I wrongly assumed that Bradley Gallagher, who trained Shannan Taylor to a world boxing title, would be the type of guy who stands out from the crowd – or at the very least, would be at the centre of a crowd.
So it takes a while to spot a smiling and waving Gallagher, sitting by himself in a corner of his favourite Wollongong cafe.
He swiftly takes care of an order for cappuccino and sits back down, removing his glasses. They’re not trendy sunglasses – these are prescription glasses.
With the glasses off, he points to the swelling at the corner of his right eye. It’s not a battle scar from boxing – it’s from a far bigger bout Gallagher is fighting. It doesn’t last just a few rounds, but a lifetime. His contender is epilepsy.
‘‘I haven’t fallen in months and now I’ve had two in 10 days,’’ he says rubbing the recovering fractured eye socket.
He explains that he seems to fall onto his right side the majority of times since a seizure almost four years ago had him hospitalised for six months.
Gallagher was paralysed down his left side and had to learn to walk and talk again. He stutters (although it’s hardly noticeable during the interview), has to wear glasses, is unable to work or drive, and has to live with his parents. He reckons his memory is also deteriorating. There are weekly visits to the neurologist and he is receiving ongoing treatment for depression.
‘‘I live my day every day with a constant headache,’’ he says.
But Gallagher isn’t letting epilepsy hold him against the ropes, for he has worked out that he can keep the seizures at bay by keeping busy.
And the 33-year-old is too much of a fighter to be content with just looking after himself. He wants his fight to also help kids with epilepsy who are going through what he did at school.
‘‘There are kids out there with epilepsy thinking they can’t do anything,’’ the former Figtree student says.
‘‘The biggest thing is to not let it get you down.
‘‘I want to help kids because I got bullied as a kid.
‘‘When I was having fits in front of everyone, that was really embarrassing.’’
Gallagher remembers how the kids at school would laugh at him when he shared his dream that he would one day train a champion boxer.
But he showed them, becoming a professional boxing trainer at just 16.
Gallagher’s dream came true when he and fellow trainer Frank Gatt were with Shannan Taylor when he took out the WBF middleweight title against Sonni Michael Angelo in September, 2007.
‘‘I think I was born with boxing gloves on,’’ Gallagher says, adding that he also swims to manage the epilepsy.
‘‘Sport’s helped me get through it.’’
Dad William, also known as ‘‘Billy’’, a Wollongong boxer himself, introduced Gallagher to the sport. He remembers watching Shannan Taylor in his first fight.
It was around this time, about the age of 10, that Gallagher was diagnosed with epilepsy after having a seizure while shopping with his mum.
There is no history of epilepsy in his family, although one of his two sisters, Kellie, recovered from a brief brush with adolescent seizures as a 17-year-old.
‘‘I’m allergic to bees, I’m allergic to honey and I’ve got epilepsy,’’ Gallagher says with a chuckle.
He tells of the different seizures he endures – absent, grand mal and pseudo seizures.
‘‘The pseudo seizures are caused by stress, the grand mal seizures make it feel like you’ve just run 10 kilometres.’’
Absent seizures are common – they may be as simple as a blank stare, looking off into space for about 30 seconds, through to having convulsions.
He recalls how he had an episode in the cafe we are in. ‘‘I vomited and wet myself and woke up on the floor and had no memory of what happened.’’
Epilepsy also cost him his job at the wharf about five years ago and the illness has deemed him unemployable since.
At 29, Gallagher thought he’d endured all the punches epilepsy could throw.
Then, one day in November 2009, the illness took him down for the count.
‘‘That morning I struggled to get out of bed and fell,’’ he recalls.
‘‘I pushed myself to walk to the servo and get the paper. My speech was slurred and they thought I was drunk. I trained at the Wollongong PCYC and they thought I was drunk. I noticed I was getting tired and losing my balance.’’
Within hours, Gallagher was admitted to Wollongong Hospital.
‘‘They said I’d have trouble walking again, I couldn’t train and I was unemployable,’’ he says.
He spent three weeks at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Randwick and his mum Kim wouldn’t leave his side for days at a time.
‘‘Mum was in hospital every day and she stayed in my room for two weeks,’’ he says.
Gallagher, a straight shooter, doesn’t try to hide his emotions. The thought of his mum’s kindness brings him to tears.
‘‘Every time I’d wake from seizures mum was there.’’
There’s no looking past the fact that Gallagher wears his heart on his sleeve. He is cemented in Wollongong’s sporting culture, yet he’s a philosophical guy, just wanting to make things better for everyone.
There are days that he’s training Wollongong’s top athletes, and on others he’s teaching boxing to his young nieces and nephews in the family garage. They’re both just as important to him.
He says he is humbled by the support he’s received through the good times and bad and lists Cutters coach Paul McGregor and player Nick Emmett, Wollongong Wolves president Chris Agno, and boxers Brad Viegel and Shannan Taylor among the mates who’ve given him strength through the worst times.
But Gallagher is confident he is past those worst days. He is now focused on keeping himself busy and using his sporting nous to help others.
He has started Australia’s first aquaboxing classes, here in Wollongong, combining his passions of boxing and swimming. He also helps out the Click Foundation, which provides epilepsy education to school children, while continuing to help train footballers from the St George Illawarra Dragons and Illawarra Cutters.
There would be nothing worse than to sit around on the pension, he says.
‘‘I’ve gotta keep going, as soon as I stop I have seizures,’’ he says, adding that most of his seizures happen while he is sleeping.
‘‘Every day I’d get stuck in a rut if it wasn’t for the aquaboxing.’’
Gallagher admits he still struggles with daily routines, although apart from a slight tremor in the hand over a cup of coffee, he seems like any ordinary guy in T-shirt and jeans.
‘‘It gets hard, when I’m eating out and shaking,’’ he says, holding out his trembling left hand.
‘‘I wake up and have to stretch [from the soreness of the overnight seizures]; I have trouble making coffee, then I take my medication. I have medication at lunch and at night I take it to help me sleep. I take about 10 tablets a day.’’
Gallagher laughs at how the long hospital stay had its benefits – it was there that he met his girlfriend, who was visiting a relative also staying at the hospital. And he’s now training some of the nurses that had looked after him.
‘‘You’ve got to keep a smile on your face and look at the different sides of life and come out the other side.’’