Stephen Thomas Sailing

Hometown: Bridgend, Wales
Sport: Sailing and Ice Sledge Hockey
Event: Sonar team (sailing)
Games: Athens 2004, Turin 2006, Beijing 2008, London 2012, Rio 2016

Stephen Thomas is a Paralympic and double World Champion sailor from Bridgend, Wales.

He is a double below the knee amputee as a result of Meningococcal Septicaemia which forced him to end his rugby captaincy for Wales U18s in 1996.

Stephen began sailing with John Robertson in 2003, aged 26, and has also represented Great Britain in Ice Sledge Hockey at the Turin 2006 Paralympic Winter Games. His recent bronze medal success at the Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships in Japan has secured Great Britain's qualification for the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games qualification round in Russia.

Stephen cites Sir Steven Redgrave as his sporting hero and says that their toughest competition in sailing comes from the German, Norwegian, American, Greek and Israeli teams.

At London 2012, the Sonar team finished 5th place after incurring a penalty due to an off-water incident. At Rio 2016 the team finished in 9th place.

The following questions were prepared by students at Ling Bob Primary School, Yorkshire.

How did you prepare for London 2012?

Preparation for London started as soon as we got selected for London and that was in August 2011. As soon as we were selected we could concentrate on winning a medal. In the Winter of 2012 we travelled to Miami to train over in Florida, USA. We were sailing against our own training crew made up of Penny Clark, Olympic Laser Radial Sailor, Matt Howard - coach to Giles Scott who at the time was a World Champion and Simon Rosier who was a very good yachtsman. We worked on speed in the Winter, then from April on we focused on our race skills, competing in events over Europe and the final phase of training was based at our preparation camps in Mylor Falmouth. Falmouth was excellent as there was limited phone signal, only a couple of TVs and we could get away from all the hustle bustle of the Olympics and concentrate on training hard for the Paralympics.

How did the London Games compare with Beijing and Athens?

London was by far the best Paralymic Games I have been too. It had its own identity but it also took the best parts of the previous Games. It had the amazing volunteers of Sydney, it had the meticulous organisation of the Beijing Games and the weather of Athens. I am proud to say I was a British athlete at a home games, there aren't many people who can ever say that. It did the nation proud. For me it was a bit surreal too, as Weymouth (the venue) had been my home for the 3 years running into the Games and just to have that familiarity, of surroundings, the people and knowing where you could slip away for a bacon buttie if you wanted to, it was comforting.

Do you have any time for hobbies, if so what are they?

Not much time for hobbies, I do like getting out on my bike (mountain or road) and just doing some miles. I also like spending time with family as that time seems to go so quickly. Some athletes don't like the gym but I actually like the physical training aspect of it all, so I can't go more than a couple of days without heading to the gym.

What made you take up sailing and what did you do before?

I was always into sport, grew up in a little Welsh village where there wasn't anything else to do apart from head over to the local playing fields with any sort of ball and play games. Bearing in mind I was from Wales I took to the oval shaped ball - rugby - rather than the football. I was pretty good at rugby - I played for the county and had Welsh trials. Then I became ill and contracted Meningoccocal Septicaemia and had to have my legs amputated below the knee. At that point I saw Atlanta Olympics on TV and thought there and then I wanted to go to the Paralympics. I just didn't know how... Whilst I was getting used to my new prosthetic legs I was asked to go and try Sledge Hockey. I looked it up and thought, full contact, score more points than the other team, perfect way to get back into sport. I spent a few years playing, got selected for GB and narrowly missed out on qualification for the 2002 Paralympics. I thought then that I might never get to the Paralympics in Sledge Hockey and wanted to try other sports. Luckily, a couple of months later I bumped into the Disability Sports Performance Manager and he asked me to try out sailing. It went from there....

What/who inspires you and how do you keep yourself motivated?

Excellence inspires me. Watching someone at the top of their sport, winning. People trying their best in anything that they do. Trying to be the best I can be and winning a gold medal at a Paralympic Games.

Have you got any advice for Primary School children?

You don't know what lies behind that door, so take a chance and walk through it. Never believe you can't do something because with hard work and determination anything is possible. Within two and a half years of stepping onto a boat I was a World Champion. Along that way I made lots of mistakes, but that's life. People make mistakes and that's how they learn, people who don't try and who never make mistakes will never achieve.

What events have you coming up and will you be competing in Rio?

The European tour of Sailing calendar starts this month in France and then we compete in Holland, Weymouth and then we have two World Championships, Ireland in August and New York in September. I will be trying to mix in some sledge hockey training in all of that to try and stay fresh. Then we have the final stage of qualifiers for GB Sledge Hockey Team at the Winter Paralympics in Russia.

How does Sledge Hockey compare to Sailing?

Obviously there are a lot of differences. Sailing is more cerebral than physical. The 'field of play' is always moving in sailing whereas the field of play in sledge hockey has set dimensions. It could be raining, snowing, windy, sunny, cold or hot when you're sailing. When you're playing sledge hockey the environment is stable. When the crowd are watching you play they can be a great mood changer and energiser, whereas in sailing there is no crowd and you have to energise and change your mood yourself. You could be competing against 20 - 50 teams in sailing whereas in Sledge your competing against 1. Sailing is more about the machine whereas sledge hockey is about the human. Sledge hockey you have to put the puck across the line whereas you have to the cross the line in sailing. However they also offer similarities, they are both fun in their different ways and you need good level of fitness to do both. The psychological aspect to winning is the same in both.

What do you think of "The Last Leg"?

I think the 'Last Leg' is a great bit of TV. It discusses disability issues and educates the public on what disabled people are capable of. In short that's a lot. It mixed disability and comedy and produced entertainment, which is pretty new to TV. The show has now shown the rest of the world what disabled persons have been doing for a long time. It's ok to laugh at disability, we are all human and actually disabled people don't want to be seen to be different. Everyone falls over or drops something from time to time. One thing that has surprised me: through the comedy and education the 'Paralympic Last Leg' Programme has evolved into a mainstream programme and now disabled presenters are talking about current political stories of the week. Which goes to show the power of the Paralympic Games.

Has London 2012 made a difference either to you or accessibility in general?

I think London 2012 has made a massive difference in people's perception of disability. I am still doing the same thing day in day out so I haven't changed my day job but people's perception of disability has changed for the better. It seems to me that people are more comfortable talking about disability and therefore are more open to talking to you on the street and are genuinely interested about how you became disabled. It's those subtle changes that have a dramatic impact as disabled people are open to discussing about their disability. If disabled view society to be accepting of them then they are more willing to be open about their disability and therefore creating a more inclusive society accepting of all kinds of abilities.


Sledge Hockey - What is it and where can people see it and is it as physical as Ice Hockey?

Sledge Hockey is an exciting sport for people with disabilities. The same rules are followed as in ice hockey, with six players on the ice, including a goalie. Players sit on a sledge, which has a narrow platform with skate blades attached to the bottom, and propel themselves using two specially constructed hockey sticks that have picks on the end. Players wear full hockey gear and are strapped onto the sledges. The sledges can be adapted to meet the individual needs of each player.

The American and the Canadian teams are very good at the sport and there are lots of videos of them on the internet. We have just come back from the 'B' World Championship in Japan where we won a bronze medal. There is going to be an 'A' World Championships tournament April 12-20 and that will be streamed live on the internet at "www.paralympicsport.tv".

The UK has 6 teams and it is played throughout the country, Manchester, Hull, Cardiff, Peterborough, Milton Keynes and Coventry. The teams play in a league and the league is run over 3 weekends in the Summer. To find out more go to: "www.sledgehockey.co.uk". The game is very physical, we wear lots of protective padding because the tackles are huge. Especially when you tackle players against the boards of the ice rink. I would say it's harder than ice hockey too because we have to do all the moving with our arms and we cant skate backwards to defend. We also don't have big long sticks to help intercept the puck and we have to skate as well as puck handle with them.

Can you tell us something a lot of people don't know about you?

I have competed in both the Summer and Winter Paralympic Games.

What is the best advice you have been given?

Take all opportunities presented to you as you don't know where they may lead.

Can you describe yourself in three words?

Be your best.

Have you any last thoughts you would like to share?

Do everything to the best of your abilities, work hard and never give up.