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Swimming’s own Santa Claus

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By Jonathan Twigg

IN any sport there are individuals who age like a fine wine and mature from the grape to become, over time, someone who is a respected and admired product, whom many strive to become.

One such full bodied person would be Carmarthen Swimming Club’s John Towle, hailing from Coventry in the West Midlands but now firmly ensconced in the landscape of West Wales sport.

John and his wife Hazel moved to Newcastle Emlyn in 2013 having lived in Bedworth for 32 years, with their two sons Adam, now living in London and Neil who is still residing in the Midlands at Hockley Heath, where John regularly returns for family time and to mix with old swimming friends at galas.

John started swimming in the 1960’s as a teenager at one of the three Coventry Clubs, where the current 50 meter pool stands today in the City Centre. But back in those days 33 yards was a more than a suffice distance for swimmers to train.

As, in all walks of life, choices had to be made when he was growing up and John followed a route into Scouting meaning swimming subconsciously took a backward step for 35 years.

His enthusiasm for Scouting prevailed from being a Senior Scout and gaining the Queen Scout Award, then the next 30 years as a Scout leader, progressing, eventually, to Assistant County Commissioner for Leader Training along with several years of assisting Leader Training course at Gilwell Park in London.

This role entailed him planning and delivering the training programme for all leaders whilst remaining at the forefront of nurturing young people to ‘be the best they can be’.

Eventually the lure of the swimming pool returned as John took his own children to Bedworth Otters Swimming Club. “As a parent I spent hours sitting and watching my two boys swim, so when an invitation was given to train as a technical official I accepted, and the rest is history.”

John committed the same enthusiasm he showed for scouting onto the pool deck and as time passed so swimming took over as his passion where the ‘boredom of sitting and watching the sport now sees him as one of Swim Wales most important cogs’.

His children have moved on from the sport, but John had found his calling and remained actively involved on the pool deck, qualifying as a Referee in 2004.

As part of Nuneaton and Bedworth Swimming Club (they merged late 1990s) he first got involved in training new officials to the sport at the Club, before moving to Coventry Swimming Club, taking responsibility for all their official’s training programme.

This led to an appointment to training officials across the Midlands region, particularly ‘young officials’ which he held until he moved to Wales four and a half years ago.

Short in stature he may be but John makes up for this through a well-spoken dialect, certainly a revered asset when communicating on the pool deck.  John is a man who listens, connects and reasons before speaking, which instantly earns him the respect he deserves, in many avenues of life, swimming being just one of them.

He is an active soul, despite his advancing years and the fact he has survived two cardiac infarctions, the second of which now sees him with a refitted heart. He enjoys walking, “primarily with a golf stick for support” he chuckles “and I’m also hands on at present in a major renovation of my garden, weather dependent of course.”

Both he and his wife have embraced life in Newcastle Emlyn, where he is supportive of his wife’s Chairmanship of the U3A, whilst John takes responsibility for producing the monthly newsletter.

He is also a keen clay pigeon shooter, “but like my golf it is dictated by time, weather and other commitments” he smiles ruefully. “Thankfully I get to play snooker on a more regular basis and enjoy the Sunday quiz nights in the local pub where my broad shoulders come to the fore in supporting the teams above us.”

Moving to Wales didn’t end his association with swimming; when he relocated he identified Carmarthen Swimming Club as the ‘right’ club, explaining “naturally I applied for membership and I am currently active in training club officials once again after some persuasion from Denise Conlon”!  John is committed to supporting the Club events, Urdd galas, Regional and Swim Wales national events and often finds himself away from home for nights on end.

“I do get tired, but swimming is a family, and everyone is supportive of each other. Those times away from the pool deck are enjoyable and friendships forged which for me have lasted a lifetime”.

John came through the sport and was on the pool deck along with British greats like Olympic British Paralympian swimmer Ellie Symonds, Olympic, European and Commonwealth breast stroke medallist swimmer Adam Whitehead and Olympic, European and Commonwealth back stroke competitor swimmer Jo Deakin.

“Swimming is a very technical sport, where the officials are present to see fair play for the competitors in a sport where the dedication to training can see them spending 16+ hours a week in the pool.

“Technology advancements have helped officials enormously but we had to embrace them as they were introduced.”

Due to his involvement at British National galas John’s experience meant he cascaded the information and technology through the ranks, although he still enjoys the ‘old school’ technique of pen, paper and a stop watch.

The future is one based on tomorrows for John. “My calendar each year is planned meticulously, with swimming taking a primary spot as I enjoy retirement from being a Technical Illustrator and Exhibition’s Project Manager. Evenings spent with fellow swimming officials are a time to relax, reflect and reminisce’ he says with a smile, and enjoying his favourite tipple, a glass of red wine.

He has had offers for key job roles as a double for Santa Claus, notably in the lead up to Christmas “but I turn them down as it’s also a busy month for swimming!” Perhaps then not a humbug as John is a living tribute to the sport of swimming.

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Primary Schools Cross Country returns after three-year absence

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THE 33rd edition of the Carmarthenshire Primary Schools Cross Country Championships returned for the first time in three years on Thursday evening, September 29, 2022.

Organised by Carmarthen & District Harriers Athletics Club and supported by Carmarthenshire County Council, the 2022 race moved to a new Carmarthenshire venue at Pembrey Country Park situated between Burry Port and Kidwelly. Prior to 2022, the United Counties Showground in Carmarthen had been the location for three decades.

Several runners have highlighted this event as the start of their running careers that have led to professional contracts and representing Great Britain internationally.

It gave youngsters in four primary school year groups the opportunity to get involved in running and enjoy the race experience alongside their school friends, whether they were experienced club runners or trying out cross country for the very first time.

Approximately 1,200 runners from over forty Carmarthenshire primary schools competed in the evening sunshine.

Watched on by hundreds of parents, family members and teachers, eight races were on offer with the year 3 and year 4’s completing 1km whilst the year 5 and year 6 races were over 1 mile. There were between 100-150 finishers across each year group.

Held on Monks Field within the park next to the National Closed Cycling Circuit and Ski Centre, competitors ran along fast grass and hill sections.

Individual and team awards were presented to the first five in each race and the winning school team in each year group combined – Ysgol Iau Llangennech (Year 3), Ysgol Y Dderwen (Year 4), Ysgol Y Dderwen (Year 5) and Ysgol Y Dderwen (Year 6).

Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to pupils from twenty two schools on the podium.

Top 3 positions:

Year 3 Girls: 1 Erin Jones (Carreg Hirfaen), 2 Farah Bowen (Llangynnwr), 3 Evie Issac (Swiss Valley)

Year 3 Boys: 1 Daniel James (Rhys Pritchard), 2 Gruff Davies (Rhys Pritchard), 3 Eligh Youngman (Iau Llangennech)

Year 4 Girls: 1 Zara Phillips (Rhys Pritchard), 2 Erin Bowen (Llangynnwr), 3 Mared Lili Rees (Y Dderwen)

Year 4 Boys: 1 Steffan James (Y Dderwen), 2 Elgan John (Y Bedol), 3 Zyiah Onoh (Mynydd Y Garreg)

Year 5 Girls: 1 Gwenno Jones (Nantgaredig), 2 Emilia Matthews (Pontyberem), 3 Elsie Davies (Saron)

Year 5 Boys: 1 Jasper Davis (Llandovery College), 2 Tai Jones (Y Bedol), 3 Tyler Greggory (Bro Banw)

Year 6 Girls: 1 Manon Phillips (Peniel), 2 Megan Evans (Cynnwyl Elfed), 3 Olwen Williams (Y Dderwen)

Year 6 Boys: 1 Tomos Cai Davies (Y Dderwen), 2 Miles Hayhurst (Ferryside), 3 Jayden Fergus (Saron)

The top 10 individuals in each school year can be viewed here: https://www.carmarthenharriers.co.uk/latest/carmarthenshire-primary-schools-cross-country-championships-2022-makes-a-welcome-return-to-the-county-pembrey-country-park/

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Carmarthenshire man with PTSD to run Cardiff Half for veterans

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A VETERAN from Pont-Henri in Carmarthenshire is putting his best foot forward to supporting wounded, injured and sick military personnel and veterans.

Anthony Spencer, 34 – who suffers with PTSD after serving two tours of Afghanistan – will be on the start-line of the Wizz Air Cardiff Half Marathon on 2 October.

And while he laughs at his “abysmal” training ahead of the event, he says he will pound the streets of Cardiff in order to raise money for True Heroes Racing – the UK’s only motorcycle race team dedicated to supporting UK Service personnel and veterans who are wounded, injured and sick:

“As a military veteran myself who still suffers with PTSD, I understand the difficulty that face those who leave the military with mental, physical or social difficulties. True Heroes Racing is a family open to anyone with military ties and I’m hoping to raise much-needed funds to continue my support for this great cause.”

Spencer joined the military as a Royal Engineer when he turned 16:

“Over the course of my career in the army, I was involved in many incidents. I was part of a frontline patrol unit working with the Afghanistan National Army.

“Perhaps the most catastrophic event was a roadside IED – an improvised explosive device – in Helmand province. It hit me a year or two later and I started drinking more and I was becoming more distant and reserved.

“Even now, it affects me. It impacts on my sleep – I only get a few hours here and there a night. And it affects my anxiety levels which make tasks such as travelling incredibly stressful. Loud noises and day-to-day stresses can seem unbearable.”

He was discharged in 2016 and since then he has thrown himself into work. Now a Chief Technical Officer for a Global Technology company.

“I managed to get a successful job. After having a rough ride of things myself but coming out the other end, I decided to try and do something good.

“There isn’t much support for veterans – medical or financial – so what this race team does is absolutely astonishing. We currently have two riders who are amputees and they are both racing at incredibly high competitive levels against able-bodied riders.”

The bikes are customised so that riders who have disabilities can race:

“The customisation is ground-breaking. We have a variety of veterans and serving personnel racing including an arm amputee so True Heroes Racing have been able to adapt the bike for him. But it all comes at a cost. Racing is an expensive sport and in many cases it can cost £40,000 or more per year to run a bike.

“We’re one big family and lots of people can get involved whether it’s as a mechanic, a photographer, a rider or helping to sell merchandise. It’s a great thing to throw your energy into after leaving the military.”

You can donate to Anthony’s  Justgiving page here: Crowdfunding to Raise vital money for a great cause http://trueheroesracing.co.uk. A unique team for military veterans and serving personal on JustGiving

The Wizz Air Cardiff Half Marathon sold out earlier this summer, just three and half months after entries going on sale.

The race is on track to generate its £20 millionth pound in fundraising at the 19th edition of the event this year. Race organisers are urging the public to get behind the event to help it reach this incredible milestone. Over £3 million is raised each year via partnerships with over 90 charities.

A record number of runners from outside Wales (both across the UK and overseas) are registered to take part this year. To celebrate, organisers will be using the event as a platform to celebrate Wales; showcasing everything that is so special and distinct about Cymru and to offer visitors a warm Welsh welcome.

The race is now a part of the SuperHalfs – an international half marathon series including races in Lisbon, Prague, Valencia, Copenhagen and Cardiff. It challengers runners to complete the five race circuit in 36 months in order to earn a ‘SuperMedal’ and other exclusive benefits/prizes.

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Old Gold earn big win over Ynyshir

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CARMARTHEN put the disappointment of the defeat against Barry Town in their last Cymru South League match well and truly behind them by inflicting this crushing victory on Ynyshir in this first ever meeting between these clubs.

And the Old Gold put the hosts under pressure from the very start with a series of penetrating attacks. As early as the 1st minute Greg Walters, in his own half, sent a superb pass through to Will Rikard who in turn set Noah Daley racing clear and into the penalty area – however, while his subtle lofted shot defeated goal-keeper Howe the ball flew narrowly over the bar.

Then on 3 minutes Bradley Gibbings sprinted along the right flank and threaded the ball through to Liam Thomas just inside the penalty area but Town’s all-time top scorer saw his crisp drive denied by Howe diving swiftly down to claim the ball.

Town continued to dominate these early stages of the game and, almost predictably, they soon took the lead. In the 13th minute Thomas, from the half-way line, sent a fine pass forward to Rikard who in turn swiftly fed the ball onto Gibbings – the influential midfielder then finished this delightful move by drilling a 15-yard shot beyond Howe’s reach and into the back of the net.

While the Old Gold maintained their hold of the game, for a short spell they seemed unable to test the Ynyshir defence in any meaningful way and with both teams too often guilty of misplacing passes there was little prospect of goalmouth action.

Yet that all changed after 37 minutes. A poor back-pass by an Albions’ defender forced Howe into making a hurried clearance – however Thomas, alert to the situation, blocked the ball at close-range and it rebounded into the net much to his delight.

Encouraged by that success Carmarthen once more began to dominate the play and on 43 minutes they extended their lead. Mathew Delaney embarked on a determined run from the half-way line to reach the by-line before sending a fine cross into the goalmouth where Thomas found space to drive the ball past Howe and into the back of the net.

Then after 45 minutes Gibbings made a strong run into the penalty area and held off two defenders before releasing a fierce shot that Howe, dropping smartly down, managed to turn around the post.

After the interval Ynyshir began positively and were soon rewarded with an early goal. On 48 minutes a smart passing move from the right-wing opened up the Town defence and finished with Cambell, in clear space on the edge of the goal area, firing the ball past goal-keeper Ivan Knott and into the back of the net.

For a spell the Old Gold defence remained under some pressure but it coped capably and no further significant threat to their goal arose.

While the rest of the match was quite evenly-balanced in open play, it was evident that Carmarthen were far more of a threat in sight of goal – and, almost predictably, they extended their lead when on 59 minutes Delaney, from the left flank, sent an inviting free-kick across the face of the goal area and saw Daley, at the far post, tap the ball into the net.

Town went close to scoring again after 71 minutes. Adam John fired a free-kick deep into the goalmouth where Lee Surman saw his close-range header blocked on the goal-line – the ball rebounded to Sam Parsons but his follow-up shot was also cleared.

However, the late frenzy of activity in and around the Albions’ penalty area did have a productive ending for the Old Gold when, deep into added time, another corner-kick reached Scott Tancock beyond the far post – he headed the ball back into the packed goalmouth where Parsons forced it into the net.

This win has consolidated Carmarthen’s position in the top six of the Cymru South League and with just 3 points currently separating those clubs every point from forthcoming matches is clearly vital – the next being against Afan Lido on October 1, at Richmond Park k/o 2.30pm.

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