James in action
My story starts off a little differently to most other disabled athletes, I was born with a congenital disability called femoral dysplasia of the left leg. I first started out at an Able bodied swimming club whilst I was living in S.H.A.P.E, Belgium. I started quite late as a swimmer only taking up the sport at 11. It was one of my coaches that who asked me, “why don’t you try disabled swimming”, I was probably taken a back by that comment, as I thought “why would I compete with disabled people when I am able within reason to compete with my able bodied peers.” Maybe it was me being a typical teenager and not wanting to conform or maybe as I see it now looking back at it,perhaps I was looking down on disability sport. I only got involved in disability sport in 2002 at the age of 16. But I do believe that it was the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games, that were the spring board to what would be my future career as a paralympic athlete. The story goes “It was our last opportunity to become involved in the Welsh swimming programme. So, my mother went to the bottom of the temporary stands and shouted ‘Is anybody there from Welsh Swimming and the then head coach Alan Isles came over to chat to us’ It is also a story Alan Isles would relate to other people.
Disability Sport Wales opened up a totally new world to me.
Highs and lows along the way: It was quite a quick raise from starting only starting out in disability sport in 2002, by 2003 I had already broken onto the British Swimming’s Potential Squad. However, by the Christmas of 2005 I had been dropped from programme, I went home thinking after the holidays I’m going to be going back to university and become a normal student, but our Performance Director at Disability Sport Wales (DSW) Anthony Highest had other ideas, he asked me if I would like to try rowing, I dually excepted the challenge with probably a bit of reluctance but as you say the rest is history and in short I went on to compete at 3 world championships and finished 5th in the final of the Beijing 2008 Paralympics. Possibly finally forfilling some of the potential I had shown during swimming career. The 2009 season began and their is talk of me being reclassified, I had a meeting with the Head Coach of GB Adaptive Rowing Thomas Dyson, DSW Performance Director Anthony Hughes, then Head Coach of Welsh Rowing Ian Shore and my club coach at City of Swansea RC to discuss the implications of the reclassification, in short it was to be my last season with GB Rowing. But both the team and I did our upmost to go with a bang and to try and finish with a medal at the 2009 World Championships in Poznan, Poland. But it turned out not too be, the boat however went under the previous world best time, scant consolation when you have been beaten by 4 other crews on the day. We go full circle again but this time I was in my final year of my Sports Science degree at Swansea University, I was wanting to solely concentrate on my degree and possibly dabble with sport at university to keep me sain. With the London paralympics only 3 years away at this point, I’m asked would I give sitting volleyball a go. I’m 100% certain now looking back at it, that subconsciously I never wanted to put my sport on hold until I finished my degree. It was a bit more of a waiting game with volleyball then had been the case with rowing. However, to my surprise at the time i receive an unexpected call up to the World Championships in Edmund, Oklahoma. I jumped out another opportunity to represent my country, then the team were looking at going full time and being based at Roehampton University in London. I’d had to make that same decision 4 years previously with rowing about moving, but this time was a little bit easier as I had less factors to consider and 2008 had turned to be great decision as I was selected to represent GB in the Paralympics.
Since my retirement from performance disability sport, I have came back to Prestatyn, North Wales and have been involved in Wheelchair Basketball ever since helping Rhyl Raptors now more recently North Wales Knights climb the division ladders of Wheelchair Basketball in Britain. Furthermore, I have become a personal trainer, it’s a very rewarding job as I am able to help people reach their goals.
All this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the coaches at the SHAPE seals, SPH Fleurus, ONS Soignies, City of Bangor SC, City of Swansea RC, Welsh Rowing, Disability Sport Wales and in particular Anthony Hughes and most importantly the support of my family and friends.