21 Sep 2020
Ben Pritchard speaking for the first time as an Ambassador for the London Irish Foundation
Ben has been actively visiting schools talking to youngsters and inspiring them with each and every visit. Throughout the time we have been communicating with Ben it was clear that from a very young age, his love and passion was rugby. Ben comes from a strong Welsh background whose family loved rugby and it is not surprising that he still follows and loves the game, its in his blood and he talks so fondly about the sport.
Ben passionately wants to inspire youngsters going through difficult times and he believes that some of our projects are perfect for us to work together. As a Foundation we are delighted to have Ben on-board and we look forward to working with him in the future.
In September 2016 the Welshman was involved in a cycling crash which left him paralysed from the ribcage down.
"I just came off my bike, one of those freak accidents that nine times out of 10 you'd walk away from, but unfortunately this time I didn't get up," he explains.
However, despite suffering life-changing injuries, Ben's competitive spirit never left him and now he is making headlines in the world of Para-rowing, having won bronze at his Rowing World Cup debut in Poznan.
After his accident Ben was taken to Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, to recover at the national spinal centre and birthplace of the Paralympic Games.
In 1948, Sir Ludwig Guttmann organised the first Stoke Mandeville Games - the forerunner of today's Paralympics - to coincide with the start of that year's London Olympics.
The hospital continues to put emphasis on sport and the benefits it can bring to rehabilitation post-accident.
Ben's first taste of the sport was when British Rowing came in to do training sessions.
"GB Rowing came in a couple of times and there was a sports therapist there called Livi and she was keen on rowing - and that's how [Paralympic champion] Lauren Rowles got into the sport as well," Ben explains.
"It's the disabled Leander [the famous rowing club founded in 1818] of the rowing world I guess, Stoke Mandeville Hospital.
"I hated getting them [the training sessions] at first but the more I did it the more I started to love that feeling."
As a competitive athlete before his accident, Ben says that helped him learn to enjoy the sport while a leader board pinned to the back of the door provided inspiration to someone with a competitive nature.
"That was a red rag to a bull," he jokes. "Someone told me there was a leader board and I wanted to get on top of it. When I left Stoke Mandeville I was on the top!"
Ben believes sport played a huge role in his rehabilitation.
"Sport is a real piece of me, without sport I don't think I could function as well. It's my mental release," he added.
"When I was in hospital I could go to the sports session and completely forget that I was in a wheelchair with spinal injuries. I was just focused on having a good time with the people around me.
"My advice to anybody facing adversity is to just to take each thing step by step."
His progress attracted the attention of British Rowing, which suggested the 27-year-old look at continuing rowing once he was discharged from hospital.
Ben continued to progress in his new sport and underlined his burgeoning talent by breaking the indoor world record in the PR1 adaptive rowing classification in November 2018, completing the 1000m in 3min 46.5sec to beat Pascal Daniere's previous mark of 3:47.9.
However, even getting on the water can be a challenge for someone who is paralysed.
"Finding clubs with the facilities is really difficult in the UK and I think a lot is being done at the moment to try and increase that grass-root level adaptive rowing," Ben said.
Balancing work and training
Ben was an insurance broker and moved with his job to London where he joined Twickenham rowing club.
He decided to move back to Wales in October 2018, living in Ammanford and training with the Wales rowing squad who are based at Channel View Leisure Centre in Cardiff.
Ben rows in the PR1 M1x class which is fixed-seat, bolted into the boat and he is strapped in from the chest down, using his arms, shoulders and back to move the boat.
'A massive surprise'
Success has come quickly as Ben won bronze in his first World Cup event in Poznan, Poland.
Ben admits his rapid progress has been a revelation: "It was a massive surprise to me and the selectors and coaches. My next aim was World Championship selection, before the ultimate dream of competing in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
"My next focus is making sure I do enough to put my hat in the ring that the selectors feel comfortable in choosing me," he added.
To listen to Ben's inspirational Podcast please go to media-gallery-audio
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