Kelly Gallagher swaps one dream for another as skier misses winter Paralympics

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Great Britain’s first winter Paralympic champion says she has switched from “living one dream to another” after calling time on her ground-breaking career due to pregnancy.

Visually-impaired skier Kelly Gallagher cemented her name in the record books by claiming a historic gold at Sochi in 2014.

The 36-year-old from Bangor in Northern Ireland had aspirations of competing at a fourth and final Games in Beijing in March next year.

Great Britain’s Kelly Gallagher competed at three winter Paralympics
Great Britain’s Kelly Gallagher competed at three winter Paralympics (Adam Davy/PA)

But – following the birth of 19-month-old daughter Brigid last year – she and husband Gerard are now expecting a second child on the day of the opening ceremony, prompting an early retirement from the slopes.

“I suddenly found out I was pregnant and I was like: ‘Right, this is a crossroads and looks like very much a one-way street for me’,” she told the PA news agency.

“I really realised how fortunate I am that a lot of athletes are forced to retire due to being de-selected from a programme or forced to retire due to injury, or they lose the love of the sport.

“And mine is such a lovely reason because I’ve gone from living one dream to another dream – not that being a mother is so easy that it’s a dream!

“I’ve found motherhood quite the challenge, it’s the same as skiing: quite the adventure and good fun.

“It’s a full stop to a sentence that I thought I was going to continue. There’s a journey that’s going to happen without me being involved in it but I definitely don’t feel hard done by.

“It’s going to be quite the entrance if the baby comes on the due date!”

Gallagher, who has oculocutaneous albinism, was not always enamoured by sport and would enlist the help of her mother Margaret to write “elaborate letters” in order to skip school PE lessons.

Aged 17, she eventually discovered her niche on the pistes of the Pyrenees mountains in Andorra, a trip prompted by her late father Patrick’s profession as a pilot.

Her Paralympic debut came at Vancouver in 2010 and she travelled to PyeongChang three years ago, either side of topping the podium in Russia with former guide Charlotte Edwards in the Super-G discipline.

The milestone moment for British sport led to a flood of fan mail and an MBE, although Gallagher modestly does not consider herself an inspiration to others.

“A couple of the letters were from parents with children with visual impairments or disabilities just saying it was lovely to see you guys racing and thanks for showing us it’s possible to go on a ski holiday,” she said.

“It’s a surprise for most parents when they have a child with a disability, they’re like: ‘Oh my gosh, I wasn’t expecting this’. It’s a whole new world for them and it can feel like their world has been turned upside down.

“I loved that that was a ripple effect.

“Although I wouldn’t think of myself as an inspiration because I am just normal like everybody else – I’m just doing my own wee thing – it was really lovely to see that as a byproduct for other people.”

Maths graduate Gallagher – who broke a foot earlier this year after falling from a kerb – has balanced her sporting exploits with working as a statistician and plans to continue in that role.

Kelly Gallagher was made an MBE
Gallagher was made an MBE in 2014 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Reflecting on her downhill career, she believes opportunities for visually-impaired athletes are now far more than a “pipe dream”, having also proved that skiing champions do not necessarily need to hail from alpine nations.

“I find it quite emotional and lovely looking back at all of the experiences that I’ve had – good and bad, because it’s been tough,” she said.

“When I first started racing, there were no other visually-impaired athletes in the British team and it’s just like a staple now that there are and everyone knows they are capable of doing really well.

“It’s been nice to see that it’s become ordinary, rather than some type of pipe dream.

“Winning our gold medal, it was a relief because we had worked so hard.

“That has made it much easier for people to be able to say this is definitely possible, you don’t need to be from Austria or from America to be able to be a ski racer, it’s perfectly possible to put in the right type of work and train smart and have talent and get where you want to be.

“I am proud to be part of that story, definitely.”

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