ATHLETES PRIMED FOR GAMES
BROKEN JAW PUT GALLAGHER ON OLYMPIC GAMES PATH
Tom Gallagher might be the only Paralympian who is in Tokyo because of a busted jaw.
The Australian swimmer will make his Games debut next week, with his main event the 400m freestyle on September 1.
The 22-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, moved from Western Australia to Currumbin on the Gold Coast two years ago to further his surf lifesaving career.
Last November, Gallagher was training in the surf when he was hit in the face and suffered a jaw fracture.
While he had to take a break from surf paddling and board paddling, he could still swim.
So Gallagher switched to the pool full-time.
Competing in the S9 category, he made rapid progress and was picked for Tokyo.
‘‘The transition from the surf club to swimming was pretty immediate and spontaneous, but I suppose I was always thinking about doing the para side of swimming because I’ve always enjoyed the swim leg,’’ he said.
It is also not lost on Gallagher that the year’s delay because of COVID-19 meant the Games fell in his lap.
‘‘The delay worked quite well for me, because otherwise there was no way I was going to be able to transition in time,’’ he said.
‘‘Obviously for other athletes, it’s hindered their preparation, but it’s been advantageous for me and it’s the reason I’m here.’’
Gallagher competed in open surf lifesaving events, where he was ‘‘fairly competitive’’, and that proved solid preparation for para swimming.
‘‘It has prepped quite well, but I have always been the underdog in the surf events,’’ he said.
‘‘I suppose in the Paras, everyone is on an equal playing field.
‘‘To just do the swimming these days, it’s definitely easier on the body. There’s a lot less injury and it’s easier for me to recover. There’s a lot less danger in swimming, compared to the ocean.’’
Gallagher said he was unfazed by the pressure of the Paralympics, saying whatever the level of the competition the principle stayed the same — turn up and do your best.
Likewise, while he is a Paralympics rookie, the COVID-19 restrictions means this is a novel event for everyone.
‘‘In many aspects, we are kind of all in the same boat, because of COVID, it is a completely different Games for many people,’’ Gallagher, who will also compete in the 50m and 100m freestyle and the relays, said.
‘‘I’ve been listening and absorbing everything. I know what I need to do and I’m here now.
‘‘You have to adapt and perform on the day. A PB would be nice and a medal would be even better.’’