10 Mins With: Kelly Gallagher

STORY BY
Steven Beacom
1st February 2017

PARALYMPIC Games champion skier Kelly Gallagher has spoken about her horror crash for the first time revealing that she felt she had a lucky escape despite suffering a dislocated elbow and three fractured ribs.

The visually impaired 31-year-old also outlined that she fully intends to return to competition with the aim to defend her Paralympic Winter Games title next year.

Gallagher was airlifted to a local hospital after falling in Tarvisio, Italy last week when training for the World Para Alpine Championships.

It was a crushing blow for the popular Northern Ireland sportswoman, who felt she was making progress with new guide Gary Smith ahead of the Championships.

Gallagher became the first Team GB athlete to win a gold medal at the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. Competing alongside her then guide Charlotte Evans from Kent, the Bangor lady raced to victory in the Super-G event becoming an overnight sporting sensation hailed by politicians and celebrities alike.

It was a spectacular triumph for the Mathematics graduate, who suffers from a condition called oculocutaneous albinism which affects the pigment in her hair, skin and eyes, and she is targeting another one in Pyeongchang in South Korea in 2018 despite this setback.

First though she will spend time at home with her mother Margaret and her fiancé Gerard Tohill, who proposed on Christmas Day.

Gallagher said: “The crash was such a shame because Gary and I were skiing really well together. We came over a jump and I didn’t land properly. Normally you land forward but I landed on the tails of my skis which meant I wasn’t balanced and I ended up in the fence. It was quite dramatic.

“Skiing is a dangerous sport and you are used to crashes though normally when you are skiing something like the Super G you will fall and get bruised. With this being the Downhill, it was a lot faster. To dislocate your elbow takes a lot of force. I can’t describe how horrible that was. I also broke my ribs and I have pretty intense bruising to my legs, but my face is okay,” she added, smiling through the pain.

“I’m just relieved that I didn’t hurt my back or my neck or have serious concussion. That’s what skiers worry about. The accident was bad but it could have been far worse. My broken ribs haven’t punctured my lungs so that was lucky.

“I haven’t watched the video of what happened as I don’t think it’s good for anyone’s mental health because it is pretty graphic.”

As she was treated by medics and put in a neck brace for precaution, Gallagher was thinking about her family back home and her new engagement ring.

“I was conscious enough to ask my guide Gary to take my glove off and get my engagement ring. It was on my injured hand which made it harder to take off but I didn’t want anything happening to it,” said Gallagher, more upbeat about the harrowing experience that most sports stars would be.

“Gary, the coaches and the medical staff were very good with me even as I was telling them ‘Don’t dare tell my mum because she will go mental’. I wanted to be the first person to tell my mum and Gerard because I didn’t want them worrying.

“When I got to hospital I needed a lot of the drugs so they could put my elbow back in and when I woke up I was very sick. I’m in a cast for the next three weeks. The cast is from above the elbow to my hand and is at a right angle to keep the joint in place.  It’s my left elbow and I’m left handed.

“But I know it will heal and so will my ribs. I’ve had a lot of injuries down the years and will recover from this and get back skiing. My rehab will be with the Sports Institute in Northern Ireland and the British Paralympic Association.

(Gallagher in 2013)

“This will put me out for several weeks but there is still skiing to be done at the end of this season. In the meantime I can get fitter and stronger. I can work on balance, co-ordination and all sorts of different things to be better on the skis.”

Kelly was scheduled to compete at a Paralympic Winter Games test event in South Korea in March. She may not be able to race but is focused on making the trip.

“I imagine, although I won’t be racing, I will still probably travel to Pyeonchang to the Test event to have a recce, and maybe just free ski the hill without actually racing it,” commented Gallagher.

“I still want to race at next year’s Games and go for a medal. I’m going to be really motivated in my rehab.”

Now home in Ireland, she is delighted to be with her family and friends again.

“It’s good to be back. I knew when I was over in Italy the only way my mum would think I was fine would be to stand in front of her, so it’s good to be home,” said Gallagher.

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