HOW TOM STRUCK GOLD IN ITALY
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