A salesman, an Olympian and a Red Cross volunteer
Team GB's Jamie Baulch met up with Gareth Jones to hear about his incredible recovery after a stroke. It required an athlete's discipline, determination and help from the British Red Cross.
When Olympian Jamie Baulch met fellow Welshman, Gareth Jones, he recognised a fellow lionheart.
Gareth, a former salesman with an active and busy life, had suffered a stroke in 2018. He was told that he would never walk again, and it took the sheer grit and determination of an Olympian to achieve his dream: to walk barefoot again on a beach.
He still remembers the day that everything changed. He tells Jamie:
“I had a bleed on the brain two years ago. It was just too much work, not enough rest that had caused it. I thought I was invincible.”
“I was an area sales manager for an estate agent and I also had a weekend job where I was head doorman of a busy city centre pub in Cardiff.
“That’s where the stroke happened, I collapsed to the floor in St John’s square. My heart stopped and they got it going in the ambulance with the defibrillator.
"I was told I'd never walk again"
Gareth had suffered a huge stroke and couldn’t walk, talk, eat or swallow. He was discharged from hospital into a new area. Then, the pandemic hit. He was alone in his stark new reality.
He said: “Lockdown was horrific. I was very depressed. I’m a strong-willed person but there was just no contact with anybody. All the assistance stopped. I know they had to do it, but it was very severe, very quick. I felt totally isolated.”
Enter Nina, an Independent Living service coordinator from the British Red Cross. She called Gareth every day throughout lockdown to make sure he was alright and that he didn’t feel alone.
After lockdown, she and Gareth discussed ways he could move forward with his life. Nina wanted to boost Gareth’s confidence, starting with little trips to the shop in his mobility vehicle and then to a local café and local gym. Slowly, but surely it worked.
"Goals don't always have to be practical"
Nina, also a qualified personal trainer, helped Gareth build a gym in his spare room. As he got stronger, something amazing happened: he used his wheelchair less and his walking stick more.
One day, Nina surprised Gareth with a trip to Barry Island beach – a place where Gareth had gone walking and cycling with his son.
He said: “When we got to Barry Island, Nina pushed me in my wheelchair onto the sand. I removed my shoes and socks, stood on the sand and started to walk without a stick. Nina had to call me back because I just kept going.
I turned around, looked at her and literally burst into tears standing there because I'd reached my goal. I couldn't have done that without the help of the Red Cross.
Nina said: “It was such a moving moment. People around us at the beach were crying too.
“Gareth’s recovery was gradual so when we got to the beach, he was ready to stand and walk on the sand.
“Going to Barry Island was probably the most beneficial thing we achieved because it gave Gareth the inspiration to push himself further and was part of his motivation to keep going.
“That taught me that goals don’t always have to be practical ones, it’s about getting that balance right.”
Desire and innate ability
Later on in the visit, and it's back in the car, and back to Barry Island for Jamie and Gareth. It's the first time Gareth has actually been in the sea after his stroke. It's an emotional moment.
“Gareth is amazing. It's his desire, and innate ability that got him where he is,” Jamie says. “His determination reminds me of my situation.
“People told me I couldn’t run in the Olympics because I was too short. But I got there, and ended up racing people like Michael Johnson. And more than that – I came home with a gold medal.
"I hope Gareth's story inspires everyone to take up the Game On challenge and raise funds for the British Red Cross. They do amazing work."
Watch Jamie and Gareth's trip to the beach
Are you up for the challenge?
If you're looking for a new challenge after lockdown and want to improve your mental health, then why not Get your Game On? You'll be raising vital funds for the British Red Cross too. Everyone's a winner.Go to Game On!