Riding tandem with para-athlete Jessica Gallagher for the first time was the scariest thing Maddie Jannsen has ever done - but it’s also proved to be one of the best decisions she made.
Maddie Jannsen

13 May 2016 - 11:25 AM  UPDATED 13 May 2016 - 11:30 AM

Okay – so let’s make this short story of what I always tell you all into a long one of how I decided to move to Melbourne to be a tandem pilot....

On the 18th of May last year I got a call from head coach of VIS Glenn Doney. It was was a very overwhelming phone call. He started off by telling me he had a vision impaired rider, Jessica Gallagher, who needed a pilot for the upcoming season with her main goal being RIO Paralympics 2016.

As an athlete very use to only performing for herself from a BMX background, I wasn't totally sure on how to process what I was being offered.

Glenn told me they weren't quite sure whether Jess was a sprinter or an enduro, so Jess and her old pilot, also named Jess, competed at the Para-Nationals in 2014 to put this to the test. It turns out Jess is a sprinter because why would I be here otherwise!

Learning to fly

Glenn continued to tell me that he and a few others were watching me at the previous national titles held in Melbourne earlier in the year (2015). They didn't have a clue who I was so they decided to call me ‘pink shoes’.

Back to the phone call…. we booked some flights for a day trip to Melbourne for the 3rd of June – I was told no decisions were to be made on the day and it was just a day for riding with Jess and seeing if I liked the tandem and if Jess liked me piloting her.

On the 3rd of June – I jumped on the plane to Melbourne and off I went.

I met Glenn and Jess at the track and I got fitted up to the tandem. We got straight into it with me just doing some laps around the track without Jess on the back.

I’ve only ridden a boarded track 3 times I was a little nervous, then having to go on it on the tandem, made me even more nervous, then putting Jess on the back – even more terrifying – THEN Glenn decided our first effort would be a flying 200m, let's just say I was on a whole new level of scared, this was probably the most scariest thing I had ever done.


Our first session ended, overall it was fun. Jess then took me to a café for lunch, which was lovely. Then back to the track for our second session where we did some starts and more gelling so we could get use to each other. In the afternoon I got in a taxi from the track and headed to the airport.

I loved riding the tandem, but it was also up to Glenn and Jess if they thought I had what it took to potentially get us both to the Paralympic Games the next year.

An offer she couldn’t refuse

I got off the plane on the Gold Coast – turned on my phone and I had a message from Glenn saying ‘Now you get to speak to your support network and make some informed decisions’.

I got this text and didn't know exactly how to feel… I was nervous, scared, excited and was exactly sure on what to pick, I knew it was a great opportunity for myself and knew it would take me places I had never been and experienced before. I loved where I lived and loved everyone around me. This decision would mean leaving my loved ones for a short while until we knew 120% what was happening.

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