In November, Laura Gallagher, 30, won Team GB their first trampolining place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics when she qualified for the Trampoline World Championship finals with a score of 55.350.
It is likely that the team will also win a second spot as Olympic silver medallist Bryony Page is currently ranked fourth in the World Cup Series, another way to qualify for Tokyo. After that, British Gymnastics athletes will continue to compete for Olympic selection which takes place next year in June.
For Gallagher, this would be her first Olympic games and would be the culmination of a fifteen-year career that started aged 15 a few years after picking it up once a week for fun at her local leisure centre.
It’s also the first year that Gallagher has been training fulltime as a gymnast. Until a year ago she juggled training with a degree at the Open University in psychology and a fulltime job in outreach education with young people that had been excluded from mainstream schools or been out of education.
It is little surprise then, that Gallagher is friendly and down-to-earth to talk to. When I say how interesting it is to hear her behind-the-scenes story she says modestly: “I don't think I've ever spoken to one boring sports person or even one boring person. Everyone's got an interesting story, in or out of sports, I think people are just interesting.” She laughs and adds: “This is why I did psychology.”
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Gallagher has a series of accolades to her name: 2012 European Championship individual bronze, 2013 World team gold, 2014 European Championships team gold and in 2017 she was crowned British Champion and won World Championship team bronze.
The 2019 World Championships was her first individual final after she finished third in the semi-finals. She placed sixth in the final. It is an achievement that means a lot. Gallagher says: “It felt really good to qualify our team a place for the Olympics, that felt special. It's been quite a journey to get to this stage and I enjoyed the competition. I felt good in the build-up.”
Her journey to this point hasn’t been straight forward. In 2016, Gallagher took a break from the sport. Between the London and Rio Olympics, she had experienced a few injuries that meant she had spent two years in total off the trampoline recovering and rehabbing.
She recalls: “It took a toll on me psychologically and physically and I struggled to come back from that injury and just and perform.”
Gallagher decided she needed to take some time out: “I had a series of bad competition where I just got myself into a bit of a hole. I was struggling psychologically and needed some help with that.”
At the same time, Gallagher was looking for a new job and says: ”I think it was in the interview process which bizarrely helped me because you have to sell yourself and I think that made me see that I was more than just a trampolinist.” She adds: “I'm naturally quite an upbeat positive person. I feel very good now.”
About five months later, Gallagher started to ease back into the sport. “It's been a bit of a ride so what happened at the World Championships meant even more.”
Qualifying for the Olympics would have similar significance for Gallagher, but her time out has changed her perspective: “It's sort of my third try and the last try I suppose because I don't think I'll be going for another cycle, so it would mean a lot. In saying that, having been on the journey that I've been on I'm not afraid of the transition if it doesn't work for me.”
“I'm going to give everything to it and I would be gutted if I didn't make it at that final hurdle but on the same front, I know that I’ll be fine whatever happens.”
All the Team GB athletes train together at the Lilleshall National Sports Centre and since she has started training fulltime, Gallagher goes up there every week. She stays from Monday to Friday, training in the gym and on the trampoline and goes back home to Somerset at the weekends.
She says: “The hardest thing is leaving my husband at home and my dog and that settled feeling when you're at home but I know it's the right thing for me to do and push on to the next level.” Her performance at the World Championships no doubt validated that decision.
It allows her to train more with her fellow trampolinists. Despite competition for limited Olympic places, Gallagher says the atmosphere is one of respect and support: “It's good having us all training together often now. We all help push each other on and that's a good situation to be in.”
“We all want each other to do well, but obviously, we want ourselves to do even better. That's why it's important to have us all training together, we keep pushing each other forward. There is a high level of respect between us all and seeing the level of effort that everyone puts in, you can see how much it means.”
Training fulltime has changed things for Gallagher too. She says she is lucky to have National Lottery funding and a great support network around her. Her schedule is also completely different: “I do have a lot more time now to recover and spend the time doing the things I probably didn't have time for before but I'm grateful to have experienced that busy-ness.”
Juggling work with a degree and a training programme has had a defining impact: “It made me more resilient, tougher and more motivated. I was getting up early, training in the morning, going to work, having a two-minute power nap when I got to training and then training again before going home and studying or writing an assignment.”
“Having more time to actually recover has made a big difference, touch wood, I've been injury-free for the longest period of my career so far.”
Her work was always supportive of her endeavours and she says that working with young people with behavioural challenges is something she may return to after trampolining: “To be in a position where you can make a change to someone's life is a rewarding place to be.”
Her passion for her job motivated her decision to study psychology for six years, something that she did alongside her husband – they both graduated in June 2019.
Looking back now, Gallagher isn’t sure how she did it: “You forget how you managed to fit everything in. I don't know what I was running on.”
She laughs as she says how much changed in the six years she was studying: she got married, bought a house and got a mortgage. “So much happened. It was quite overwhelming when I finished, a sense of pride that I've never really experienced before.”
2020 will be a busy year for Gallagher. She has a World Cup in Azerbaijan in February, another World Cup in April and the European Championships in May before a potential place in Tokyo. Whatever comes her way, it looks exciting – she is sure to take it in her stride.News Now - Sport News