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Pembrokeshire fundraiser makes a splash in memory of local Paralympic hero

RACHEL MAYHEW, from Neyland, Pembrokeshire, is taking on the Long Course Weekend sea swim in memory of the late local Paralympic champion Jacob Thomas.

Rachel, 31, will swim 1.2 miles of North Beach, Tenby to raise vital funds for Muscular Dystrophy UK, which funds research into treatments for rare, life-limiting muscle-wasting conditions and supports more than 110,000 adults and children across the UK affected by these conditions,

She said: “My sister was a carer for Jacob, who lived with a condition called Duchenne muscular dystrophy for which there is currently no cure. He lost his battle to the condition in August 2020, aged 25.”

Rachel is keen to take on the fundraising challenge after being touched by Jacob’s strength and determination. She said: “Jacob was an active sportsman and despite living with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, he travelled the world and ranked among the best in his beloved sport of Boccia, even representing Team GB at the London 2012 Paralympics.

“Everyone who knew Jacob was touched by his kindness. I was grateful for Jacob for showing us that when life gets tough to continue with a smile on our faces.

“I’d never heard of the condition before so, when I signed up to do this swim, I wanted to raise awareness and help Muscular Dystrophy UK to make lives easier for those who live with the condition, and their families. So, Jacob, this swim is for you!”

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a rare, progressive and life limiting condition that mainly affects boys and causes progressive muscle weakness, leading to increasing and severe disability. It not only affects muscles used for movement but also vital organs, cutting lives short. 

Rachel’s passion for sea swims was purely coincidental. It began three years ago, when she joined the local swimming club, the Bluetits. She said: “I’d been suffering with anxiety and panic attacks. I thought that by joining the group it would give me a boost and help to interact socially.

“Little did I realise how much a dip in the sea could improve my mood. When you feel low and you go for a sea swim, you come out elated – it’s addictive! I’ve made so many friends through the Bluetits. It’s surprising how many other people I’ve met who’ve been in a similar situation.”

Rachel has enjoyed the support of her family and staff at Value Independence CIC, who supported Jacob in his later years, to host different fundraising events including a coffee morning, Easter bingo session, club night – she is currently planning a Boccia tournament for July, which she hopes to make an annual event.

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To date she’s raised over £800 for Muscular Dystrophy UK and added: “Jacob’s dad. Michael, has supported all our fundraising events, it’s great to have him with us. He’s helping organise the Boccia tournament and is happy that I’m fundraising in Jacob’s memory.

Phil Heighway, Regional Development Manager for South West, West Midlands and Wales at Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “Thank you to Rachel and her family for their ongoing support and countless hours of fundraising. It’s brilliant that Rachel’s turned her hobby into a fundraising activity. The money raised will continue to help Muscular Dystrophy UK support people living with muscle wasting conditions and fund further research and treatment.”

Rachel adds: “I trained all winter in the pool to gain stamina and strength, and to improve my stroke so then when I hit the sea in late spring I had the confidence and I just had to get used to the cold temperatures, which I couldn’t have done without some very supportive friends and family.

“Thank you to everyone for their ongoing support and donations and to all the local businesses that have donated raffle prizes – Folly Farm, Heatherton, Tesco and Pembrokeshire Promise, to name a few. Along with family, and the support of Value Independence CIC, who supported Jacob in his later years.”

Support Rachel by donating to her JustGiving page at: Justgiving.com/Rachel-Mayhew5

Interested in taking on a challenge for Muscular Dystrophy UK why not sign up today? For more information or to help support our work, visit musculardystrophyuk.org or call our free helpline on 0800 652 6352 (open Mon-Thurs 10am-2pm).