Cynon Valley - - FRONT PAGE - THOMAS DEA­CON thomas.dea­con@me­di­

A PARA ta­ble ten­nis player from the Cynon Val­ley has won gold in Italy at an in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment al­most nine years af­ter a life-chang­ing ac­ci­dent.

Thomas Matthews, 25, from Cwm­bach, was told he would never walk again af­ter a moun­tain bike crash when he was 16 years old.

Al­most nine years af­ter the ac­ci­dent, Thomas took home gold at the Ital­ian Open – and is now set­ting his sights on the world cham­pi­onships in Septem­ber.

Thomas said: “I used to race down on moun­tain bikes, and one day aged 16 I went over the han­dle­bars and broke my neck.

“I was in hospi­tal for about eight months af­ter that – like a prison sen­tence.

“They knew straight away that I wouldn’t be able to walk. It was my dad that told me I wouldn’t be able to walk again, he thought it would be bet­ter than a doc­tor break­ing the news to me.”

He added: “I was ob­vi­ously up­set and it was a bit of a shock, but it’s sur­pris­ing what the mind can do.”

Dur­ing his eight months at Rookwood Hospi­tal, in Cardiff, Thomas started play­ing ta­ble ten­nis as part of his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gramme.

Thomas said: “I gave it a go in hospi­tal, it’s one of the few sports you can play in hospi­tal.

“But af­ter a while I gave it up. I wanted to set­tle down and go back to nor­mal.

“It took me a good two years to get over the ac­ci­dent.

“But then one day I rang up my old coach and he just said, ‘come back’.”

Since then Thomas, who trains five days a week, has be­come a pro­fes­sional ath­lete and has won sev­eral medals in var­i­ous com­pe­ti­tions across the world.

He now plans to com­pete at a fur­ther two com­pe­ti­tions be­fore tak­ing on the world cham­pi­onships in Slove­nia in Septem­ber.

De­spite his suc­cess in Italy, Thomas said he wasn’t plan­ning to come home with a medal.

He said: “I just went to see how I was. It was just like the first step­ping stone of the sea­son and to see how the win­ter train­ing went.

“I was over the moon to come back with a medal, though.”

Thomas also won a sil­ver medal at the Ital­ian Open in the team event along­side Swiss player Sil­vio Keller.

Look­ing back on the ac­ci­dent, Thomas said he doesn’t re­gret what hap­pened and has wit­nessed changes in at­ti­tudes to dis­abil­ity.

Thomas said: “It’s nice to look back and see how far I’ve come. It’s quite a big achieve­ment to rep­re­sent your coun­try.

“I’m more pos­i­tive now than I ever have been.

“I don’t re­gret what hap­pened.

“I’m happy and I’m do­ing more now than I was be­fore.”

He added that the 2012 Par­a­lympic Games in Lon­don played a big part in chang­ing peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes and that the sports are get­ting “big­ger and big­ger”.

Aber­dare’s Tom Matthews was a dou­ble medal win­ner at the Ital­ian Open Para Ta­ble Ten­nis Cham­pi­onships in Lig­nano

Para ta­ble ten­nis player Thomas Matthews, left, not long af­ter his life-chang­ing ac­ci­dent and, right, around nine years later

Tom play­ing at the Ital­ian Open Para Ta­ble Ten­nis Cham­pi­onships in Lig­nano

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