A YOUNG man from Trim is part of a team that has won a bronze medal in the European Powerchair Championships in Finland qualifying them to compete in the 2021 Federation Internationale de Powerchair Football Association World Cup finals in Australia.
At the age of three, Thomas Winters now aged 22, was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a disorder that gradually makes the body’s muscles weaken over time but despite the challenges he has faced through childhood and beyond the athlete has never let his condition define him. This will be his second time competing in the world cup for powerchair football, having taken part in Florida in 2017 with his team Midlands United.
“Powerchair Football is a variant of football for people with physical disabilities. Players use power wheelchairs in order to manoeuvre and kick an oversized football. The underlying values of Powerchair Football are to encourage people with disabilities to get involved in a sport that they have an interest in,” according to the official website.
Thomas and his dad, Niall travel to Offaly every week for training but the long journey is worth it according to determined Thomas who says the sport has changed his life for the better,
Thomas and proud dad Niall with his European Powerchair Championship medal
“I have been playing for about five or six years and it has made a huge difference to my life. I was very shy before I got involved with powerchair but I have made a lot of new friends and have become more sociable since I started it. It gives you something to look forward to. It’s good to meet up people in a similar situation as me and talk.
“It’s like normal football but we have these specially designed chairs that are made for the game and they have a guard at the front and you spin the chair and move the chair into the ball to hit the ball and pass it and shoot.
Thomas and his team are still reeling from their success in Finland but have their eye on the bigger prize and have gone back into training mode as he explains,
“It was brilliant to get bronze, it was the first time we ever won a medal. We played in the World Cup in 2017 in Florida and came 6th out of ten so for Australia we will be hoping for a higher placing. We are also part of a national league and we have to train for that, we have games every few months so nothing stops.”
The young Trim man’s achievements were recognised recently when he was presented with three international caps for competing in the Nations Cup in 2014 and the World Cup in Florida at a ceremony in the Castleknock Hotel last month. The ‘Football For All’ International Caps Presentation acted as a showcase for the terrific efforts of so many players representing the Republic of Ireland in a variety of sports.
Mick McCarthy and assistant coach Terry Connor joined FAI Vice President Noel Fitzroy and helped with the presentations as six different teams were honoured for their service over the past five years.
Determined Thomas has travelled all over the world with the sport
Mum Ann says she couldn’t be prouder of her son’s success.
“We are so proud of him, he’s a fantastic lad. There is a huge difference in Thomas since he started powerchair football, he’s come out of himself and he has made friends from all over the world. They are all in the same boat and having that support from his peers is something money can’t buy.
“He was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy when he was three and went into the wheelchair just after his communion. He went to mainstream schools, St Michael’s, Trim and later the Boyne Community School and did very well. He went to college for four years in Cavan Institute of Education studying games computer design.
He has never let his condition stop him from doing anything. We’ve been to Paris, Denmark, America you name it with his competitions. Only for Thomas, I wouldn’t have seen half of what I’ve seen. He’s an inspiration.”
Senator Ray Butler who has been a longtime supporter of the young Trim man commented that: “Thomas is a wonderful young man and we are all so proud of him, his success has been unbelievable. Rising to the top of his sport and the passion he has shown throughout his life of getting things done whatever the challenges.
“I wish Thomas all the best in the future and every success in going to compete for Ireland in the World Cup.”