The start of a great new adventure
I was rugby and football mad as a kid. My grandad put bets on me being the next Welsh prop, because I was quite a little chunky monkey as a youngster. So sport was always in my blood. On my ninth birthday, I lost my legs in a train accident. At the time it seemed like a huge tragedy, but unbeknown to me and my family it was the start of a great new adventure.
I’ve tried most sports. My parents were keen to give me opportunities to try as many sports as I possibly could. Later, I wanted to find my own niche, and ice sledge hockey was it. It’s an adrenaline filled sport that really got me back on my feet, so to speak. It opened the doors to everything else that followed. Sport gave me a focus, but it didn’t really become serious until I was 14 or 15 and started athletics and realised I was pretty good at it.
It’s like being a gladiator. It’s hard to describe that feeling, when you’re walking out into a stadium to defeat your enemies, with thousands of people watching. To have that GB vest on is a tremendously proud experience, and to have your family in the crowd tops it all off. The gold medals and world records were the icing on the cake. We’ve just set a new world record for downhill mountain biking. We descended for 24 hours continuously at Antur Stiniog for Project ENDURO [prototype four-wheeled downhill mountain bikes]. We rode through the night, and my first morning ride was just as the sun was rising above the Snowdonia mountain range. It was phenomenal, I loved it. The West Wales coastline is amazing. I was in Aberystwyth a couple of weeks back and that was great. I do a lot of work in North Wales now, especially at Plas Menai [the National Outdoors Centre], and the drive up the A470 through the mountains is lovely. There are so many places I want to visit. One day I’m going to get a camper van and take a tour.
I’m a keen surfer. I love going to the Gower Peninsula, and I spend a lot of time down in St David’s and Freshwater West in Pembrokeshire. I’ve grown up with the sea, having been brought up not far from Rest Bay in Porthcawl. I just love sitting there watching the tides roll in. It’s special. I had my stag do in St David’s. We had a surfing weekend, me and my best mates in a camper van in a field, with our surf boards, Hawaiian theme, night surfing, the lot. It was amazing.
Nathan Stephens by Adam Davies
My mates call me Stumpy. Actually, I kind of called myself that as a way of getting over my disability. I was fed up with other people calling me legless, so I thought, if I just give myself the nickname, it gets rid of that stigma. You can’t hurt me with those words. So what else have you got to say to me? People are sometimes afraid to ask me what happened. With all the injured servicemen and women who’ve come out of Afghanistan and Iraq, people have become more aware. Most people with a disability are quite open to the fact. Ask me a question, and I’ll give you an answer. It’s better than you sitting there, wondering. We want people to be more aware of the different types of disability out there, and we’re cracking on with it. That’s one of the great things we’re doing with Disability Sport Wales: breaking down that perception barrier. Everyone will have some disability in their life, one way or another. It could be physical or mental, or just when you have barriers put in front of you because of your demographic or where you live. It’s about how you deal with it; how you push forward and break down those barriers. My wedding was an adventure in itself.
My wife loves to dance, so she asked, can you put the leg on to have a proper first dance? I hadn’t put the left leg on for about 10 years, so we worked tirelessly for about six months. It was so hard, but worth it – it was a tremendous evening. But the best thing was actually to walk down the aisle holding my wife’s hand. I’m usually in the chair or on crutches, so my hands are always in use.
It sounds strange, but I’d never held my wife’s hand before. I tried Gangnam Style, too. I managed it for about 10 seconds, but by then my leg was in so much pain I had to hobble away and take it off!