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Athletics has given James Ledger so much more than medals

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James Ledger has gone from someone who worried sport might not be for him, to an athlete aiming to wear a GB vest at this summer’s Paralympics.

The transformation for the 100m sprinter - who is visually impaired - has not been without hard work and the occasional road block, but he would recommend it to anyone.

“There was definitely a time in my life when I thought sport just wasn’t going to be something I could get involved with,” says James, from Morriston in Swansea, who was born with bilateral coloboma and nystagmus, conditions affecting his sight and eye movement which have left him with less than five per cent vision.

“It didn’t feel like there was a door open for me and I suppose I was a bit aimless. 

“When I was younger, I didn’t really have any dreams or aspirations. I just tried to hide who I was and fit in. I played football because my friends played, but I didn’t even like football!

“One day, my father, who has been my biggest role model, said to me he didn’t want to watch me crawl into a hole. He wanted me to find something that made me happy.

“I was lucky I soon found athletics, an individual sport where I didn’t have to rely on others and I wouldn’t stand out for making mistakes. It was about me and my actions.”

Now 30, James is Wales’ and Great Britain’s leading T11 Paralympic sprinter, the classification for athletes with visual impairments.

He combines competing around the world with his job as a qualified sports massage therapist, but is convinced sport has given him so much more than just races and medals.

“If I hadn’t found sport, then I wouldn’t have found peace of mind and an outlook that keeps me looking forward to things,” says James.

“Being registered blind provides plenty of challenges. For me, it has been around accepting who I am and my disability.

“Sport has helped me come to an understanding around those things, because sport is such a rollercoaster of emotions, highs and lows. I have frustrations every day, but I try my hardest to focus on the positives in life and take that feeling with me to the track.”

James Ledger runs blindfolded while holding a tether which connects him to his guide.
James Ledger (right) competing with his guide runner, Greg Kelly.
If I hadn’t found sport, then I wouldn’t have found peace of mind and an outlook that keeps me looking forward to things
James Ledger

What is T11 Sprinting?

The nature of sprinting as a T11 athlete has also taught James the value of close collaboration and trust in others who are working towards the same goal.

T11 is the classification for sprinters with near-total visual impairment, so the athletes run with a blindfold, or blacked out glasses, with a sighted guide runner.

“Without the guide runner, who runs next to us on a tether, we wouldn’t be able to compete. It’s very much a team effort,” says James, who represented Team Wales at both the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia and the 2022 Birmingham Games.

“So, you have to find a guide sprinter who can run 100m in 10.7 seconds and then work with them to develop a rhythm and an understanding. That takes time.”

Massage therapy, charity and podcasting

Outside of sport, James not only has his career as a massage therapist, but he is also involved in various charity groups and is an accomplished podcast host with the Disability Sport Wales Podcast.

“There is a lot going on in my life outside of sport, so I’ve got balance and enough things to keep me busy and focused after my athletics career is over,” he says.

“I am also a trustee of a charity, The Rocky Road Foundation, which raises awareness of mental health issues within sport.

“That’s something close to my heart. So, I’m really glad to be involved with that. It’s quite a small organisation at present, mainly involved with boxing gyms and rugby clubs in the Swansea area, but we are hoping to expand.”

The Rocky Road Foundation was founded by former Welsh Olympic weightlifter Natasha Perdue and grew out of her feelings of isolation after she had retired from her sport.

“I think there can be a problem after sport if you are not prepared for it,” adds James.

“For me, it’s all about communication and it’s easier if you get used to open communication while you’re still in sport. I have learned the power of story-telling and the podcasts are a form of that – the basic human need to get together and share stories about what’s going on your world and how you feel.” 

In learning that approach, he credits the late Anthony Hughes – one of Wales’ greatest coaches – for his influence off as well as on the track.

“Anthony was the first person I had ever met - other than my parents - who really believed in me,” says James.

“He was one in a billion. He could always see the person first, then the athlete, rather than the disability. He made people see their own life like that, too.”

James believes his own story-telling is helping him and other current athletes he talks to, but hopes retirement as an athlete is still some way off as he bids for a place on the GB Paralympic squad for Paris.

“I’m really excited for the season ahead. I want to become the first British T11 athlete to run 100m in under 11 seconds.

“If I can do that, there should be medals on the cards at the same time.”

 

Inspired by James Ledger and want to reach your potential in disability sport? Get in touch with Disability Sport Wales who can get you started on your sporting journey. Or, take to the track and find a Welsh Athletics club near you. 

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