Gaynor has battled severe illness to win achievement awards!

Gaynor Martin proudly displays her awardWhen the Sport Pembrokeshire Awards were announced last month the winner of the ‘Adult Disability Sport Award’ was Gaynor Martin, who has overcome life-threatening illness to receive deserved recognition in her chosen sport of rowing with the Jemima Rowing Club, based at Lower Town in Fishguard.
And there was a further honour for her when it was announced that she had been chosen as the ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ at the Fishguard and Goodwick Town Council Community Awards.

Dumbstruck as serious illness strikes . . .

It marked her fantastic recovery from a life-threatening and like-changing shock which started 12 years ago when she suffered severe headaches but there was no successful diagnosis forthcoming – until she went to an optician in Cardigan who referred her straight away to Withybush Accident and Emergency with a covering letter.
She had no idea what the problem was but after a scan she was immediately sent to Glangwili for an MRI scan – and suffered a shock to her system as a specialist and seven other doctors drew the curtains around her bed and told her she had a massive brain tumour!
“To say I was dumbstruck was an understatement,” admitted Gaynor, “and from there I was transferred to Morriston Hospital and underwent surgery two days later.

. . . And things go from bad to worse before the long haul back to recovery

“Things went from bad to worse in a short space of time when I was operated on because as I was cut open the tumour exploded and there was blood everywhere so an extra specialist had to be sent for to help get the rest of the tumour shifted quickly and I later learned that I had died twice whilst on the operating table but they managed to revive me!
“Unfortunately, they were unable to remove all the tumour so there is a small tumour left, which is monitored by an M.R.I. scan every year as there is a risk of it growing back. The tumour is benign, so no treatment was needed.
“I woke up to find I was paralysed down my left side and was in hospital for five months and in a wheelchair for two years as I slowly fought my way back and had to learn to walk again with the help of four great physios – and it was so tough that even a few faltering steps meant I had to go and lie down for a few hours.
“But they knew that if there were any spare sessions I would grab them and from those faltering footsteps I can now walk OK – although I still have the odd balance issues but when I fall over I just get up and laugh it off.”

Taking the first steps back into sport

Gaynor eventually decided it was time to get back into sport because she had done lots of swimming, cycling and gym work and as a child in Newport (Pembs) she had spent loads of time with her friends rowing on the many tenders in the water there – and decided to contact the Jemima Parry Rowing Club to see what they could offer.
“So I contacted, Martha Owen, the chairman/coach and I was made welcome from the outset and found it was a great way to claw my way back to something like full fitness and although I am still not 100% I am on the way, but will never make a full recovery because of the damage on the right side of my brain, which controls my left side.
“I have had a few seizures after my surgery, which is quite common after brain surgery but is now controlled by medication.”

Gaynor Martin and Angie Miles

Great help from Simon at SAW, from Angela and Martha

“I was also delighted that Simon Roach at the SAW Gym in Haverfordwest devised a training programme for me that I can use there or on my weights at home – and Jane Richards and Co at the Fishguard Leisure Centre have helped with her fierce spinning and gym sessions. Angela Miles, the development officer for Disability Sport in Pembrokeshire has also been super-supportive and I’m really pleased with the progress I have made.
“Martha invited me down to the rowing club and it took me a while to get started because I had to relearn all my skills.
“For example, I had a problem with keeping my feet in the longboat’s block to keep me stable but it was typical of the another rowing club that a member with an engineering background devised the means to keep me steady and I haven’t looked back since.
“With Martha’s and members’ full support I soon felt integrated into the club and her husband Mark helped me with all the huge amount of accreditation for me to be classed as a Paralympic rower in the PR3 category. Martha came with me to London for a full-blown medical and interview so that I could achieve that status.”

Family Matters . . .

Gaynor has always had great support from her family; with daughter Lisa working as a duty officer/swimming teacher at Fishguard Leisure Centre and son Christopher works as a self-employed agricultural contractor but really enjoys walking in Snowdonia when he has time.
Viv Stephens, her stepdad, looked after her after discharge from hospital and she still says she couldn’t have done it without him.  He was a blessing and had lots of patience, especially when she kept falling out of her wheelchair and bed and they had quite a few laughs!
Gaynor loves horses and this equine interest is shared by Lisa and granddaughter Elen, who at six years of age has her own pony named Lennie – and also loves taking part in dance, acrobatics and swimming.

Gaynor Martin disability sports winner

Becoming a Celtic Long Boat crew member – and powerful performances at World and European Indoor Rowing Championships

So far Gaynor’s rowing has seen her really enjoying her involvement as part of a team of four rowers and cox in the Celtic Longboat Welsh Sea Rowing League Races that take place around the Pembrokeshire Coast at venues like Newport (Pembs), Neyland, Pembroke Dock, and up as far as Aberystwyth and Aberdovey.
She also went to Ireland to row the 22k Ocean to City race in Cork with the Newport Boat Club crew, another tough challenge.
On an individual note her travels have taken her to Paris and Prague in the World and European Rowing Championships and she did brilliantly to collect a silver medal in Paris – and only missed out on a coveted gold medal in France by three seconds after her backside slipped off the seat!
She also took part in the London Rowing Race over a distance of 25 miles against the strong tides on the River Thames.
“I was contacted by a friend at the Solva Rowing Club saying they were short of a crew member and I literally jumped in to help. It was a great experience but I must admit it was far tougher than I ever imagined.”
“I had to be helped out of the boat afterwards by the crew and an elderly gentleman,” Gaynor admits with a chuckle!
Gaynor Martin on the indoor track

Cycling challenges undertaken – and achieved

Outside of her rowing Gaynor still enjoys cycling and swimming and in the former sport she took part in the ‘Pedal for a Medal’ challenge and clocked up more miles than she ever thought she would.
She also entered the ‘London 100K Ride for Cancer’ with some friends and they raised a substantial sum through sponsorship.
“It was an amazing event where we started at 10.30pm and rode around the course through the night until we finished at about 5am – and the atmosphere was brilliant!

Gaynor stars on a rowing machine and helps to coach ‘The Fishguard Thunderbolts’

Back on the rowing front, it was unfortunate that the coronavirus pandemic brought about a halt to her rowing in open waters but my word has she made use of her power in virtual racing – and is already a five-time British record holder on the Concept 2 Rowing Machine.
Not content with her own performances, Gaynor also joins some other rowing club members in coaching members of the ‘Fishguard Thunderbolts’ disability team and students at Fishguard High School and really enjoys it.
“The Thunderbolts have really worked hard to show their improvement and it is hugely satisfying to be part of the sessions, which are great fun,” she told us, “and we have already been to a competition and there are more in the pipeline.”

Gaynor Martin training at Strumble Head

And finally . . .

Ask Gaynor about future plans and she is very quick to answer.
“There is no end to what I want to achieve and after my illness there is no challenge thrown at me that I won’t undertake.
“My motto is NEVER, EVER, EVER to give in and nothing is impossible.”
“With regards to the rowing I want to continue to increase my skill levels and power at a club where Martha leads by example and there is a great camaraderie as everyone receives a warm welcome, as I did.
“To be honest, when they received a finalists’ trophy in the ‘Club of the Year’ award I was as proud of that as I was with my winning the lovely glass engraved trophy for achievement in the disability sport category – and I count myself very lucky to be part of such a brilliant group of like-minded people.”
Angela Miles, who nominated Gaynor for her disability sport award with Sport Pembrokeshire, told us,
“I nominated Gaynor for the award for overcoming many challenges during her recovery from an operation to remove a brain tumour and finding physical activity as a tool with this recovery. She has excelled to great heights with her rowing successes and is a glowing example to others about battling back from illness.”
We could pay Gaynor Martin no higher tribute so all it remains for us at is to congratulate her on her achievements – and wish her every success in the future!

Gaynor Martin with the team