Kelly Gallagher: Floating in a sensory deprivation tank helped restore my confidence

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Paralympic gold medallist, Kelly Gallagher, an alpine skier from Bangor

Kelly Gallagher, gold medallist and Paralympic skier from Bangor, Co Down
Gail Bell

1 Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I’m not a morning person – my idea of a treat is not setting an alarm and sleeping for as long as I can. Sleeping is a hobby of mine. Ski sessions start ridiculously early and I leave in the cold before sunrise. I’ve had to work really hard to be on time for the first lift. I get up extra early so I can fit in a bit of stretching and warm up so I’m hungry enough for a big breakfast.

2 What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? One of the benefits of skiing for me is that you burn so much energy that you can eat a lot of food – and I like food. Breakfast is usually eggs and then some cereal with yoghurt too.

Lunch? This will be a nice balance of meat, vegetables and either pasta, rice or potatoes.

Dinner? Another version of lunch... Also, after training sessions, I’ll have a high-protein snack like yoghurt, milk, banana and berries blended together. When I am working in the civil service at home, I have to try to cut down all the tea I drink because it is usually just an excuse for a biscuit or cake.

3 Is nutrition important to you?

Very much so: the more lean and agile you are, the faster you can move on your skis.

4 Best meal ever?

Medium rare steak, chips, pepper sauce.

5 Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I love going to the cinema and getting sweet and salted popcorn mix, a fizzy drink and chocolate.

6 Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

I try my best to make healthy food choices and exercise. I really don’t like the idea of being on a diet.

7 Do you take health supplements?

I don’t get very much sunshine and so I am low on Vitamin D. I also take an iron supplement and some Omega-3 fish oil capsules.

8 How do you relax?

I love walking with Gerard. We spent a few days after our wedding this summer in Donegal, Sligo and Mayo – just being tourists, photographing everything, from architecture and food to sheep. I love getting in the car and going away for a few days.

9 Teetotal or tipple?

I drank loads at uni and had a ball, but now, I just can’t handle the hangovers, so I tend not to bother drinking much any more.

10 Stairs or lift?


11 Do you have a daily exercise regime?

When I am at home in Ireland, I do three sessions of Olympic lifting during the week, four intensive cardio sessions (usually on the bike) and Pilates/yoga and agility sessions too. I usually get the sessions done from 7am, so that I can be in work from 10-6pm.

12 Best tip for everyday fitness?

Don’t worry about the weather: get up, get out and go for a walk; a walk can solve most problems in life.

13 On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

I am strong in my legs, but fitness is something I always have to work on – maybe I'm only a five! We’ve been up skiing at 3,500m recently in Switzerland and it’s so hard to breathe and be quick up there; your legs feel so heavy and your heart feels like it’s beating out of your chest. Just walking up the stairs leaves me panting like a dog.

14 Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

I had a serious injury in January 2017 when I dislocated my elbow, hurt my leg and broke my ribs after a jump. I recovered fine, physically, over a few months, but when I returned to snow in November, I had so much fear, it became unbelievably tiring. I was crying, even in very slow drills. I would get so frustrated and full of anxiety that I might get hurt again and had no confidence whatsoever in my ability to be ready for the games [2018 Winter Paralympics in March] in Pyeongchang. I was encouraged to try Hydro-Ease to have a few counselling sessions and float in the sensory deprivation tanks. That was an amazing experience and helped restore my confidence. I also love acupuncture.

15 Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

I wasn’t great at sports, especially team sport where I was utterly useless as I couldn’t see the ball, but I always enjoyed playing. Gymnastics, running and being part of the fun is what I enjoyed at school, but, really, I preferred music, art and academic classes.

16 Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

My daddy died in 2012 at the age of 60 from cancer. He was an airline pilot and did an extensive medical every six months. He was fit, strong and full of life and so it surprised me and still does that your body sometimes just can’t carry on. You never know what lies ahead so I often think that you should be as kind to your body as you can.

17 Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

I love the quote from Martin Luther King: "If you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk; if you can’t walk, then crawl – whatever you do, just keep moving forward." I see that all the time in disabled sport and, just generally in life, you just have to keep moving.

18 Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?

I adore my mum and my husband for their patience and perspective.

19 What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

I am a night owl, but I have been trying to go to bed earlier and be disciplined because I do need a lot of sleep to be in good form – anything less than eight hours and I feel terrible.

20 Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

I would say yes – we only have one life to live and I try my best to make the most of the time we are blessed with.

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