Footballers delivering pizza, netballers doing the rounds with medical supplies and rugby stars working for the NHS – the last 10 weeks have seen sports folk pitching in during the lockdown. But few will have travelled as far in recent weeks as Matt Bush, the West Wales milkman of the martial arts, who spoke to Graham Thomas.
Matt Bush is already a big cheese in the world of taekwondo, but now he’s putting his talents to good use to keep us all from going hungry.
The world para-taekwondo champion from St. Clears in Carmarthenshire is helping out with food deliveries across West Wales as he keeps busy during the lockdown.
Bush – who competes in the K44 category for athletes with unilateral arm amputation or equivalent loss of function – should have been gearing up for the Tokyo Paralympics, which was scheduled for this summer.
But instead of handing out beatings to his rivals at the qualification tournament that was due to take place in April, one of Wales’ tiny few sporting world champions has been handing out cheese, eggs and butter to local shops across south-west Wales.
Evan Rees Dyfed Limited is a family business, started by Matt’s grandfather.
They distribute food via a fleet of vans to small supermarkets and stores and Matt says: “I have always helped out with the business at times in the past, but now they are busier than ever.
“Volume is very high, they have a few staffing issues, so I’ve been doing some delivering and also cutting and packing cheese.
“It can be very busy at the moment because the lockdown has meant people are relying on their local shops a lot more and demand has gone up.
“So, I’ve been getting up pretty early, doing my training session at home, and then going to work. It’s not saving lives, but it’s nice to know I’m contributing in some way.”
When he’s not churning out the Cheddar, as part of the Great Britain taekwondo squad based in Manchester, Bush has been given a simplified training programme to follow.
It’s based on strength and conditioning routines he can carry out in his house and garden, with the obvious absence of any sparring with training partners.
— GB Taekwondo 🇬🇧 (@GBTaekwondo) October 2, 2019
“It’s a few weeks since I actually had proper contact with someone in a training session and that does seem a bit strange. But these are very strange times and I’ve got used to a new routine.
“You can only control what you can control and I’m happy with what I’ve been able to do. When the situation changes, I think I can get back in the groove pretty quickly.”
As a former MMA and jujitsu competitor, the 31-year-old was a latecomer to the sport of taekwondo. But what he lacked in experience, he made up for in talent and determination and his impact in the sport was immediate.
He became the first British male to claim a title at the world para-taekwondo championships in Turkey last year at the +75kg division – just two years after taking up the sport – and was well placed to back that up with a gold medal in Tokyo.
That dream has had to be shelved for a year, but the confidence remains that he can achieve more success in the sport which GB training partner and double Olympic champion Jade Jones has spectacularly catapulted into the Welsh national psyche.
“When I started in taekwondo, the success I had didn’t feel like a surprise,” he admits. “I sort of expected to win.
“That’s just the way I am. I turn up to win – not to just make up the numbers. I had a background in other sports, which helped, but there’s no short-cut.
“I had the baseline of athleticism and some ability, but I had to spend a lot of time learning the points system, the little tricks of the sport, and how it all fits together.
“Now, I’m sort of reaching that stage of knowing the finer details of the sport, so I definitely feel there is more to come.”
When the opportunity to prove that may be, no-one yet really knows. The Paralympic qualifiers that were scheduled for Milan were initially moved to Russia before being scrapped altogether as the global sporting shutdown took its grip.
“The suggestion was that those qualifiers for Tokyo might now take place at the end of this year, but nothing is set in stone yet,” adds Matt.
“I’m just keeping in training, and I’ll be stepping it up as soon as I can, so that when those qualifiers happen I’ll be ready. If they say, ‘they’re happening tomorrow’ then I need to be ready for that.”
Until then, though, it’s back to weights and the turbo trainer cycling sessions in the morning – followed by packing cheese in the afternoons.
If that sounds a concern for the dieticians employed by GB Taekwondo, then they needn’t worry.
“I don’t eat the cheese. I’m over it,” says Matt.
“It was the same when I was packing chocolate. After a couple of weeks in and eating a fair bit, I was over that, too.”