Jessica Gallagher is one of the most remarkable athletes to have ever pulled on a Victorian Institute of Sport singlet or, for that matter, a green and gold one.
Some of her sporting entries can never be erased.
As an alpine skier Gallagher was the first Australian woman to win a Winter Paralympic medal, in Vancouver in 2010.
Six years later, as a cyclist in Rio, she became the first Australian woman to medal at both a Summer and Winter Paralympics when she won a bronze medal in the women's B/VI 1000m time trial.
These are the history making moments but there are others, many others, that otherwise guarantee Gallagher a place in the Australian sporting firmament.
The now 37-year-old osteopath, who began to experience changes in her sight in her late teens after which she was diagnosed with Best’s Disease, has worked out of the VIS and also represented Australia as a vision-impaired rower and track and field athlete. And not in one track and field discipline but five – javelin, discus, shot put, long jump and running (100m).
Earlier this year, at the World Rowing Championships in Serbia, Gallagher and her crew finished fourth in the PR3 Mixed Coxed Four.
Junior state level basketball and netball preceded all of this.
So, in the 20-odd years since being diagnosed with Best’s disease – the results came through while she was competing at the under 17 national netball championships – Gallagher has been selected for three Paralympic Summer Games and two Paralympic Winter Games, won three Paralympic medals, four Commonwealth Games medals and multiple World Championship medals in cycling and athletics.
Her quest to compete at the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris is alive.
And amongst all this driven sporting high achievement, Gallagher completed a Bachelor of Applied Science (Complementary Medicine) and Master of Osteopathy at RMIT. She is an ambassador for the Australian Paralympic Committee, Vision Australia, Seeing Eye Dogs Australia and Vision 2020 Australia.
On December 13 at Marvel Stadium, RMIT honoured Gallagher with an Honorary Doctor of Social Science and the opportunity to address its 2023 graduates “for the way she's challenged stereotypes, broken down barriers and overcome obstacles on her way to becoming one of our most inspirational athletes.”
Gallagher, long the epitome of the VIS philosophy of “success in sport and life”, spoke eloquently about her life, mostly poignantly about what her vision impairment has taught and given her, not what it has taken away.
“At any point in time during our lives we will all face our challenges, the difficult and inconceivable moments that push and stretch us beyond what we are trying to achieve," she said.
“People often think, when they learn you have represented Australia in four sports, that you move seamlessly from one to the other, but this has not been the case for me, far from it.
“What I’m proudest of is that at those points where I’ve come to a block in the road ahead, I’ve been forced to think differently, try something new and create a new pathway.”
Image: Jessica Gallagher (left) receiving her Honorary Doctor of Social Science from RMIT Chancellor, Peggy O'Neal AO.