Jess Gallagher created history at the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver, becoming the first Australian woman to win a Winter Paralympic Games medal.
To make this feat even more amazing was the fact that she had spent only 150 days on skis and was able to win it on her 24th birthday.
Jess is legally blind due to cone dystrophy, a rare genetic disease. She started to lose her eyesight when she was a teenager, having found out the news while competing at the Under 16 national netball championships. Jess was due to compete in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics in the long jump, 100 metres, shot put and discus but failed her classification test because her right eye was deemed too sighted and became ineligible to compete. Prior to Beijing Jess had been talent identified for the sport of Alpine Skiing and turned her attention to this winter sport with the knowledge that her deteriorating eyesight would make her eligible for Paralympic competition.
Although relatively new to the sport, she won a gold medal at her first international event, the 2009 New Zealand Winter Games, and broke through for her first IPC World Cup medal on her World Cup debut in Austria in January 2010. As she is legally blind, she competes with a guide (Eric Bickerton) and they together went on to win a bronze medal in the Women’s Slalom visually impaired event at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics making her the first Australian woman in Paralympic history to win a Winter Paralympic medal. Pictured is Jess and Eric at the medal presentation ceremony. In Vancouver Jess also competed in the Women’s Giant Slalom vision impaired event.
In 2011 Jess confirmed her status as one of Australia’s best athletes when she became the first Australian athlete in history to medal at a major international summer AND winter championship when she won silver (Long Jump) and bronze (Javelin) medals at the 2011 IPC World Athletics Championships on her international athletics debut. At the 2012 London Paralympic Games, Jess competed in the Women’s Long Jump F13 and Women’s Javelin Throw F12/13 events finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Jess has unfinished business in achieving her goal of becoming the first Australian (able bodied or Paralympic) to win a medal at a Summer and a Winter Games as a serious knee injury hampered her London goals.
Aside from being the only Australian athlete concurrently representing Australia in a summer and winter sport, in 2009 Jess completed her Masters of Osteopathy and is now a fully registered Osteopath working with elite athletes when her busy schedule permits.
Jess has been appointed the first Global Ambassador for Vision 2020, a World Health Organisation /Australian Government initiative for preventing avoidable blindness and vision loss. She has in October 2012 visited Vietnam with Vision 2020 where she visited several provinces talking about vision impairment prevention. She was an Ambassador for the Australian Paralympic Committee and Vision Australia.
In 2010 she was named Australian Female Paralympian of the Year and received an Australian Institute of Sport Achievement Award and in 2011 she won the Victorian Institute of Sport Gatorade Spirit Award – one of the top honours. Jess is an accomplished speaker on motivation and overcoming challenges.
Jess has just returned from training and competing in the United States and Europe on the snow in preparation for her assault on the Sochi Winter Paralympic Games in 2014.
Jess is very proud to be an Ambassador for Vision Australia and will continue her Ambassador role into the Winter Paralympics in Sochi.