How a ‘running giraffe’ found winning life in the pool
Erin Gallagher can't run to save her life, but has just notched up four world champs qualifying times
Erin Gallagher notched up more world championship qualifying times – four – than anyone else at the SA trials in Durban that ended on Sunday.
While Tatjana Schoenmaker is the poster girl for the resurgence of SA women’s swimming, 19-year-old Gallagher is not too far behind. Gallagher might not have won silverware at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games earlier this year, but she still caught the eye.
The story goes that one of the Australian Campbell sisters, multiple Olympic medallist Cate, went up to one of the SA coaches there and said she was watching the ever-improving Gallagher closely.
But Gallagher nearly didn’t even get this far after lengthy injuries nearly scuppered her career. First her right shoulder went and then she dislocated her knee while learning to sokkie at a matric dance.“I lost interest in swimming and lost sight of my goals, just because nothing worked, my shoulder just wasn’t getting better,” she said in an interview.
Training was difficult because when her shoulder hurt she kicked harder to compensate, but then her knee would hurt.
“I nearly gave up swimming [in 2016] but then I met my strength conditioner [Richard Tyler] and honestly he was my saving grace. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be swimming right now,” said Gallagher, who had struggled with a virus ahead of the trials.She and Schoenmaker were the only two to break SA records at the King’s Park pool. They were among 10 local swimmers, four of them women, to meet the selection criteria for the world short-course championships in China from December 11-16.
As a child Gallagher excelled in water polo, softball and hockey, but initially she disliked swimming.
“I absolutely hated swimming, but I made the school team and I think I made my first KZN team with like training once or twice a week so the coach was like: ‘You know what, if you actually applied yourself you can do so much better than just making the team’.”
In high school the penny finally dropped. “I realised that if you apply yourself, you do better in competition, you do better in competition you’re happier, you’re happier train harder. I just wanted to put my head down and train as hard as possible to see what I’m actually capable of.”
As it turned out, she lost some ability in her other sports.
“As I’m getting older my hand-eye coordination is getting much worse. I realised I’m not built for land, I’m built for water that’s for sure. If you’ve ever seen me run you’ll completely understand, I literally look like a giraffe running in slow motion.”