a diverse range of tools to help it heal, and that I get to use my hands to help others – not my eyesight.

How does your vision impairment affect your services as an osteopath? Do you feel limited or does it heighten your sense of touch?

I don’t feel limited at all being an osteopath with low vision. I do have heightened senses so my palpation skills were naturally advanced along with my hearing. When I was studying my biggest concern was writing clinical notes and reading x-rays, etc., but by the time I graduated they were all online, which means I can use my laptop and adaptive technology to enlarge notes to the size I need. Using the HICAPS/ EFTPOS machine for payments is probably the hardest part, but I have a device that magnifies for spot reading so I utilise this. All the kids think it’s an old-school Game Boy and are very disappointed when I explain what it actually is!

Congratulations on all of your accomplishments, Jess! Osteopathy Australia wishes you all the best at Rio.

Watch Jess compete in Rio on the Channel 7 Paralympics broadcast or the livestream at paralympic.org

09/09/16   1km Time trial     AEST 11.00pm - 12.55am

11/09/16   3km Pursuit         AEST 11.00pm - 2.30am

Send her your  well wishes at:

Facebook: @athletejessicagallagher
Twitter: @TeamJess2014
Instagram: @jessgallagher86

 

 

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