Rhys Jones was sprinting towards his third Paralympics when the finishing line was suddenly moved 12 months further down the track. But as he tells Owen Morgan, he’s now managing to adjust to the long haul.
Described as a “hopeless case” by doctors when he was just two years old, Rhys Jones has spent his life overcoming obstacles and proving people wrong.
So, the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics is just another challenge to be tackled by the sprinter diagnosed with viral encephalitis as a toddler.
Despite his parents being told their son would probably never sit up unaided, let alone take part in sport, the now 26-year-old went on to represent Great Britain at the London and Rio Paralympics.
His dream of competing at a third games may have been put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic, but the sprinter is determined to be in Japan next year.
And just a short time chatting to the inspirational Clydach Vale athlete is enough to leave you in no doubt he means what he says.
Jones, who suffered paralysis to his left side and issues with his sight, told Dai Sport: “From the time I was born, I’ve been determined and stubborn. I haven’t really let anything beat me.
“The only thing that has actually beaten me at the moment is driving, because I have a field vision neglect in my left eye.
“I’ve been told that I would be a danger to the public on the roads. I’m a danger to the public on my feet, let alone in a car!
“But other than that, I’ve never been one to give up. If people have told me I can’t do something then it only makes me more determined.
“I was labelled a hopeless case when I was in hospital and, so far, this hopeless case hasn’t done too badly, really, in his lifetime,” says Jones, who spent 12 days in a coma as his young life hung in the balance back in 1996.
“I try and see the positives in everything. There’s no such thing as a negative really, it’s a learning point. You either learn from it or you don’t.
“More often than not, 99 per cent of the time, I will learn from it. I try not to make the same mistake as before and become a better person from it.”
Commenting on the initial disappointment of the Tokyo games being postponed for a year, Jones says: “You work hard for that four-year cycle and to be so close to it, just a few months away, it’s gutting that it’s been postponed.
“But at the same time it’s the right decision because we want the world to be healthy again and for some sort of normality to return.
“I was talking to my parents the other day and this is the biggest challenge of our lifetime because we can’t see this virus and the only thing we can really do is stay indoors and limit the amount of people outside so we can help the NHS.
“It’s just another hurdle on the track. We’ll overcome it, we’ll come through the other side and hopefully we’ll come out better for it.”
At the London 2012 Games, Jones competed in both the 100m and 200m, reaching the final over the longer distance. Four years later in Rio, he competed in the T37 100m where he finished sixth in the final.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt#hillrunning #nature #OnTheRoadAgain pic.twitter.com/DhKTALhju7
— Rhys Jones (@RhysJonesRuns) April 5, 2020
In between, he reached the final of both the T37 100m and 200m at the IPC Athletics World Championships in Lyon and the final of the T37 100m at the IPC Athletics 2015 World Championships in Qatar.
The year after Rio, Jones finished fifth in the final of the T37 100m final at the World Para Athletics Championships in London.
Having tasted so much success on the global scale, Jones is hungry for more in Tokyo.
“We never thought going back 10 years ago that I would have got to two Paralympics,” he says. “But a third one would be the icing on the cake.
“Tokyo is a new place, a new continent that I haven’t visited, so that would be absolutely wonderful to be able to say that in my career I managed to get to three Paralympic games.”
And he is confident he will be in the best possible shape to compete for a place on the Great Britain team – albeit a year later than planned and having to train under the current restrictions.
“We have got to adapt haven’t we? It’s evolution isn’t it? We either adapt or we perish,” says Jones.
“I don’t want to be that one guy who misses out just because the goalposts were moved rather than being taken down.
“I’m still training, so I’ve still got a goal. It is going to be hard because we are only in April and we were just a few months away from the Games.
“At the moment every sporting event has been cancelled or postponed, so I am not the only one in this situation. We are all in this together. We will come out of it better for it.
“It’s just one more year isn’t it? Three-hundred and sixty five days. When we think positively about things then positive results can happen.
“All my running is on the road at the moment because we don’t have a park or a large grass area, so that’s taken a bit of getting used to over the last couple of weeks.”
Jones says he is grateful for the support he has received from the sporting governing bodies in Wales to help him adapt to his new training regime under lockdown.
“We have support from Sport Wales and Disability Sport Wales. I can’t thank them enough for the help they have given me over the years.
“They continue to check in on me through this pandemic so you know that you are loved and that you are being thought of, so it’s a mental boost as well.”
And the 2014 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist is keen to share some tips from his training regime in order to help others stay fit and motivated during the current crisis.
Jones, whose motto is “I can and I will, watch me” has been posting YouTube videos demonstrating how people can keep fit in their own living rooms.
“I’m trying to keep people motivated, because it’s hard for everyone. I will openly say that it is mentally draining to try and motivate yourself at home when you’re out of your routine.
“But the videos are just to show that when you’re in the house you don’t really need heavy weights or anything like that. I use the things that I have in my living room.
“Any form of exercise, now more than ever, is important. I can see why the government wanted people to keep active, even before this virus.”
Looking further ahead, Jones is hoping to make his mark for Wales at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, having worn the red vest with distinction at the 2014 Glasgow Games and again on the Gold Coast in 2022.
However, no amount of training or determination will guarantee him a place on the track as there is no certainty his classification will feature at the Games.
However, even if he can’t compete, Jones aims to make a contribution as a member of the Commonwealth Games Athletes’ Commission.
Week 2 of home workouts come to a close. Friday’s warm up and part of session. Wish it was actually done that fast mind @dsw_news @sportwales #homeworkout #gym #hamstrings #glutes #workworkwork pic.twitter.com/x3RDupJBsY
— Rhys Jones (@RhysJonesRuns) April 3, 2020
“We don’t actually get a say in whether we go to the Commonwealth Games or not, that’s up to the Commonwealth Games Federation, they actually choose the para events that they have at each Games.
“I’m fortunate enough that I’ve been able to go to the last two Games, the one in Glasgow was my own classification and then the one on the Gold Coast was the classification above.
“But if I can get to Birmingham in any form that I can – I am part of the Athletes’ Commission at the moment – then I’ll be playing a big part in sport, no matter what that part is.
“I always say that sport isn’t just about the athletes taking part, it’s the volunteers – it’s the people in the background.
“If I can impact Birmingham in some way possible, whether that’s through the Athletes’ Commission and making sure that Team Wales are in the best position possible going into the Games, then I know I will be happy.”
Sport is certainly a passion for the man who has also played football and badminton to a high level, but he has found another love away from the track – photography.
“I took it up as a hobby last year and I love it, just having that eye for things, whether it’s an action shot, or whether it’s the emotion,” he says.
“I’m noticing a lot more, what sort of things I would want to capture, whether it’s football or rugby, whatever, it’s just mental how into it I have actually got.
Who would have thought that in 2020 something so simple as a respected handshake wouldn’t be allowed as there could be risks of passing a deadly virus. Missing Athletics so here’s a happy memory post 100m at @GC2018 with @evanohanlon #tracktuesday pic.twitter.com/ezpnZBAfPM
— Rhys Jones (@RhysJonesRuns) March 31, 2020
“It gave me something to focus on other than sport. Competing in sport all the time, as great as it is, it can get a bit too intense, so just having that something, getting out. With photography you can spend as little or as much time as you want.
“I just started off taking photographs of the wildlife around here, like the ducks and the birds and different things, then went to a couple of local rugby games to take a few photos there.
“Then I did an athletics competition last year, so it’s just something that gets me out of the house instead of being sat on my backside watching telly.
“It’s another form of being active really. Whether it’s landscape, wildlife, sport, there’s always a photo opportunity just around the corner.
“I don’t know whether it will become a profession later on in life, because I know that photography is very competitive, but at the same time, I know I want to pursue it in some sort of capacity.”
For now though, his hobby is another casualty of the coronavirus restrictions.
“The camera has taken a bit of a back burner at the moment. With going out only once a day it’s not really essential at the moment.
“When I’m out training, that’s the essential part, so when this whole lockdown is done, hopefully I’ll be able to get back out with the camera.
#CommonwealthDay This time last week
— Team Wales Tîm Cymru (@TeamWales) March 16, 2020
“The camera is a hobby but the athletics is a profession, so we need to concentrate on the priorities and at the moment the camera isn’t one of them.”
As a full-time athlete, Jones has to focus all his energies on the track. Although having lost his National Lottery funding, any support would be more than welcome to help him achieve his goal of a third Paralympics.
“I’m a full time athlete,” says Jones. “I was funded by the National Lottery, but now it’s down to self-funding to try and get to the dream of the biggest stage of them all. It’s hard, but at the same time I’m sure it will be worth it in the end.
“Any support would be amazing. Anything really, I’m funding the training expenses at the moment. Any help with that would be fantastic.
“It doesn’t really matter what it is, I would be eternally grateful for anything that comes my way.”