Wheelwrights Fund 2020 - Rhian's Story

Rhian is a mum from Carmarthenshire and has two small children, Jac & Megan. She is also a primary school teacher and someone who absolutely loves sport.

Rhian was injured whilst playing rugby back in 2018 for her local team, Tumble RFC Ladies. As she explains, “I got tackled and my neck hyper extended, my C5 prolapsed and bulged and it hit my spinal cord.  Everything happened quite quick and I was painless, that was what I couldn’t understand.  My boss was there watching me, and I said yeah, I’ll be back in work next Monday. They’ll probably just check me over night and she said don’t worry it’ll be fine”.

After spending 2 hours on the field at Parc y Mynydd Mawr waiting for an ambulance with limited feeling in her feet, she was taken to Glangwili hospital in Carmarthen. She was put in a neck brace and told she would be bedridden and hospitalised for 6 weeks for the initial recovery period. “During this time I was watching the Commonwealth Games which really got me through this time. I was glued to the TV whilst the lady next to me watched Antiques Roadshow!”

After this initial period in hospital, Rhian was moved to the Rookwood Spinal Unit in Cardiff, where she spent a further 3 months having physio to support her ongoing rehabilitation. “I didn’t get told the full extent of my injuries until I got to Rookwood and they told me that I had spinal cord damage.  It was quite a big thing to deal with.”

Rhian Roberts at the Inter Spinal Unit Games 2019

Since Rhian’s injury sport has played a big part in her recovery, whether it be playing table tennis or basketball it was sport that always provided her with motivation and provided her with opportunities to improve her fitness whilst in rehabilitation.

It was not long after she arrived at Rookwood that her physio came around and asked everyone in the unit if they would like to form a team to go to the Inter Spinal Unit Games, at the home of the Paralympic Movement, Stoke Mandeville Stadium.

As Rhian describes, “I asked them to sign me up straight away because I’m quite a sporty person anyway. But she said wait and see how you get over your injury. I was chuffed when it was confirmed for me to go as it gave me something to really look forward to."

The Inter Spinal Unit Games 2019 made a very big impression on Rhian who took every opportunity going to try the sports on offer. She especially loved the swimming and as a girl from Wales the wheelchair rugby was something she was very excited to take part in! “The ISUG were the best 4 days I’ve had in a very long time. It was so nice to be doing something normal, just getting out there and doing stuff again.  It was fabulous to meet everyone and mix with people like me from all over the UK. I am still in contact with many of them now.”

The sport that Rhian enjoys the most is cycling and since returning from hospital it has formed an important part in her recovery. Not only has cycling provided her with many fitness benefits but it has allowed her to realise her sporting potential and has opened up a pathway to her dream of maybe one day representing her country.

As Rhian explains, “Initially I couldn’t cycle on two wheels due to my balance but over time and by training in a local Wattbike studio, the cycling got better and it became easier. I had looked at getting a recumbent trike but after working with my coach and physio I was persuaded to try the track bike.”

Rhian is now training with the Welsh Para Cycling Squad and prior to lockdown was training with them using borrowed bikes at the Geraint Thomas Velodrome in Newport, about an hour away from her home. However Rhian always hoped for her own track bike and with the support of the Wheelwrights fund this has now been made possible.

“My new bike will mean I can train at the outdoor track, which is only 10 minutes from my house and train more regularly with my coach.”

Rhian’s new track bike arrived in March 2020 but unfortunately she has been unable to use it because the Covid-19 lockdown. “The bike arrived just before lockdown and a local mechanic has recently built it for me so it is now ready to go. Once lockdown relaxes and the track reopens I am going to be the first one down there!”

For many sports people the lockdown has proved very challenging so Rhian has developed her own training routine that has allowed her to maintain her fitness despite the restrictions.

As Rhian explains, “I have a spin bike in my house which I have been using during lockdown to maintain my fitness. I have also been pushing myself to do more walking. I started at ½ mile and have now built up to 3 miles (with a little help sometimes from my dad!)”

“It’s been a long journey but I’m just taking every day as it comes now and looking forward to what the future may hold. It’s a brilliant door that’s opened to me and it’s amazing now that I have my own bike.  With thanks to WheelPower I can now take my training to the next level and spend some quality time with my children on the bike. Thank you.”

Prior to lockdown Rhian had been encouraged by her coach to apply for a Talent ID event with the  GB Paralympic squad through their Power2Paris Programme. Her coaches have been supporting her along the journey so far and she continues to show great promise in track cycling. The arrival of her new track bike will therefore be vital to her ongoing development and we wish her very well on road to Paris. 

“It’s always been a dream of mine to represent my country and yes of course to go to the Paralympics would be amazing, but obviously that’s still a bit of a dream, but a dream I’m still going to try and pursue. To go to the Paralympics would be an amazing achievement and you’ve got to dream haven’t you.”

The Wheelwrights Fund is open to anyone who has acquired a spinal cord injury within the past five years. You are able to apply for any money for any equipment or activities to help you stay active, get active, or help you achieve your sporting potential. The funding has been made available through the Worshipful Company of Wheelwrights, in association with National Tyre Distributors Association. Find out more: The Wheelwrights Fund 2020