Updated: Mar 5
Behind Jess Gallivan’s smile is unbreakable character and unwavering empathy
A decade ago, Jess Gallivan had her future mapped out. At the age of eleven she was a junior gymnastics champion, an accomplished dancer and an academic high-achiever
with plans to study and practice medicine. Almost overnight, though, the picture changed. Jess suddenly found herself unable to walk, unable even to get out of bed, and a long struggle to identify her condition began. Over the five years that followed she would be
misdiagnosed, cut adrift by the educational system and left to wonder if the good things she’d worked so hard for as a child would ever come her way as an adult. Eventually her condition was identified as Joint Hypermobility Syndrome. It affects young people with flexible joints, which means up to 20% of Britain’s children are potentially at risk.
The symptoms, which in Jess’s case were extreme and life-changing, include acute pain in the joints and muscles and severe fatigue. The girl who had been an award-winning gymnast and dancer missed an entire year of school and a future full of bright certainties looked lost.
Debilitating illness can take many things away from us, but there were things it couldn’t take from Jess Gallivan.
The love and support of her mother, Swansea community stalwart Amanda Gallivan, was a constant, and the biggest game-changer was her own strength of character.
Teachers who’d questioned her honesty and commitment when she was unable to walk up the stairs to attend classes were left red-faced when Jess flew through her GCSEs, achieving a string of A grades.
Those who thought she would let illness define her life had to think again when she was Swansea’s nominee in the 2019 Miss Wales pageant. And through hard work and extensive physical therapy, Jess is dancing again.
What’s next for this admirable young woman? Community work in Swansea’s Christ Well Church has given Jess huge satisfaction and sparked a range of career plans. First on the list is a degree in counselling, which, combined with her natural empathy and compassion, will equip her to support people facing the kind of problems she’s experienced herself.
In Jess’s own words:
“When I think of people going through the trauma I went through, particularly if they are too young to fully understand what’s happening to them, it makes me determined to help. I want to be a person they can turn to. I want to give them the advice and support I wish had been available to me when I really needed it.”
Following in her mother’s distinguished footsteps, Jess is also committed to bringing people of different generations together. In 2021 she is uniting people in song, forming a community choir comprising people of all ages and backgrounds. And this summer, Jess will
help to launch the Wales Human Library. Currently restricted to online use only, the library will be a forum for people to share their experiences, “borrowing” and “lending” knowledge and memories from those around them. It will be a vehicle for tolerance and unity, and no
one is better qualified to be its heart than Jess Gallivan.
It’s an over-simplification to say the first part of our lives is a learning experience. Every day of our lives is both a learning experience and an opportunity for action that may never come again. Jess Gallivan understands that very well, and while she remembers the pain of a child who had time and opportunities cruelly taken from her, she also glows with the pride of a young woman who has learned hard lessons and is now determined to put them to good use to benefit others.
She’s a communicator, a mentor and a role model. And she’s still dancing.