Michael Jenkins

Michael Jenkins (third from left) at the Swansea ParaSport Festival Launch, Indoor Athletics Centre, Swansea. Pic: Huw Evans Agency.

Michael Jenkins . . . A Huge 7ft Talent Proving That When One Door Closes, Another Can Open To A Whole New Sport

By Graham Thomas

When Michael Jenkins was told to give up rugby, he admits it was as if someone had flicked the lights off on his sporting ambition.

Five years on and the spotlight on the 18-year-old from Pembrokeshire is burning brightly after performances as a para-athlete which are nothing short of sensational.

Michael was 13 when doctors told him it would be unwise to continue to play rugby because of the risks it might pose to someone with cerebral palsy.

That was a major disappointment to several rugby clubs – not least because the teenager was blessed with impressive physical attributes and now stands at a mighty seven feet tall.

Michael Jenkins at the Indoor Athletics Centre, Swansea. Pic: Huw Evans Agency.

But it was a devastating blow for the youngster himself for whom the sport was everything.

“It felt like a massive blow to be told I couldn’t play rugby any more,” recalls Michael.

“It’s very, very tough when you have to stop doing something you love. I had a real passion for rugby and I wanted to get to the highest level I could, whatever that might have been.

“I went for two or three months without doing any sport at all. I was really upset and didn’t want to do anything else, which is unhealthy.

“I tried long distance running at first – I don’t really know why – and I didn’t enjoy it, either.”

Michael Jenkins Michael Jenkins at the Indoor Athletics Centre, Swansea. Pic: Huw Evans Agency

Thankfully, Michael was nudged towards other areas of athletics that he did enjoy. A mate led him towards the Pembrokeshire Harriers club and from there he soon tried the throwing disciplines of shot put and discus.

Welsh Athletics throws coach Ryan Spencer-Jones saw Michael throwing at one event and the conversation quickly developed.

“The moment he saw I was a disabled athlete and he saw the distances I was throwing, he just said, ‘right, I want to train you.’ And that was how it all started.”

That’s how it started and this is how it’s going. Weekly and sometimes twice weekly training sessions in Cardiff have developed Michael’s talent and have proven that when one sporting door closes another can often spring open.

He says he’ll always be grateful to rugby for giving him a grounding in sport, and he also enjoyed a bit of back garden basketball, but para athletics is where his passion and talent now lies.

“When I was younger, I didn’t know too much about the opportunities in disability rugby. I think it’s much bigger now and there are lots of opportunities, but I basically had to stop playing the type of rugby I was playing and it felt tough.

“But I have found that passion in para athletics, 100 per cent. I am now always thinking about discus and how I can throw further.”

That will bring a wry smile to some other throwers and their coaches because Michael – who is already getting some expert coaching tuition and guidance from Wales’ para legend and triple Paralympic champion Aled Davies – is starting to leave jaws on the floor with the distances he is achieving.

Last summer in Paris as a 17-year-old, he smashed the European record for F38 discus, the classification that includes athletes with cerebral palsy.

And by smashed, we mean properly smashed by a massive seven metres.

Within a few weeks he broke the F38 discus world record back in Wales by throwing 55.92, a distance he then improved at the Schools Games National Finals by throwing 61.19m.

A measure of that achievement is that 61.19m puts him 11th on the UK all-time list for non-disabled athletes and would have given him eighth place at last summer’s Commonwealth Games.

As with Aled, competing as a para athlete against non-para opposition is a route he is keen to explore.

“As a thrower you can kind of tell when you’ve landed a big throw,” says Michael.

“But I didn’t realise I’d broken that record in Paris until I saw Aled – who was with me – start freaking out. Then, I started freaking out, then everyone else started freaking out.

“It felt like a sugar rush for me – and the feeling lasted for about a month, I’d say.

“There is now the possibility of going to the European Athletics U20 Championships for able-bodied athletes later this year and the World Para Athletics Championships, too. It could be a busy year.”

For Aled, the opportunity to help mentor and develop Michael’s talent is another feather in the cap for one of Wales’ greatest Paralympians.

Aled has already helped nurture another ex-rugby player turned discus thrower, Harrison Walsh, and now Michael is set to follow both as a senior international this summer.

“Michael has so much natural talent, he could end up being anything he wants to be in both para sport and able-bodied sport,” says Aled.

“He can be a true crossover athlete between the two. He’s amazing.

“I’m a big guy and so is Ryan. But we both have to look up to Michael who is a big, big, guy. He’s still a very young man so it’s taken him a while to grow into the size of his body and get used to it.

“He’s done that now and his progress has been incredible. The distances he’s throwing are astonishing and people are going to soon start hearing a lot more about him.

“But he’s also got a great attitude, he wants to learn and work hard. His family offer great support and encouragement and he’s a pleasure to work with.”

Not bad for an athlete who feared that having to give up rugby would leave him without a sporting passion.

Re-directed, those fires are burning brighter than ever.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *