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The Disability Sport Wales festival giving thousands of opportunities to try para sport

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Para sport star Harrison Walsh knows more than most about how powerful sport can be in helping someone come to terms with a life-changing injury.

Now, he is urging other disabled people to get involved with the Swansea Para Sport Festival this summer. 

Starting off with a Disability Sport Wales’ insport event at Swansea University on 1 August 2022, the festival will bring 5,000 participation opportunities across the summer, including five competitive events at different venues.

The Para Sport Festival will also add to the atmosphere around Swansea over the 6/7 August weekend, alongside the World Para Series Triathlon and Ironman 70.3 Swansea.

One of the main objectives of the festival is to offer opportunities to both elite and grassroots athletes of all ages. 

In 2015, just a week before Harrison was due to play for rugby for Wales Under-20s against England, he sustained an horrendous leg injury in a freak accident playing in a club match for Swansea.

Consequently, it not only ended his rugby ambitions but left him with only partial movement and no feeling in his right foot due to the extent of the nerve damage. 

“It was really important for me to find another sport as it plays such a huge part in the lives of both me and my family,” says Harrison, who was also on the books of the Ospreys. 

“I was desperate for my passion for sport to remain and it was great to find that within disability sport. 

“I really liked the motivation of getting better and better and it was important to continue that in another sport.” 

Harrison is full of praise for Disability Sport Wales and is extremely thankful to them for helping him adjust to his new way of life. 

“It’s hard to come up with the words to describe how good Disability Sport Wales are,” he says. 

“They do so much work to promote sport at all levels. They’ve really helped me to settle into a new environment. 

“People get impaired at different stages of their lives and they are really sensitive with how they help you.

“I came from high level sport and DSW were really good with helping me adjust to a new way of life.

“I can’t thank people like Nathan (Stevens), Anthony (Hughes) and all the other athletes enough.” 

Harrison’s mental resolve was once again tested at last year’s Paralympics when he got injured at the very last moment. 

“I got injured out in Tokyo but that’s sport for you, unfortunately.

“I was really gunning to do well out there, but it was a pleasant surprise to get selected in the first place as it wasn’t something I was expecting at the beginning of the year. 

“My form last year was a lot better than I expected and I was just really thankful to earn the opportunity. 

“I still took a lot of learnings from Tokyo and hopefully they will help me win gold in Paris, Brisbane and LA, hopefully.” 

Harrison Walsh throwing the discus
Photo: Owen Morgan
It’s hard to come up with the words to describe how good Disability Sport Wales are
Harrison Walsh

One of those learnings was the importance of dealing with the mental side of sport and Walsh admits that some of the memories from his rugby injury made an unwelcome return. 

“When you are at the top end of a sport, I think everyone is in decent shape, physically, and it’s the mindset that really makes you stand out. 

“Mindfulness and being present in the moment are some of the biggest things I’ve taken from Tokyo. 

“I realised I hadn’t dealt with some of the stuff from my rugby injury as all the memories came flooding back as it was kind of a similar situation.

“It’s really forced me to understand myself and understand why I’m doing the sport and what it means to me in general. 

“I think these setbacks have played a part in making me a better person. I think it’s really important to strive to be the best. 

“You don’t always need specific targets, like winning gold for example, you just need to aim to get in a position where you are performing at your best.”

Walsh was speaking at a schools launch event for the Para Sport Festival and he was delighted to see so many young people enjoying themselves. 

“It’s awesome to see young people playing sport and having fun. 

“It’s great to see everyone getting involved in a range of sports such as throwing events, rowing and table tennis. 

“It’s important everyone understands that sport is about fun and enjoyment. 

“When I first started shot put and discus, I was really bad but I really enjoyed it. 

“What I liked was it was the type of sport that you could really progress with, and I was determined to get better and better. 

“My advice to anyone would be to find something they enjoy and then stick at it and continue to improve.” 

Tom Rogers, Disability Sport Wales Partnership Manager, believes this event will show disabled people that there are a wide range of sporting opportunities available to them. 

“We are pleased that the Para Sport Festival events programme will include opportunities across a number of Paralympic and non-Paralympic sports,” says Tom. 

“It is also great to be working alongside Welsh Triathlon, Welsh Target Shooting Federation, Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby, Welsh Rugby Union, Wales Deaf Rugby Union, and Basketball Wales to bring together a festival of competitive para sport to Swansea.

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