Rhys Jones from Clydach Vale is among the first to be named in Team Wales ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
Rhys will represent Wales in the men’s 100m event (T37), along with fellow Welsh para-athletes James Ledger and Morgan Jones, who compete in the T12 and T47 respectively.
This will be his second Commonwealth Games, having previously been selected for Glasgow in 2014.
At the age of two, Rhys was critically ill with viral encephalitis. He was resuscitated three times and was in a coma for 12 days. When he woke up, he had no movement down the left side of his body.
His vision was impaired, and he also had epilepsy as well as memory and emotional problems, leaving him with no confidence or self-esteem.
But this all changed when he decided to join the RCT Tigers Football Club at the age of 14, and in the same year joined an athletics club where his coach recognised his impressive speed. He was entered into the 2009 Special Olympics and has been running ever since, winning medals and trophies along the way.
The 23 year old, who is delighted with his 2018 Commonwealth Games selection, said:
“Being selected for my second Commonwealth Games is such an honour. I never thought I would represent Wales at a Commonwealth Games in the first place, but to do it twice in a row is a dream come true.”
“I always represent Rhondda Cynon Taf in everything that I do and convey my most sincere thanks to the Council’s Sport RCT and Disability Sport Wales for their continued support on my journey.”
The Commonwealth Games is the only international multi-sport event which features an integrated para-sport programme and 2018 will see the largest para-sport programme in the history of the Commonwealth Games – with up to 300 para-athletes and 38 medal events across seven sports.
Rhys, who has not let his cerebral palsy hold him back, won a bronze medal in the 100m sprint T37 at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and followed it up with a bronze medal at the IPC European Championships in Swansea.
Cllr Ann Crimmings, Cabinet Member for Environment and Leisure, said:
“We are delighted that Rhys has once again been selected to represent Wales at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
“Rhys is a great sporting ambassador in Rhonda Cynon Taf and is encouraging and inspiring a whole new generation to take up sport.
“Rhys also collected a Special Recognition Award at the Council’s Good Citizen Awards earlier this year, on behalf of his fellow local athletes who have represented the County Borough as part of Team GB at the Paralympic Games over the years.
“His selection to the Team Wales 2018 Commonwealth Games is just reward for his hard work.
“We wish Rhys every success as he once again flies the flag for our County Borough at one of the highest levels on the sporting stage.”
Also selected alongside Rhys at the 2018 Commonwealth Games are Olivia Breen in the women’s T38 100m as well as the women’s T38 long jump. Ranked number 1 in the world in the T38 category, Olivia will be competing alongside T37 long jumper Beverley Jones and Hollie Arnold, who also currently holds a top world ranking spot.
Speaking previously, Rhys said:
“Before I had football, I had nothing. My Playstation was my best friend. I wouldn’t look anyone in the eye or ever talk to new people. Sport didn’t change my life, it gave me a life.”
As a Rhondda Cynon Taf sports ambassador, Rhys visits schools across the County Borough talking about his sporting experiences and the benefits of being involved in sport.
He also joined hundreds of people at Ynysangharad War Memorial Park, Pontypridd, in September, to welcome the 2018 Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton Relay to the area.
Helen Phillips, Chair of the Commonwealth Games Wales Board, said:
“Congratulations to the para-athletes who have been selected to represent Team Wales in athletics at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
“They have all achieved great results on the international sporting stage, and we look forward to seeing them make Wales proud once again next year.
“Being chosen for Team Wales is testament to their commitment, passion and dedication and also the excellent support of their coaches, families, Disability Sport Wales and Welsh Athletics.”
Fiona Reed, CEO OF Disability Sport Wales, said:
“Disability Sport Wales are delighted to see the inclusion of these para-athletes within Team Wales. The Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games will showcase the highest number of para-sport events ever at a Commonwealth Games, and I am absolutely thrilled to see a strong team of para-athletes selected to the athletics team.”
With a mix of World Champions & Paralympic Champions as well as newly identified athletes, it shows the strength in the para-athlete development we have in here in Wales.”
Scott Simpson, Welsh Athletics Head of Coaching and Performance, said:
“Welsh Athletics are delighted with the selection of six para-sport athletes in this first wave of Team Wales announcements.
“There is a wealth of experience within this group, with four of them having previously competed at multi-sport Games and two of them having delivered medals on the world stage.
“This, combined with the youth of some of the sprinting talent, provides an exciting blend of experience that will undoubtedly deliver some great performances and results in the Gold Coast.”