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ALED SION DAVIES
FOLLOWING THE FLAME LIVING ARCHIVE / PEOPLE’S COLLECTION INTERVIEW

conducted by Phil Cope
10 October 2014, Sport Wales National Centre, Cardiff 

My name is Aled Sion Davies. I was born in Bridgend on 25 May 1991.

A water baby

I was lucky, really. I was brought up by a very sporting family and being born with my disability, I didn’t know any different. My brother was a swimmer for Wales and Great Britain, and I think that’s where it started for me. With my operations, it was a non weight-bearing sport, it was a great part of physiotherapy. I was in the pool all the time. It went from there, wanting to beat my brother, the competitiveness, and that’s when I fell in love with sport. I saw myself as a water baby but obviously as I grew older I grew bigger. I was opened up to the world of Paralympic sport.

I was born with a disability called hemilia. My leg was wrapped around my shoulder and they had to break it and manually put it into some sort of shape of a leg. I wasn’t born with a bone or ligaments or a foot so they had to manually create that. It doesn’t grow, so every year until I was 18, I had to have a leg lengthening where I had a frame to manually lengthen my leg to make sure it grew to the same length. Most people today who are born with something similar, they have it amputated at birth, straight away.

I’ve been such a driven individual because of the way I was brought up by my parents. I always wanted to make them proud, and they’ve always given me the opportunities to try everything and for me to fulfill my potential. I always recall watching the Olympics in 2004 in Athens and I’m not sure who won the Gold; it might have been Ian Thorpe, I think, in the swimming, and I said, “I want that! That will be me, one day!” We all chuckled and chuckled it off as if it was nothing, but who would have known!

Some crazy aspiration

When I first started, it was just swimming. It was easy for me with my leg being so weak. I couldn’t run or do any contact sports and it helped that my brother was a swimmer, as well. He has always been my inspiration, growing up and urging me on to be better and I did that until I was about 13/14 years old. It was 2005 when it changed for me, when I found out that London had won the bid and I had some crazy aspiration to make it to the Games, and I knew swimming wasn’t where my talents were.

Growing up, I didn’t know anything about Paralympic sport. I didn’t even see myself as a person or individual with a disability, which was obviously something hard to accept when I was about 15/16. I thoroughly enjoyed sport and I competed in able-bodied all my life, and I compete able-bodied now. I think I’m a full believer that we need to break down those barriers. There shouldn’t be a divide between able-bodied and Paralympic, but when I was opened up to the world of Paralympic sport it took me from being just an average athlete to being on a level playing field, and then having these opportunities to win and chase that dream of glory.

My mum came across an advertisement in the paper. It was the Bridgend Shark Swimming Club and I was taken along. I didn’t want to go at first because I didn’t want to associate myself with a disability. It was a massive eye opener for me and I became very successful quite quickly, making a Wales Academy and also a Great Britain at a junior level. I was told back in 2004 / 2005 that if I was thinking of doing this seriously, then I would probably be a contender for 2016, which back then was a long way away and you don’t want to be told that when you’re that young, especially when we just found out that London was going to host the Games in 2012. So, I was adamant that I had a hidden talent somewhere else and I went through a talent identification system where I was recycled by Disability Sport Wales and I tried every sport under the sun.

I actually found out that I was good at rowing, cycling and athletics and quite a lot of people wanted me in their sport and they were fighting for me, but it was Anthony Hughes that got me into athletics. I was doing every discipline when I was younger, but when I picked up the discus and the shot put he said I had a natural arm, as if I had done it before, and I think that’s when I realized, “Maybe this is my hidden talent”. And he told me back then that he could make me into a Paralympic Gold medalist, which was a very bold statement to make.

It’s still crazy to think that he got me to where I am today and I’ll always be grateful for that, wherever my career takes me, but to tell someone at such a young age, who has never been in the sport before, that they can make you into the best, you had to have a lot of confidence, but he obviously saw something in me that no one else did.

A proud Welshman

Wales is something that is very very close to my heart. I’m a very very proud Welshman. To this day, and I know throughout my career, there would never be a bigger honour than captaining your team into a Commonwealth Games. Just going out there with the red, green and white is something you can’t describe. We are such patriotic people. It was the nights of staying up and listening to Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau that got all the emotions flowing. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me in the Commonwealth Games and I think it was even worse that I lost to an Englishman, but I think it’s going to make me who I am and I’m learning from it now and I’m seeing it as a blessing in disguise. I was undefeated for three / four years going into this event, riding the wave, and I think it gave me a shake-up, thinking, “You need to keep pushing forward, you need to keep pushing the event, because people are catching me up now”, and with Rio around the corner, I need to defend my Gold. If I’m competing for Great Britain, I’m putting Wales on the map and it’s showing that Wales has a lot of talent.

A lot of people think it’s cheesy but there’s a big difference … you look at the Welsh within that British team. They compete with heart and I think that’s the difference between us and the other regions within Great Britain. I have a respect for all the countries but there’s no one who puts their heart and soul on the line when it comes to competing, whether it’s performing arts, music, sport, we always give it our all. I go around Europe, I go around the world competing for Great Britain and they ask where you’re from and I say, “Wales”, and they know because they know of the talent that’s come out of Wales, and I think that is so important now that we keep going, we keep putting Wales on the map, and we can inspire the youngsters then that come through. You look at the stats from the Commonwealth Games, the population per head, we have the most medals. It speaks for itself.

London gold

I think what’s exciting about the throwing events is that it lasts from about 45 minutes to an hour. It has so many different people from across the world as well, and there’s so many different kinds of techniques. It’s the oldest discipline, as well. I think people forget that, that the discus goes way back, and I think it combines so many elements in terms of training. You go in rounds, so say there’s eight in an event, then there’s eight in a round and you can be leading one minute and you can be last the second, and I think that is the exciting part. When we look at London, I was in Gold medal position going in to the last round and there was only one guy who could take it off me, the Uranian. He put out a lifetime best that was close to taking the Gold. He had everyone on edge. You could hear a pin drop in that stadium. And then when it came up on the board that he hadn’t done it, it was just a massive relief, and the emotions come flooding out, but then I only had one throw to really show the crowd what I had and just wipe the spectators away.

When I speak to youngsters they’re all about, “How did you get the Gold medal? How do you keep your head in it?” And I think the key factor is to make sure you enjoy the sport. I love what I do. I don’t have a morning where I get up and think, “Oh, I can’t be arsed to go and throw.” That’s the last thing that’s on my mind, because I get up and I’m excited. It’s like having your dream job. So, as long as you’re enjoying it, everything else will fall into place … but it takes commitment and a lot of dedication. The amount of times that I’ve had to sacrifice hanging out with my friends on the weekend, especially going into London. There was a year where I lived in a room on my own and I cut myself off from the world, but when you’re out there and you deliver the best performance you can and you’re very proud and you’ve made everyone else proud, those are the moments that you think, “Well, this is why I sacrificed so much.” You’ve got to put in the hard work beforehand. It doesn’t just happen overnight. It was eight years of hard work that got me to that Gold medal in London, and it’s going to have to double now going up into Rio. The hard work, it’s always worse when you’re at the top, because you’re here to be hit off and everyone wants to beat you, but you’ve got to keep pushing the records, keep pushing the barrier away from everyone else, and it only gets harder from here.

pushing the barriers 

I love training. I get up in the morning and I get to go to the gym, and some people see 
that as a chore but for me, personally, I love it. I train hard and I see the results when I throw. I love pushing the barriers and I want to take it to the next level and have even to this day crazy aspirations of making an able-bodied vest, whether it’s for Wales or Great Britain, and the only way I’m going to do that is by progressing, which takes a lot of hard work and training. It would be a nightmare if I hated it. I can get up at seven o’clock on a Sunday and go and graft when most people want to stay in bed.



The class system

Paralympic sport is very hard to follow and spectators don’t really get it, entirely. They split it into classifications, T and F, track and field, and then obviously a number. The number is your disability. For example, I compete in F42, so field as in the field events and 42 is amputee through the knee which is similar or equivalent to a leg amputee so everyone that I compete against has poor function from the knee down. It is so difficult if you’re an ambulant athlete, so sprinters, throwers, jumpers, if you’re standing up and you’ve got a blade or cerebral palsy, it’s quite easy to work out. The seated throws, however, are a nightmare because there is so many variations, so many different disabilities. You have 50 to 58, 58 being the most able seated thrower and then 50 to 51 being the most disabled seated thrower, and if you’re in between those you can either be the worst in one or at the higher end of the scale you could be the best in the other, and it’s so minor and difficult to understand, especially when you’re talking about paraplegics who have broken their back and it can be one vertebrae to another. It’s very difficult and, thankfully, I don’t have to go there, as I am an ambulant. It’s quite straight-forward with the ambulant throwers. There’s the blind classes, F11, 12, 13, pretty simple, 13 being blind, 11 being not so blind and then you have 40 to 46, 40 being dwarf, 41 being a tall dwarf, 42 me, 43 double below, 44 single below, 46 arm amputee. It’s the seated throws, the wheelchair races that are really hard to follow. 

At the moment, I think the IPC (the International Paralympic Committee), the governing body, are trying to put in a variation of events and disabilities into the Olympic programme. Unfortunately, they’ve gone the wrong way about it, because personally I think if you want to provide more opportunities for more disabilities and more events, then you do it at the lower levels and then, as it grows, put it into the bigger events. They’ve put some events into the programme in Rio and there’s no athletes competing in those categories, yet they take my event out which has 150 competitors worldwide. So there was a lot of questions asked and, this year, I think they’ve realised that they have dropped the ball. So, fingers crossed, we find out in March 2015 under the review if they will put my event back in, and, touch wood, I’m pretty confident that they will, because there is a demand there and obviously this year I’ve broken the world record in my category four times which shows that it’s active and competitive. When you saw in the Europeans, I had the biggest crowd, well, we had the biggest crowd as an event that came out and supported it, and they enjoyed it, and I think that’s what it’s all about, put on a good show and a competitive one, as well. We’re all close. People just want to see a good competition at the end of the day, whether it’s able-bodied or Paralympic sport.

Obviously, at the moment, I’m treating it as if it’s not in [for Rio 2016] and we’re just focusing on shot put, but fingers crossed, in March we will have some good news. Even next year in the World Champs, I have discus and shot put, so they know that it is a strong event.

I can be good 

I think, obviously, when I first came to the world of disability sport and before athletics, it was in swimming, and I have got about fifteen shoe boxes full of medals back home in minor events for Wales and across the board, but I think the first time that I sort of thought, “I reckon I can be pretty good at this” was the Junior Worlds in 2006. I had only been in the sport for a year, not even that, probably nine or ten months, and I was taken to the Junior World Championships where I think I got a Bronze, a Silver and a Gold (because I was doing the javelin back then, as well). Obviously, being a lot smaller and not so specific in terms of training, I could do a lot more events, but that for me was an eye-opener, going up against the best in the world at my age and being able to contend with medals already.

But I think from a personal goal, when I believed in myself and thought, “I can be good!” was coming off the podium in 2011, in the Senior World Championships in New Zealand. It says I won a Silver - that was by default. I won the Bronze and then upgraded to the Silver due to the old world record holder having a doping ban, the Gold medalist failing a drugs test. I came off that podium and I thought, “This dream of making London could become more of a reality. We can not just make it, we could possibly contend for a medal”. Then, it started getting exciting from there. I obviously finished off my second year and I went straight into a year of being a full-time athlete and I haven’t looked back since.

Devastated

Obviously, 2006 couldn’t have started off better. Ten months into the sport and I was a Junior World Champion and that was like, “Okay.” So, 2007 came along, I went up from the under 18s to the under 20s, to the Senior World Champs where I came fifth, I think, in the discus which was a phenomenal achievement for me and for Great Britain, as well. There were one or two people that weren’t there which boosted me up the rankings, but it gave Great Britain a place to Beijing and having attained two or three B standards for Beijing Paralympic Games, I actually thought I could make it. So, being young and not having a strong head on me to find out that I hadn’t made it into the Beijing Paralympic Team, I was absolutely devastated. They couldn’t really justify it as well, because they were, like, “You have to get an A standard.” But I had three B standards. “Surely, you saw potential at my age?” Being immature, I quit the sport … for four weeks, but you know, you rebuild and I thought, “Right, Fresh start going into 2009”. 

Unfortunately, I tore every ligament in my knee that year which was an absolute nightmare. They told me that I would never be able to do anything, again. I’d have to have complete reconstruction or amputate my leg because without the lower half I couldn’t rehab the knee properly, so for me that year was a write-off. It was the year I went to university, luckily enough, which kind of put everything in perspective. I managed to rehab to a certain extent and build up the muscles all around the knee and try and make something back, but it wasn’t until 2010 when I got a bit of sponsorship and I was given the right equipment - the knee braces - to actually give it a go. We got the braces, we went at it, we built on a technique that we could work with. I think we took a few medals, a double Junior World Gold out in the Czech Republic. That was a new start, really. I think that was the year I got classified as an F42, because they don’t really give you a permanent class until you are over 18, and that year I turned 18 and they gave me a permanent class, and we had something to build on, then.

So, 2010, with a new brace, starting out fresh, having the classification, we put a plan together and it worked out quite well. Coming to the end of the season, I got up to the top three in the world and became a Junior World record holder and a Junior World Champion. I think British Athletics (or UK Athletics at the time) hit on that then and thought, “Right, if we give this guy some help, who knows?” They gave me a bit of development funding and that year, I think, out of the 40 places they had to take athletes to the World Championships - the Senior World Championships in New Zealand - I was the wild card at number 40, which was obviously luck, but at the same time relief, because I think if I hadn’t have had that opportunity to go out to the World Championships, London wouldn’t have happened.

So, yeah, given that opportunity I went to the World Championships and nothing was expected from me. Half the time, I walked around amongst the team like a ghost. Nobody knew who I was, but then the day came where I had my opportunity to step up against these big guys. It was the beginning of 2011, just after Christmas, their summer time, a trip of a lifetime, of course, going out to New Zealand, but at the same time going up against the best in the world, and taking a medal really turned a lot of heads and a lot of potential was seen in me by the right people. 

Coming off that podium, looking at my coach, the dream of just making London, it wasn’t a dream anymore and maybe it wasn’t just about making London anymore. Maybe we were a contender for a medal and I think that’s when it builds. I was given all the support under the sun, all the funding and we went hammer and tongs, to be honest, and we improved that year by five metres going up the world rankings and becoming the European record holder. Before we knew it, we were heading into 2012 which was a roller-coaster year. I started off by breaking the world record in the shot put, which was totally unexpected because we weren’t really focusing on that at the time. 

The first competition of the year up in Gateshead. There was sleet. It was windy. A week later, they were knocking the stadium down so it was, like, “I don’t even want to go up there!” So, I flew up to the competition and I managed to break the world record which obviously was a perfect start to the year, and set the tone. So, my plan was … a lot of these guys looked down at me and saw me as a puppy and not a threat, and what I wanted to do before London … we went, “Right, these are the top five guys in the world.” So, we have the Croatian, the world record holder from Zagreb. I want to go to his back garden and I want to beat him, so that’s what we did. We went out to Zagreb. We had been to see him in his back garden, obviously very upset. We did the same to the German and Slovakian. We did them all in their back gardens to try and make sure that we gave them a little taster of what’s to come, and scared them a little, and I gained a lot of respect from that, from those athletes. And even to this day, there’s such a mutual respect there, even though they’re a lot older and more experienced than me. It showed a lot of guts. I wasn’t afraid to go out there and give everything that I had.

London 2012

It’s crazy to think that we’re two years on - it seems like yesterday - but London for me was always a dream. I just wanted to get there. To take a medal would have just been the icing on the cake, not two, just one medal, a Bronze, whatever. So, even when I had the medal - even though if we look back at stuff, I could have maybe have got a bit more than a Bronze, maybe a Silver - it didn’t matter. I was going into my first Paralympic Games and I got a medal in the shot put. The two people who beat me had broken the world record, so those guys were the best and they’re phenomenal guys, absolutely phenomenal athletes, been around for a long long time, since Atlanta 1996. So, they had been there, done that and got the t shirt, so it was going to take a lot. And I think that’s what won on the day. It was the experience not the performance, because I can throw just as far as them. It was just the lack of experience. But I got my medal and I was happy. I think that took the pressure off, then, two days later going into the discus, obviously having that hum there. It was addictive going into that stadium. I just wanted to get back out there and do it again and when that Sunday came around, 2 September, I went out there. I just enjoyed it. I had fun. 

I won it with my first round throw, which is something that doesn’t really happen, and I smashed it, and the Iranian who I feel sorry for, because the last four Games he’s had Silvers and I knew he wanted the Gold this time, but unfortunately, I didn’t let him have that. It was a very emotional competition. I didn’t think that I could win. I knew that I could put in a performance and that would have done me because I had my medal from a home Games. What more can you ask for? But to take the lead in the first round and to hold that to the very end was absolutely phenomenal. I think in the last round, that’s when it started kicking in, the nerves and all the pressure, because I thought, “I’d hate to come this far and not win the Gold now, to be leading for 45 minutes and then lose it”. And then, when that Iranian - I had never seen someone so pumped up going into that circle - he was screaming, a very religious man, praying, and he got the whole crowd behind him which is hard to do when he’s trying to take a medal off the home guy, but he got them all behind him and he hit one, and I couldn’t look. I was just looking at the ground. My head was in my hands and I was just looking at my coach, looking at the crowd, and when it landed it was just, like, “Ooh!” And I thought, “No, he’s had me. He’s done it!” 

Even though I had one throw left, I couldn’t deal with the pressure. I was so inexperienced. I couldn’t have done it, so I was, “Okay, Silver will do!” And I’m just looking down like this, I’m looking at the scoreboard and it comes up just half a metre behind me and that’s when the whole place erupted. I remember getting up and I threw my water bottle up in the air. I was screaming. I ran over to the coach, ran over to the crowd, and they were, like, “You’ve got one more throw!” I was, like, “I don’t want it. I don’t want it!” But then I thought, “Do you know what, I’m here, this will never happen again. Let’s go out on a bang!” And I went in there and I just put everything, every emotion into that throw and I just hit it as hard as I can and I broke the European record and furthered my lead by a metre which was unbelievable. I’d never hit a discus so sweet as that. If I was to dream how the competition was to have gone, it was exactly how it went.

It was just every emotion you could possibly think of coming out at the same time. I was upset, I was happy, I was excited, I was ecstatic, I was just running around. People compared me to a rockstar, I think, but I couldn’t actually express enough of how happy I was. I remember I just turned around screaming and running out, jumping, fist pumping. I think what I wanted to do then was thank every individual person in the arena. There were 85,000 people in there and you knew about it; they were out there to support. I couldn’t even think. I couldn’t hear my own thoughts, a support like that. I don’t think we will ever come across a support like that again.

Only I will ever know what that feeling is like, walking into that circle the last round, knowing you’ve won it and you’ve got one more throw to show off with. I wake up every morning and I’ve got my Olympic Gold by the side of my bed, and I look at it and all those emotions come back. I really hope that I get to relive it, again. Obviously, Rio will be different because they will be cheering for the Brazilian next to me, but I’m hoping the outcome will be the same.



Smashing up the park

Obviously, London was a dream. After that, everyone saw me as an elite athlete and I think that was one thing that I really wanted to have the outcome of. I didn’t care if they didn’t know my name but they could recognise me and go, “Oh, that’s the guy that throws discus!” That would have been an achievement on it’s own and I was happy with that, but I had to back it up. I didn’t want to show that London was a one-off, that I wouldn’t be able to do it when it matters. That winter was all about gathering everything together, what I had learned, my experiences, build on my weaknesses and go into the World Championships and really not take any prisoners this time. The two guys that had beat me in London in the shot put, I absolutely destroyed them in the World Championships. I broke their world records and I won the competition by a metre - which if you follow shot put is a pretty big thing to do. I’ve never been so emotionally-charged going into an event. I was just so aggressive. I was going in there with a vicious mind. I didn’t have no respect for anyone. I think that mindset really helped me progress. 

I had a bit of a nightmare in the discus, being in last place all the way through to the third round. I almost got knocked out. I did a standing throw to keep me in, because in discus you can’t really force the throw. It’s all about rhythm and technique and I was just trying to hurt it. I just wanted to smash up the park and I almost knocked myself out of the competition. So, I did a safety throw to stay in and that got me from twelfth to eighth and I made the cut by 30 centimetres. Then I got into the lead in the fifth round with 42 metres, I think, a poor throw. But then, in the last round, I was just so annoyed. I thought, “Well, I’ve won it by the skin of my teeth. Whatever happens in this round will happen.” And I smashed it out of 47.69m, which was literally anger. I don’t know how it happened, technique found the place and I managed to smash it as hard as I can, ugly throw but it went the distance and ended up winning the competition by seven metres. 

That was a very frustrating year with injury as well, but that was one of the things you have to take in sport, especially with my disability. After the World Champs, after another successful year, we decided to go in and have an MOT on the body, to be honest. I had an operation on my left ankle which is my good leg to make sure that there was nothing that was going to stop me this year probably being the biggest year of my life.

Learning hard lessons

I had an incredible winter and I came out with a 47m discus throw (unfortunately, just shy of the 50m mark which I wanted) and putting the shot over 15m which put me into the top three in the world in my category, which is a phenomenal thing to do in the most able-bodied category in Paralympic sport, which was exciting as well, because I thought, “Right, this is going to be a good year.” 

I knew it was going to be tough, the Commonwealth Games, with the combined category. But I didn’t show that to anyone and, obviously, when I was announced with the massive honour of leading Team Wales, I couldn’t believe it. I’m very grateful to Brian Davies for that. He says that he picked me because he didn’t want anyone to be affected by the role. I think I wasn’t one of those captains that wanted to go in and tell everyone what to do. I really wanted to lead by example. Obviously, I was going to be there as a shoulder to cry on, or if there was a bit of advice needed, but all these guys that we had were phenomenal athletes, the biggest and best Team Wales ever. They knew why they were there - because they were the best - and they knew what they needed to do to ensure they delivered the performance. 

For me personally, seeing all this success, I was so excited to get out there, and I was the only one that had doubts. No one else around me had doubts. I just knew that if I weren’t careful here, I could lose the Gold by a whisker, which is what happened. I think that’s one thing that I’ve taken out of this year, that you can’t have any doubt, you can’t for one second not think that you’re going to win. I’ve got to go into every competition now knowing - it might come across as arrogant or cocky - but for my own mental state, I know I’ve got to go into a competition knowing I’m the best. And one thing that I’ve learnt this year is that I’m going to go into every core room and just look around and say, “Well, who’s coming second? Because I’m winning this.” And that’s the state of mind that I will be taking out of this year. 

Obviously, it was not pleasant losing to an Englishman but you know, he is a good athlete, but I know I am better and I have more potential than him, and I’m hoping now that with the success that will come over the years that it will overshadow this and maybe one day I will get the opportunity to be a part of Team Wales again, and I definitely won’t let them down.

When I had the huge honour of carrying the Queen’s baton in relay, it was on the Thursday 28 May in Denbighshire, up that way. I’d never been a part of anything so unique. The following day, I flew out to Italy and broke the world record so, you know, it was amazing to be part of that. It’s been an absolutely incredible 2014. I’ve learnt so much from this year and I know everything that has happened that’s good and everything that’s happened that’s bad, it will just add to my character and hopefully make me a better athlete in the long run. There’s so many things I did wrong this year, but we’re now amending that. There’s been a lot of changes over the past couple of weeks to make sure that we come out next year in the World Champs in Doha, don’t take any prisoners and set myself up nice for Rio where obviously I can confidently say I would like to be defending two Gold medals.

The spirit of swansea

Swansea was an absolutely phenomenal event. When I first heard that they won the bid, I was a bit skeptical because I thought, “How are they going to do this? It’s a massive event, the European Championships, and there’s not even a stadium there!” I was in two minds about it, but to be fair to John, his team, all the sponsors, they pulled off an incredible event. I’ve never seen a European so big before in Paralympic Sport. 

European’s is never a big event, whether it’s able-bodied or Paralympic Sport. It’s such a minor event because everyone comes to see the big stars and, unfortunately, they come from America and whatnot, but what Swansea did was the small complex we had, the small track, they built up a little stadium and they had a great atmosphere there. They publicised it well and people came, not just from Wales but all over Britain for this event. My personal favourite was the Saturday night, the last event, my discus. I won it and I had one throw left, and walking in the whole crowd started singing ‘Delilah’ which I thought … there we are, that’s Wales for you! What an incredible atmosphere. I think that just shows the spirit of Wales.

Awards

I’ve been quite lucky, starting with my university, UWIC, or now as they’re called Cardiff Met. They’ve always been a great support and they’ve worked around me and I’ve been honoured to receive in 2013 Sports Personality of the Year from them, which is a basic award but it’s one that I cherish because, obviously, they’ve looked after me and it’s a huge honour to receive that from my university. I won the Sports Journalist Award as well, Disability Sportsman of the Year. I’ve been up for countless awards, to tell you the truth, and been nominated alongside athletes such a Gareth Bale, Leigh Halfpenny. These guys are superstars in my mind and to be recognised as an elite athlete alongside them is an achievement on it’s own. I’m always absolutely thrilled and honoured when I get recognised for my sporting achievements and to be compared to one of those guys is something that you can’t take away.

Obviously, then, I have my personal stuff like the MBE which was absolutely incredible, for my services to sport, something I can share with the family and give a little back to them. London was the gold post box. I thought, “Stick it outside my mum and dad’s house.” But now I got an MBE, that’s for my mum and dad as well, because I definitely wouldn’t have achieved such things if it weren’t for them in the early days, being a great taxi service.

The eisteddfod, it’s probably the best accolade you can have being welcomed in as Aled Yr Arth or Aled ‘the bear’. It was alongside Steven Jones as well who was another Welsh superstar, but again to be recognised for what I’ve done for Wales is something I’m very proud of, because it’s something that’s very close to my heart, and I’m all for putting Wales on the map.

Highs and lows

I think I’ve had a couple of highs and a couple of lows. I think my highest point, obviously to this day, was London 2012, winning that Gold. That is by far the highest point, achieving not only a medal but the best performance I had in front of a home crowd, delivered on a big stage when it mattered. 

Lowest point for me to this day - and it’s the fuel to my fire - is the Silver medal in the Commonwealth Games, this year. Many people might have thought it might have been an injury or a setback, but I think I had a taste of a Silver and it was disgusting. I never want to go back there. Under-performing is almost embarrassing for me because being the Captain, being put up there, you’re seen as the one, the leader, the best guy that we’ve got, and I was so disappointed with myself. I felt that I had let people down and I’ve learnt so much from that. I never want to go back there and I really hope that one day I get an opportunity again to compete for Wales and it won’t happen again. I’m taking everything from that event because it’s going to make me the athlete that I come out next year and continue into Rio as.

A short career

I think it’s probably the toughest thing. You’ve probably spoken to Frankie [Jones] - she’s just gone back to studying now - and she’s going to have a bit of an eye opener, because I was in my second year when I became a fully-funded athlete and it was quite hard to balance it and I just about managed to finish off my second year and I’ve been doing my dissertation over two years now, in dribs and drabs. But we’re getting there, slowly. It’s a tough one because, like I say, training is a job. It is hard work and when you’re in a training environment for about eight or nine hours a day, it’s kind of hard to fit anything around it, especially when you’re training until your body is exhausted and you’ve got no concentration. The last thing you want to do is go and sit in lectures, or go home and write an essay. But I think it’s important to have a good education because you can’t be the best in the world for the rest of your life, and sport is a very short career, unfortunately.

Turning heads and changing minds

For so long, Paralympic sport has been in the stone ages. It hasn’t even been known about, and I think, until 2012, that was the case, you know. Nobody knew and nobody even cared, unfortunately, but what London 2012 did was with the media, the whole event itself, was put it in the spotlight. It was put up there for people to see and I think people fell in love with it, because it was in that hype, straight after the Olympics where everyone wanted to see British success in the home country, and I think for that time people forgot about the disability and just looked at the sport and wanted to see Britain do well. And when they saw that we were smashing it and bringing Gold medals home, they fell in love with it, and I think London threw us out there and brought us so far, pointed us in the right direction. 

Unfortunately, we’re still years away from where we should be, though. We’re still miles behind the able-bodied movement and I think that will be the case for a while yet. What we need to keep doing is progressing the sports, pushing the barriers, pushing the performances and keep turning heads. When people see performances, they actually get blown away. We’ve got people with no legs running ten and a half seconds, that’s behind Usain Bolt, one of the best guys in the world. I’m in the top five in Wales, top fifteen in Britain at what I do, and I think where can I take that in the next ten years. The only way to do that is to keep pushing the event, keep pushing the barriers and forcing ourselves in front of the public eye. I’m hoping that I can inspire people along the way, especially children, because we need to get rid of the void between able-bodied and the Paralympic. 

Inclusion is the future and I think the Commonwealth Games showed that. It was Paralympic and able-bodied athletes together in the same team, and I think what people didn’t realise was how well that worked, because you had able-bodied 100 metres on my discus event and there was no difference. People weren’t going, “Oh what’s going on here?” They saw it as “Discus is on”. That is the future. 

Growing up, it was like, “Oh where is the disability swimming club?” It shouldn’t be like that. That’s why this winter I’ll be doing my first indoor season and I’ll be competing alongside able-bodied, and I’m hoping there’s going to be children with disabilities, even without, that will get inspired by me when I’m hopefully going to take a medal in the Welsh Indoor Championships.

It was a bold statement to put a Paralympian as a team captain, but it showed that disability was nothing in Wales. All they saw was me as an elite athlete, and I think that is the focus heading forward now.


Giving something back

After London, being a really patriotic Welshman, I wanted to give something back and the only way to do that was, “Why don’t I write a book?” I had many opportunities across many different things but when I was approached by Y Llolfa to do a 100 page quick-read - just in Welsh - I thought, “That’s perfect”, because I’m nowhere near writing an autobiography. I haven’t started on where I want to take my career yet. In fifteen years time, hopefully, I would have had a bigger story to tell. But I wanted to just write something, just in Welsh for the Welsh school kids to read, something to give them a quick brief of my journey, where I’ve come from and what I’ve had to overcome to get to where I was … and it actually flew. People loved it, the schools bought it in bulk, and I have a lot of messages off people who have read it and have been inspired, and that’s all I wanted out of it to be honest, to make sure these children are seeing me as a serious elite athlete. It doesn’t matter if he’s got a disability … and hopefully there’s children out there that have disabilities that have seen it too and they thought, “I want to be like him.”

Just starting out

Personally, I feel like I’m only just getting started on my journey. I’m so young and I have so much more improvement. I’ve nowhere near fulfilled my potential, yet. I think this winter is going to be a proper game changer for me mentally, physically, in every type of way. I’m going to come out next year as a different breed of animal to say the truth. Not many people know that yet, but I’m hoping that my actions will speak louder. I want to go into the World Champs and I’m just going to dominate from start to finish, and then I want that to set the tone for 2016 where, fingers crossed, come March I’ll have the opportunity to defend my Paralympic Gold and improve on my Bronze from London, and then hopefully we can have another conversation after then about where we’re going to take it.

Going out on a high 

Throwing is an old man’s sport but I think I’ll only go as long as I’m healthy, enjoying it … and I’m winning. I mean, I don’t want to be that guy who’s still hanging around, “He was good one day but now he’s crap, and he just won’t go away”. I want to go out on a high and go down as a legend at pushing the sport and I’ve put the world records out of sight of anyone else for a long time. We’re talking ten years yet.

It depends on the state of Paralympic sport, where it goes, how it progresses, the perception, but if I don’t change the perception through sport I will continue to work on afterwards whether that’s presenting or whatever. Who knows where I’m going to be. All I’m focusing on is fulfilling my potential in the sport at the moment and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but I would love to progress the Welsh language as well and the Welsh media, and maybe try something different in years to come. Someone’s got to have the guts to and I’m hoping I’m that person.


To describe myself in three words, that’s a tough one but I’ll have to go: ambitious, passionate and cheeky.

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