Alys Thomas: Wrist injury forces Olympic swimmer to retire

Former Commonwealth champion Alys Thomas says she has been advised to end her career immediately to avoid possible permanent damage to her wrist.

Thomas, 31, won gold for Wales in the women’s 200m butterfly at the 2018 Games before reaching the Olympic Final in Tokyo last year.

His wrist problems began more than a decade ago with a broken cartilage, and have left him with “60-year-old arthritis.”

“It’s a lot to take in,” Thomas said.

“It’s a lot to turn your head around. As an athlete, I want to keep going.

“I said to the consultant, ‘What can you do for me to stay in the water and be competitive and train the way I want and need?’ Unfortunately, they couldn’t do anything.”

Thomas had planned to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

But he said: “It occurred to me that the condition of my joint and wrist was not good and that if I continued to load the joint and the daily work of training, I would lose function in my hand and my wrist.”

Winning Commonwealth gold was a breakthrough moment for Thomas: her Games record of two minutes and 5.45 seconds in the women’s final took her into the elite.

He finished seventh at last year’s Olympics, but has now revealed that he has been dealing with pain in his right wrist for a decade.

Thomas tore the cartilage before his first Commonwealths – Delhi 2010 – but hoped surgery would fix it.

Still, the problem persisted, and Thomas said he’s had to deal with the pain, initially with steroid injections, but more recently with tape and painkillers.

“Over the last two years or so it has become increasingly difficult to manage the pain,” he said.

“My tolerance level is generally high, but it’s getting harder and harder to get what I need to do in training to stay competitive within the sport.

“At the moment it’s hard for me to drive a car, cut food, pick things up, write. But the athlete’s brain, as toxic as it is… I don’t care about that stuff, as long as it can swim. The more I think about that way of thinking, the more I think that is not a healthy way of thinking.

“I need wrist function in my daily life. I need a functional hand to be able to do those things. At the end of the day, if I’m not going to know how to swim, I need to take care of my body health, my wrist health.

“I’m really sad it ended this way.”

Alys Thomas was 27 when she won Gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games

‘No regrets’

After returning from her fourth Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Thomas said the pain was starting to set in as she finished sixth in the women’s 200m butterfly final, almost five seconds off her record from four years ago.

He took a planned break from sport and attended an appointment with a wrist specialist consultant.

When asked if he has any regrets about dealing with the pain for so long, he is clear.

“No one,” he said. “I could have stopped when they told me I needed the first operation. If I had done that, I wouldn’t have gone to a Commonwealth Games.

“I wouldn’t have met half the people I’m going to meet. I wouldn’t have traveled to half the places I’ve been. I wouldn’t have had the experiences I’ve had. I wouldn’t have reached any of the potential I have.

“For me, it was my decision to keep going. No one at that point told me to stop. It was this point. A senior advisor told me that I have to stop, that enough is enough, and it’s serious enough to listen to.

“On all other points I think it was considered fixable, it was managed and my drive and motivation was enough to carry it forward.

Thomas said he had received “world-class” support from Swim Wales and British Swimming and “couldn’t have asked for more”.

Even as the pain worsened, the harsh reality of the counselor’s advice hit Thomas hard.

He said he still feels “created” and his “delusional state” means a part of him still believes he can get a podium in Paris.

But his immediate priority is rest and recovery, hoping his career-ending wrist injury doesn’t lead to longer-term problems.

In time, he says, he will accept that his competitive career will end this way.

And now he hopes to attend coaching courses to start a new chapter in the sport. After 13 years training in Swansea, the former champion wants to pass on his experiences to help the next generation of Welsh swimmers.

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