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Meet Dafydd.

Wales rugby legend takes on Swansea Ironman 70.3 in aid of Tenovus Cancer Care

As Dafydd James prepares to take on Swansea Ironman 70.3 he believes “anything is possible.” 

On Sunday 14 July, the rugby legend, 48, will swim 1.2 miles, cycle 56 miles and finish off with a half marathon run. It’s a gruelling gig for the most seasoned triathlete. The fact it’s Dafydd’s Ironman debut, and he has early onset dementia, doesn’t faze him.

All the focus of the ex-Wales winger and British Lion will be on raising funds and awareness of cancer as a proud patron and supporter of Tenovus Cancer Care.

“I haven’t even told my mum and dad I’m taking part,” he said.

If people want to come along and support me, that’s great. But this is not about me, or about what I used to do, it’s about raising as much as I can for a charity I believe in and I’m proud to represent.

Tenovus Cancer Care does some amazing things supporting families affected by cancer, such as their Mobile Support Units that bring treatments closer to home. I don’t think people understand how much all that costs. It’s massive.

There must be a cure for cancer but there also needs to be support. Personally, I have always found it cathartic to help other people. I like to do a little bit of good.”

It’s the third year Swansea have hosted an Ironman event. The endurance race attracts elite athletes from across the globe as well as those pushing past the pain barrier for charity.

This year’s event starts with the swim in Swansea’s Prince of Wales Dock, followed by the cycle through the stunning scenery of Gower with the half marathon run taking participants past the finish line.

Dafydd is relishing the challenge despite his well-documented health issues the past two years. As well as early onset dementia, he is living well with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition, as well as an ongoing battle with his mental health.

“I have struggled with my mental health, all that is public, it’s out there,” he said.

"That’s also why I embrace new challenges, to keep my mental health intact, as well as give back."

It’s why I am glad counselling is part of the service offered at Tenovus Cancer Care. A cancer diagnosis must be tough, not only for the person, but their loved ones too. I have empathy for that. The fact Tenovus Cancer Care recognizes that in its support is important to me.”

Dafydd became a patron at Tenovus Cancer Care after supporting events pre-pandemic.

I was approached by someone at the charity, and I thought, yeah, let’s do it. I have friends and acquaintances who have had or have cancer. Most people do.

One in two of us will have cancer in a lifetime. That is why it’s massively important to raise awareness.”

At the height of his rugby career, Dafydd played to the roar of crowds in packed stadiums, but he sees his Ironman challenge as a race against himself and the clock.

He’s no stranger to extreme challenges and once completed 31 marathons in 31 days. But he’s also pragmatic and trying not to raise expectations for his triathlon debut.

“It’s not something you roll out of bed and do. Some people might think you can just turn up and do it, but it’s trying to do it properly and not injure or kill yourself in the process! It’s like anything in life, you need to prepare.

Running a marathon every day for 31 days was a great test of resilience as well as mental fortitude. I will need all that for this. But at the end of the day, I will aim to do the best I can on the training I’ve managed to do around my job and my other commitments.

I swim in the sea, not brilliantly, but cycle a great deal. Running is second nature. I have a structure and a programme in place. I have had lots of support to prepare.

On the day, it will also be about what I put in my body. I am a food nutritionist and managing spikes, those energy peaks and troughs, will be an important factor.”

Dafydd is aiming to complete the challenge in under seven hours.

"I still have my competitive edge. I was a professional sports person at the end of day, and that never goes away. I am expecting there to be a mixture of pleasure and pain at the finish line.

But, for me, this challenge is all about Tenovus Cancer Care. And if I have a medal to put in the trophy cabinet with my others at the end, it will be one of my proudest achievements."

If you have been moved by Dafydd's story, please consider donating to Tenovus Cancer Care

If you or someone you love has been affected by cancer, our free Support Line is there for you. Just call 0808 808 1010