News & Updates

19 May 2021 • High Performance

Jess Gillan calls time on illustrious career with an exciting announcement

New Zealand para throwing star Jess Gillan (nee Hamill) has announced she is pregnant with twins and will formally retire from athletics to focus on the next chapter of her life.

The 30-year-old athlete, who had met the qualification standard for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, can look back with an immense amount of pride on a lengthy international career which harvested a Paralympic bronze, Commonwealth silver and three World Para Athletics medals.

Dunedin-based Jess is currently 15 weeks pregnant. Married to husband, Dale, the twins are due to be born in November and the shot put ace is at peace with her decision to step away from the sport.

“Part of me feels sad that I will not be competing in Tokyo, but I am ready and excited to take on the next challenge in my life,” explains Jess. “I feel blessed that I am able to carry babies, and I can look back on my athletics career and feel very happy, satisfied and honoured with what I’ve achieved.”

Born and raised in Invercargill, Jess, who was born with cerebral palsy, took up athletics at the age of 15 and enjoyed a meteoric rise, winning shot put F34 gold the following year at the 2006 IPC World Athletics Championships (now known as the World Para Athletics Championships) in Assen, Holland.

Two years later at the age of 18 – and now under the coaching guidance of Raylene Bates – she made her Paralympic debut in Beijing, finishing 7th in the discus F32-34, 10TH in the javelin F32-34 and 11th in the shot put F32-34.

In 2010 she enjoyed more international success, winning a shot put F32-34 silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. However, after missing out on qualification for the 2012 London Paralympic Games she took an extended break from the sport. Jess moved to Christchurch and took on some new life experiences before returning to training under the coaching of Raylene in mid-2014. The following year she returned to Dunedin and went on to win an emotional shot F34 silver at the World Para Athletics Championships in Doha.

“Doha was one of the best athletics competitions of my life,” she explains. “After taking time away from the sport it had been a hard road back, so to win a medal was an awesome feeling. It was so good to be back again competing on the world stage.”

The following year she overcame a serious ear infection to enjoy the highlight of career, winning a shot put F34 bronze medal at the Rio Paralympic Games – an experience she describes as “like a dream.”

In 2017, the New Zealand athlete maintained her streak of global medals by winning F34 shot bronze at the World Para Athletics Championships in London.

Jess experienced the misfortune of breaking her leg in two separate occasions in 2018, but bounced back to make the team for the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai. Despite suffering a leg infection which hospitalised the South Islander for four days in pre-camp in Darwin, Jess still performed with pride, placing fourth in the final – just 7cm shy of the medal podium. Jess achieved a lifetime best of 7.84m for the shot F34.

Now the file clerk will turn her attention to the next phase of life, satisfied in the knowledge she enjoyed a highly accomplished career.

“I look back to when I was kid just starting out in the sport and to think where my career has taken me is pretty amazing,” she adds. “I may not have not won gold (on the global stage) but I have many special memories. I feel my athletics career is complete and I would like to thank everyone who has supported me in my track and field journey.

“I now look forward to following my former team-mates compete at the Paralympic Games. It will be very emotional watching them on TV. I wish them all the best.”

Long-time coach Raylene Bates – Athletics NZ Para Athletics Lead Coach – also pays a glowing tribute to Jess’ medal-laden career.

“Jess is a real fighter, who has overcome setback after setback and still been able to perform on the world stage,” explains Raylene. “She epitomises what it takes to be successful and having watched her journey from a teenager into a blossoming young women has been fantastic. She is the most revered athlete I’ve worked with and she has been a huge part of my life for the past 15 years.”

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