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Inspirational duo undertake Ironman challenge to raise money for BikeAbility Wales

06 Aug 2022 5 minute read
James & Derek with volunteers Mark Clayton (L) & Tez Burns (R) & Mary Sherwood from BikeAbility Wales

Taking on the Ironman challenge is something that tests the physical and mental limits of any athlete.

Comprising of a triathlon of a 2.4-mile swim (3.9K), 112-mile cycle (180.2K), and 26.2-mile run (42.2K) it is not for the faint of heart, body or spirit.

So when a young man with multiple disabilities decided to embark on the challenge, he made up for the limitations his body presented through his spirit, determination and big, fundraising heart.

26-year-old James Myles Thomas is blind, has no function in his legs, and only one of his arms is fully functioning, yet he has decided, with the help of his carer, Derek Murphy, that no challenge is insurmountable.

Together they have set about establishing the James Myles Thomas Side-by-Side Initiative, using a specialist bike and regular sessions in the pool in order to complete the distances involved in an Iron Man.

When Derek started supporting James eight years ago, James had finished his schooling but was looking to keep himself occupied and find a purpose.

His right arm was contracted and non-functioning, his world was quite restricted, he felt that not much was expected of him, and he was bored.

Derek helped him change all that. The former chef started helping him learn to cook, he took him swimming, he taught him to speak Welsh, and with a sharp memory and a hunger for new experiences James had soon acquired a food hygiene certificate and become fluent in Welsh and had learned to swim independently using a noodle.

They managed, with physio, purposeful activity and exercise, to decrease the contraction in his right arm and open up his hand sufficiently to give it some function and reduce discomfort.


Fast forward eight years and the inspirational duo have decided to take up the ultimate challenge in a bid to learn new skills, help other people see that anything is possible and to raise funds for good causes.

To complete this challenge, they need to use a power-assisted twin hand cycle and have teamed up with BikeAbilty Wales based in Swansea in order to fundraise not only for the specialist bike, but to support the charity in their work going forward.

BikeAbility Wales has been supporting people to access and enjoy cycling for over 15 years.  They teach children and adults of all ages and abilities to ride and develop confidence and skills with a range of specially designed cycles suitable for people with all different needs.

As specialist cycles can be expensive to buy and maintain and difficult to store, the charity endeavours to supply them so that as many people with additional needs can use them as possible.

The side-by-side cycle the charity has in stock is not power assisted and while it has been useful to get them started, is too heavy to complete the whole challenge.

Derek has already done a lot of fundraising and is well on the way to affording this special cycle, but in collaboration with BikeAbility Wales have set up a fundraiser to complete the purchase and to shore up the resources the charity needs to keep supporting budding cyclists and people with additional needs.


So far James, who lives in Llwynhendy with his mother, and Derek have completed 80 of the 160 lengths in Ammanford pool and managed 9 miles on the hand bike using the cycle track between Killay and Mumbles.

James said: “I like getting out and doing stuff and meeting people. I get really bored if I am stuck in the corner doing nothing.

“Best of all, at the end of a cycle session we get to have a chocolate ice cream at Joe’s Ice cream.”

Derek, who lost his wife to breast cancer, says that working with James has been a lifeline for him too.

They were connected through the Real Opportunities Project, when he started to teach him to cook, and he now supports James four days a week.

Originally from Lancashire Derek started learning Welsh when he first came to Wales over 40 years ago. He met his wife Sheila while they were both working in the Dragon Hotel, he as a chef and she as a waitress, before they changed direction and went into supporting people to become more independent.

He realised when he saw how quickly James learnt all the rules of food hygiene for his certificate that he had the potential to learn the language too, and so he set about teaching him in the same way he learned – ‘say it in English then say it in Welsh.’

Mary Sherwood from BikeAbility Wales said: “We were delighted and amazed to meet James Myles Thomas and his devoted carer Derek Murphy.  Both are absolutely inspirational people, who told us a really heart-warming story.

“We are bowled over by this generosity and can’t wait to see James complete his triathlon distances.

“Seeing people with challenges like his making the most of their abilities and achieving goals is part of the spark that got BikeAbility started in the first place.

“We know what a big heart the community here has, and that everyone who hears about James’s Side-by-Side initiative will want to chip in to help both him, and us, keep our wheels spinning!

To follow James and Derek’s progress and to contribute to their fundraising challenge visit their fundraising page here

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