Friday, 30 October 2009

Special award for disability sports office

RCT Tigers Disability Football team coach, Stephanie Gillard, has received an award for her work with disabled children in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Steph was presented with the Encephalitis Exceptional Services award at Ystrad Sports Centre, Rhondda. She was nominated for the award by Debbie and Allen Jones of Tonypandy, whose son Rhys became acutely ill with viral herpes simplex encephalitis – an acute inflammation of the brain – in 1996.

The award is primarily for people within the Health, Education and Social Care services, but Debbie contacted the Encephalitis Society as she felt that Steph deserved recognition for her exceptional services to children with disabilities within the RCT area.

“Stephanie’s involvement in Rhys’s life has been as important as that of the medical profession. She has given him the confidence to believe in himself, and provided the missing link in his rehabilitation. We are thrilled that the Encephalitis Society agreed to award her for her efforts,” said Debbie.

The RCT Tigers football team was founded in January 2008 and Rhys joined in March 2008. He was excited about the prospect of going as he had always loved sport, but lacked the confidence to join a mainstream club.

“It was easy to see straight away that Stephanie had a wonderful rapport with the children, who had a wide range of disabilities,” said Debbie.

“She has endless patience and always takes care to ensure that no one is left on the sidelines. She is firm but fair, and there is always lots of laughter. The way that she has turned around the lives of these children is simply amazing.

“There were many children who were unable to communicate when they first joined the team, and it is plain to see the satisfaction that Steph gets from the fact that these children now go up to her and call out her name.

“All of the children, and Rhys in particular have gained self confidence and self esteem, and we have seen him become more independent over the past year. That was one of the things that we wanted most for him - to lead an independent life.”

Rhys was initially completely paralysed down the left side and for many years was unaware he had a left side to his body. He suffered a major brain injury, and was left with a left side hemiplegia, left field vision defect, absence epilepsy and problems with his memory and emotions.

Medical experts at the University of Wales Hospital said he was a “hopeless case” but he continues to amaze the medical profession with his achievements.

His parents joined the Encephalitis Society and it has proved to be an invaluable source of information and support, not only for Rhys and his parents, but also for his sister Ellen, whose life was also turned upside down by Rhys’s illness.

In recent years, Rhys has also joined a badminton club at Abercynon Sports Centre and, under the guidance of coach Peter Egan, has won many medals representing Wales. Most recently, he won a silver medal in the Great Britain Special Olympics Men’s Doubles in Leicester with his partner Kevin Egan.

Steph recommended Rhys to the Federation of Disability Sports Wales based in Cardiff and since joining the FDSW academy in May this year, Rhys has won a total of 12 medals representing Wales in athletics that included eight gold, one silver and one bronze.

Rhys has also received an elite performer award from RCT this summer and was awarded the Golden Boot trophy for being the RCT Tigers’ top goal scorer for the 2008/09 season.

Rhys’s father Allen said that he never thought he would be able to watch his son play football, and how wonderful it was to be able to cheer him on from the sidelines.

He said: “It is what every father expects to do for their son, but I never thought it would be possible for Rhys. Without Stephanie, it would never have been possible. Debbie and I would like to say a huge thank you also to RCT Sports Development for their continued support and encouragement and the PE department at St John Baptist High School in Aberdare.”

Rhys added: “Steph has given me the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am very grateful to her. I know that I have to work very hard with the academy, but I absolutely love it. Through the Tigers, the badminton and the athletics, I have made so many new friends and have already travelled to lots of different places.

“I have found a best friend in Lloyd Francis, and we are already planning our first visit to the local pub, and I know that is something both our mothers thought would never happen!”

Steph, who covered Rhondda Cynon Taf disability sports officer Shelley Jones’s maternity leave, has now started a PGSCE course in UWIC, Cardiff. During her time at RCT, Steph also organised athletics, swimming and tennis lessons for children.

RCT Tigers train at Hawthorn Leisure Centre near Pontypridd. The team play friendly matches and in the FAW Disability festival league on a monthly basis and are looking for senior players to develop an over 16s squad.

The Encephalitis Society provides invaluable support to those affected directly and indirectly by the illness. The Society has recently provided a regional representative facility, and this will prove to be very useful for those whose lives have been affected by the condition. For more information, go to

For more information on the RCT Tigers, visit or email


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