Jack Thomas: The para-swimmer refusing to float beneath the surface

Jack Thomas
Jack Thomas broke five short course records at the 2016 Welsh Winter Nationals

Jack Thomas is chasing an expensive dream. The para-swimmer from Swansea, who took time away from the pool, has his eyes set on the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and is on the journey of a chlorinated comeback, without any national funding.

Now, with the help of his crowdfunding page - shared by the likes of Welsh actor Michael Sheen and renowned comedian Frankie Boyle - the young athlete is swimming on the support of the public.

But he has a while yet before he breaks the surface and beats the clock.

Jack Thomas' daily routine does not greatly differ to those of other elite swimmers. It is known that such athletes endure up to three sessions a day - the typical expectations of those dedicated to the sport and its unsparing training regime.

Thomas is on the road to the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast. He does not receive funding but still believes he can bring home a gold medal and build on the bronze he won in the 200m freestyle in the S14 category in 2014.

"In para-swimming, if people start to go off programme they do tend to end up quitting. I refuse to quit," Thomas said.

"I just want to keep going because I know I can get back up there."

"Standing at the ceremony and receiving my medal was the best thing that's ever happened to me, it was the best feeling in the world," he added.

'I didn't really see a way up'

Thomas was receiving funding at the time of his bronze in Glasgow in 2014 and expected his swimming career to take off after the Games, both on a national and international level, but things took a plunge for the 21-year-old from Swansea.

Shortly after the games, the Welsh para-swimmer broke his wrist, which ultimately led to the loss of his funding.

Forced to stay dry and out of the water for eight to ten weeks, Thomas was unable to compete at the World Championships, despite the fact that he had already qualified earlier on in the season.

Fast forward to the following year and he was hit by another wave.

"Unfortunately my coach of six years decided to move, and that was a big knock for me and my swimming. It was a really rough time for me," Thomas continued.

Thomas was coached by Welsh and British paralympic coach, Billy Pye, known to be behind the successes of paralympic gold medallists, Ellie Simmonds and Sam Hynd.

Not only did Thomas lose his coach, but he claims to have lost his best friend.

"When my coach finished, a part of me wanted to finish. I was lost and didn't really know what to do.

"Swimming went out of the window and I didn't really see a way up. I kind of thought that my life was over."

It was not until last year, after Thomas took six months out of the pool, that he decided that something needed to change.

He said: "Whenever I haven't had my swimming, I feel like my life isn't complete. Swimming fulfils my life. It balances me out."

Successful and Self-funded

Jack Thomas
Jack Thomas (right) won bronze in the S14 200m freestyle at 2014 Commonwealth Games

It has been a year since Thomas returned to poolside and he has not wasted a second catching up on lost time.

Thomas took the plunge and moved from his hometown of Swansea to train in Llandudno, under his brother.

At the 2016 Welsh Winter Nationals, Thomas swam five races and broke five British short course records, but training at such an optimal level without an income is taking its toll on him and his family, who have appealed to the public for funding by setting up an online crowdfunding profile.

"It's difficult," he said. "Being an athlete you need supplements, you need a lot of food."

"You need to pay for training fees and obviously competition fees, which have recently gone up.

Frankie Boyle
Jack received a donation from comedian Frankie Boyle

"On a daily basis, my lunch meal is beans on toast because I try to keep it cheap."

The page, which was set up by Thomas and his mother in January, has been a helping hand to the freestyler and appears to be attracting the attention of a few famous names, including Welsh actor Michael Sheen, who retweeted the campaign on Twitter.

"I recently received a donation from the comedian Frankie Boyle," said Thomas.

"He broadcasted my campaign [to his 2.6 million followers] which has got me quite a few donations.

"He actually messaged me the day before I was racing up in Sheffield and wished me good luck which was really nice."

The para-swimmer does not plan on relying on the public for long, however, and he is confident that he will have sport funding by the end of the year.

Thomas added: "There will be times I'll be able to hit at the British Summers Nationals, and hopefully if training keeps going the way it is I'll be able to get back on British funding by then."

'I'll be better than everyone else'

The funding is not the only thing on his mind. Thomas is fully aware of the international meets that lay ahead.

"I want to do better [at the Commonwealth Games] than what I did in Glasgow," Thomas said.

"I want to try and see if I can push up and get gold. Gold is what I want, but silver would be nice too.

"If I do well at commies next year there's no doubt I'll do well in Tokyo."

Jack Thomas is not the athlete he was before he took time off. When asked about whether he's changed after his comeback, he said he wants it "ten times more."

"There's a lot more fight now," said Thomas. "I can train a lot harder than I used to."

"I can push myself over the limit every single time and just keep going and that's why I think I can win.

"If I do that every time I'll be better than everyone else."

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