Allyson Gallagher could have called it a career.
Instead, she went back to the drawing board and came up with a great backup plan.
Gallagher is a senior at Villa Joseph Marie High School and when the Pine Valley resident got to high school, she was a soccer star who also was a very good basketball player.
Then, after sustaining her fifth concussion in three years, she was faced with the reality of being done with sports.
Well, the sports she knew, anyway.
“The concussions were pretty bad, and I missed a lot of time with all of them,” Gallagher said. “The first one, I went face first into the basketball court, it was a freak accident. Half were (because I’m aggressive) and the other half were just bad luck. Some of them were really bad. But after the last one, I wanted to come back, but my doctors said I couldn’t. I was done. It was hard because I’ve played sports my whole life.”
That was it for contact sports. But Gallagher and her parents started thinking about noncontact sports. Her high school has only two, golf and crew.
Her parents pushed for crew, even though Gallagher was a bit skeptical, but parents know best, apparently because it was the best choice for her.
And ever since she’s been part of the crew, things have been going great.
“Golf was great, but I didn’t like it as much because, not that it’s not challenging, but it’s not as much cardio and that’s something I enjoyed,” Gallagher said. “But it was a big adjustment to start (crew). I came out for the team, and started out on the novice boat, but then pretty quickly I was pulled up to varsity and I’ve been there ever since.”
It was a quick transition, but not an easy one.
Gallagher was a tremendous athlete and she proved it every time she stepped on the basketball court or soccer field, but getting in a shell is completely different than scoring goals or draining a three-pointer. It was completely different than anything Gallagher ever did, so it took a lot of hard work and focus to get up to speed.
“It was tough at first not playing the other sports because I was watching my teammates play and I couldn’t be out there,” Gallagher said. “I definitely didn’t think it was as hard as it was. I didn’t think it would be this challenging, but it’s pretty difficult. You work every muscle. It’s a very good full-body workout.
“It took some time to get used to. I played sports with a ball, crew is completely different. Not used to it at all, but it was intriguing going out of my comfort zone.
“The hardest thing was you had to do everything in the right order or you wouldn’t do it right. Taking a stroke is six different pieces, and each piece affects the boat and your rowers. You have to follow it and follow other rowers in the boat.”
Gallagher took some time to get used to it, but she clearly proved she belonged on varsity. During her sophomore year, she was on the boat that competed in nationals. And now she knows she’ll be doing it beyond her days in high school.
Gallagher will continue her rowing career next year at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. She made it official on national signing day.
“I really liked the coaches when I went there, they were great, and I really like the campus because it’s an enclosed campus, which it is, but Pittsburgh is right there, so it’s really the best of both worlds,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher is happy she now has a sport she loves and she knows what she’ll be doing in the future. But she’s not ready to take it easy.
Last year, like all spring athletes, she was unable to compete, but it didn’t stop her from putting in the work.
“Our coach (John Musial) made sure anyone who didn’t have a rowing machine had one so we could keep working out,” Gallagher said. “He’s been so great, he really helped me a lot. He believed in me and brought me up when I was a sophomore, and helped me a lot.
“It’s a grind. We practice nine months, soccer is the fall, basketball is the winter. We have fall season, winter training and spring is when we get our racing done. Definitely takes a lot of stamina, physically and mentally.”
She’s set for that. And now she’s also ready to start studying to be a physical therapist, having been accepted into an accelerated program.
“The program is six years,” Gallagher said. “I think I’ll really like physical therapy because I had to do it when I had my concussions and I want to be in a position where I can help people.”
She also has another reason for it.
She’s very close with her brother, Jack, 13. The two are very close, and he’s had help. She would like to be the same positive influence on someone.
“We had a lot of therapists in the house and they helped my brother a lot, and I see what they can do,” said Gallagher, an honor student who is involved in Athletes Helping Athletes, community service and the vice president of the global issues club, a group that discusses foreign affairs. “I know it’s going to be challenging, but I think it’s something I’ll enjoy. It’s a great program. I’m looking forward to it.”