By her own admission, Erin Gallagher has spent the past few months thinking about nothing else other than the Commonwealth Games, writes GARY LEMKE in the Gold Coast.
‘I’ve given up studying for the year and I knew that my focus was on these Games. My life has revolved around swimming this last year, I’ve had no time to study, or even breathe for that matter. I eat, sleep swimming all day long, every day.’
That’s some sacrifice for someone who only turned 19 in December. While others her age are out there pushing the boundaries as they go through the next uncertain phase of life’s journey, Gallagher knows which direction she is headed. Four years ago, still just 15, she attended her first senior Commonwealth Games as a part of the Team SA relay squad. Perhaps she also heard the rumours, that here was the next Penny Heyns.
No pressure then, trying to emulate the greatest female swimmer that South Africa has produced. ‘Yes, I read some of that stuff and obviously it’s flattering to be mentioned like that but I’m here to do my own thing. I’m looking to swim fast, post a few personal bests and hopefully get some Olympic qualifying times in the process so that I can get that pressure off my shoulders early.
‘This is different to 2014 where I was the youngest on the team and I’m now older, with a bit more pressure, more expectations. I know I can handle the pressure, and I’m feeling confident in the water.’
Gallagher is versatile, hardworking and a popular member of Team SA’s swim squad and she is no longer the ‘newbie’ on the roster, which will be to her advantage. ‘I’m getting more excited by the day,’ she said. ‘I’ve seen the pool, and it’s absolutely beautiful. We’ve been here [in the Gold Coast] for nine days and the first time we drove past, I saw the stands … they were ginormous! I thought I was going to vomit, that’s how daunting it looked! But, after getting into the pool, things felt great in the water and I’ve got a lot of confidence and excited as to what to expect.’
The South African has a busy schedule lined up but as she gets into serious competition mode, she’s looking forward to being one of the early competitors in action. ‘I start on the first day [Thursday] with the 100m butterfly. There’s the heats in the morning and the semis later in the evening with the final the following night. That’s three swims in two days, which is different because in South Africa we’re used to two swims – heats and final.
‘I think it’s a fast pool, but much depends on the weather. There’s no roof, which is strange. I swam in the rain and the wind the other night and I’d never experienced that before. We were in Stellenbosch a month ago, in an outdoor pool, but it wasn’t rainy or windy, although I suppose there’s not much wind later in the evening?
‘The morning heats are from 10:30am and later we start racing at 7:30pm. The programme finishes around 10:30pm, after which we’ll come back and have dinner, so all swimmers have to adjust. We’ve been eating breakfast at 9:00am and going to bed at 11:00pm to wake up at 7:00 or 8:00am.
‘The novelty of the village has worn off and now we’re sitting back and focusing on the swimming.’
Gallagher has arrived in the Gold Coast having overcome what she describes as ‘a few complications’ of injury, illness and a freak accident. ‘I battled with my shoulder for a little bit and spent a week out the water and then was sick which kept me out for another week in the build-up. Then, on the way here I hurt my right knee … we were having a photo taken and I was squatting and when I got up I hurt it … almost dislocated it! But, the physios have been tremendous and they strapped and iced it, gave me compression socks and medicine that I can take. I’m now ready and raring to go. I think there’ll be a lot of good swims coming from Team SA.’
And one hopes that among those good swims come a couple for one of the brightest talents on the South African stage, now ready to showcase that talent to the Commonwealth – and beyond.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images