Sport: Alpine Skiing
Event: Slalom, giant slalom, super-G, downhill and combined
Games: Sochi 2014
Kelly Gallagher is a visually impaired alpine ski racer from Northern Ireland.
Kelly was named to the British Disabled Ski Team in the 2008/09 season.
Visually Impaired ski racers are guided through the alpine courses by a fully sighted guide. Kelly competes in all alpine disciplines: Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super-G, Downhill and Combined.
Kelly with her first guide, Claire Robb, won a gold medal in their first international race in August 2009 at the Winter Games New Zealand. Kelly and Claire trained and raced during the 2009/10 season in order to be selected for the Winter Paralympic Games which were held in March 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.
Kelly and Claire were placed 6th in Slalom and 4th in Giant Slalom.
Kelly sought out a new guide for the 2010/11 season who could race with her in that season and right through to the Winter Paralympic Games which were held in Sochi, Russia in 2014.
Kelly and her guide, Charlotte Evans, began training together at the end of 2010 and had a fantastic first season. Together Kelly and Charlotte competed in Europa Cup events and World Championships. At the World Championships, they achieved 2nd in Slalom and 3rd in Giant Slalom. This was the first time a British disabled skier has achieved a medal at this level.
Kelly and Charlotte were placed 3rd in the overall Europa Cup in 2010/2011 and achieved their first Gold medal in Slalom at the Europa Cup Finals in La Molina, Spain in March 2011.
Kelly and Charlotte trained over the summer off snow in preparation for 2011/12 World and Europa Cup events. They won their first Downhill in February 2012 in Tignes, France and returned to the UK for training ahead of the 2013 season.
At the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, 2014, Kelly Gallagher made history by winning ParalympicGB's first ever gold at the Winter Games with victory in the Super-G.
The following questions were prepared by students at Kingdown School, Wiltshire, ahead of the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
What/who was your inspiration to get involved in Skiing?
Well, there's a coincidence, nobody in my family skied before but my first barbie doll when I was little was ski barbie, so maybe she was my inspiration all this time. My mum, dad and I took a trip to Lourdes, France when I was 17, I convinced them to take a detour into Andorra and on to Barcelona. I'd read about skiing in Andorra in a magazine so coaxed them to have a skiing lesson with me. I instantly knew i loved skiing. My mum and dad didn't take to it the same way, but to me it felt intuitive and so much fun that I felt like I'd found something really special.
Were you a keen skier when you were younger?
Sometimes I wish I'd started skiing when I was younger, by now, my technique would likely have been strong and solid. But maybe starting later in comparison to other athletes is a blessing, everything is a new experience, exciting and so I have a love of ski racing and don't see it as a chore. I've been fortunate to go to university to start my career as well before racing so I think I've gained a deep appreciation of how lucky I am to train and race full-time.
How fast do you go at your top speed?
As much as 80km/h. It's a rush! We wear, back protectors, helmets, protective gloves, gum shields all in order to keep safe if we fall. Last weekend in Wengen, Switzerland, Julian Clarey of France, clocked 160km/h in the downhill race! That's really fast, I admire the top men racers, they're extraordinary.
Would you like to compete in any other sports?
I enjoy the mixture of enjoyment from skiing and exhilarating feeling of completing a race course to my best ability. I've not found this in many other sports apart from gymnastics and trampolining, but I'm afraid I wasn't terribly talented in those so I keep them for pure enjoyment. I competed a little at uni, for fun with friends.
If you were to compete in a summer Paralympic Sport what would it be?
I train on a stationary bike throughout the season and in the summer time. I'd like to try "real" cycling or maybe rowing. It looks gruelling! I think long jump, triple jump, javelin and shot put look interesting too.
Is it harder for you train in Britain due to the lack of snow?
Yes, we are at a disadvantage compared to other countries which have the slopes on their doorstep. It makes training and competing more expensive. We spend a lot of time planning logistics and being away from our support network of family, friends, physio, s&c coaches etc. which can be difficult. We try to turn this into an opportunity to make the most of our time at home, eg. Training intensively at the sports institute when we aren't able to get on snow.
Do you have to live somewhere else because of your training?
I live in Belfast in order to be close to the sports institute Northern Ireland, I train there full time when I'm not on snow, their support is invaluable to my performance.
Then from September to April, I live out of a suitcase in Europe travelling from race to race. It's a privilege but it does get tiring.
Were you born with a visual impairment?
Yes, I have ocultaneous albinism which means I have no pigment in my skins cells or in my eyes. I have associated poor eyesight and have been registered blind since I was a child.
How did you find your current guide and how do you develop the trust?
Charlotte Evans guides me full-time, it's a very unique and special job she does for me. Charlotte was injured from her ski racing career in 2010, I posted an advert and a sport photographer who knew her persuaded her to try guiding for a few weeks. We got on very well together and succeeded in achieving 2nd and 3rd at world championships six weeks after first meeting. We've worked hard at our skiing together since then, and I know that Charlotte is primarily concerned with my safety. She's very conscientious and caring and is also competitive so together we make a great pairing.
Do you have any funny stories of trying to avoid people on the slopes?
So that I can see Charlotte, she wears a luminous orange bib on the slopes. It's funny in itself, it's not very flattering . But we kept noticing people cutting in between us. So now both of us wear the luminous jackets, like oompa lumpas, it looks ridiculous, as if Charlotte will only look this silly if I'm joining her.
What is your career highlight?
World championships in 2011. We are the first British athletes to achieve alpine skiing medals at this level.
What is your weekly routine?
We train everyday on snow, up early, breakfast, pack the skis in the van, drive to the slope, boots on, up the gondola, warm up, warm up runs, inspection of the course, training runs in the course, warm down runs, downloading on gondola, eating lunch while strapping up skis, packing the van and changing boots. Home, recovery, video analysis, shower, maybe physio, dinner, goal setting, bed! Everyday - pure bliss!
What is your diet like on a daily basis?
Our training is demanding so I'm terribly lucky, I am able to eat a lot to refuel, and I enjoy food. Breakfast yoghurts, cereal, fresh fruit, fruit juice, herbal tea, toast and banana. Lunch is usually sandwiches on the hill, cheese and cucumber tomato, peppers. Dinner is usually pork when we are in Austria, which I'm not a huge fan of, but it's protein and helps our performance. We snack a lot throughout the day too, cereal bars, fruits, nuts, milk, and plenty of water.
Do you think disability can affect sports participation?
I do. I think it's important for everybody to be included in sport, old, young, disabled, able, regardless of talent, it's about making habits when you're young, enjoying yourself and have fun with friends, I think there's a way to include everyone, but this rarely happens as standard.
How can a young person get involved in Skiing and do you have any tips for those in the Get Set education programme?
There are plenty of indoor snowdomes in the UK and this is a great way of a young person trying out skiing with friends or on their own without spending to much money. If you're lucky enough to go abroad skiing that's brilliant! My tip foremost tip is, be brave and confident, be safe and have fun.