Poppy’s Triathlon Challenge


On Sunday, May 28th, twelve year old Poppy Jones and her dad Rob, from Abergavenny, will take part in the Swansea Triathlon together to raise money for Carmarthen based children’s charity Cerebra.

Poppy Jones Triathlon

But as well as embracing the 750 metre swim, the 20k bike ride and the 5k run, the pair will face an additional challenge.  Poppy has cerebral palsy and Rob will be pushing/pulling her around the course using custom made equipment specially designed by a design team from the Cerebra Innovation Centre – a partnership between the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and the charity.

Poppy was born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and chronic lung disease. She can’t sit, stand, roll or support herself and life is a daily challenge for her. She has suffered many health problems over the years and there have been times when doctors didn’t think she would pull through. Dad Rob explains: “There have been times when it has been very touch and go and we feel very lucky that she has been with us for the last 12 years”.

Twelve year old Poppy is a warm and determined character whose sense of adventure is infectious. Last year, when Poppy decided that she wanted to take part in a triathlon, the family turned to the Cerebra Innovation Centre (CIC) to see whether they could help Poppy achieve her goal.

With the full support of both the University and the charity, Dr Ross Head, director of CIC along with his colleagues, Gerallt Devonald and Dan Cuthbert, set to work straight away to on designing, engineering and manufacturing unique sporting products that would enable Poppy to compete and realise her dream.

Having designed a light, comfortable, ergonomic chair on wheels as well as a sleek and slender boat, Poppy and Rob completed a super sprint triathlon in Cardiff.

But that was last year’s challenge. 

In true Poppy style, she’s decided to up the ante for this year’s test by competing over a longer distance in a larger, faster boat. 

Later this month, while most people will be enjoying the bank holiday sunshine, Poppy and Rob will be taking to the water of Swansea’s docks and will be pounding the streets of Swansea as they take part in this year’s event.

As the Swansea Triathlon is sponsored by UWTSD, the team at the Cerebra Innovation Centre thought it was a great opportunity to re-design some of the equipment to allow Poppy to compete on an even larger scale.

“Last year, we designed a chair and boat in Poppy’s favourite colour – yellow,” says Dr Ross Head.

“For this year’s challenge, we’ve modified both products to make them more efficient; to make them faster – and to change the look to match Poppy’s new favourite colour, orange!

“Poppy’s also grown a lot since last year’s triathlon and the boat we built last year was too small. So I redesigned the boat to be bigger, however this meant it would be heavier, so I started from scratch using everything I had learnt about hydrodynamics to ensure the boat would be fast, efficient and create the minimum resistance so that Rob could swim the course. This year’s boat uses a V-shaped tri- hull. This allows speed through the water but is given stability by the two smaller outrigger hulls.

“Poppy’s Triathlon Chair has also been upgraded to make it faster and more comfortable. The guys at V-Trak very kindly donated some high quality wheels to help them roll to the finish line. It has upgraded bespoke components which will ensure efficiency, a speedy transition from cycling to running and ensure Poppy’s safety.“

Ross Head Triathlon

Before taking part in the Cardiff Triathlon, Rob faced a challenge of his own - getting fit for the event.  But since competing in his first triathlon, Rob has been getting progressively stronger, even taking part with Poppy in the Brighton Marathon in April.

“Taking part in the Swansea Triathlon is so exciting for Poppy and psychologically it will really benefit her,” says dad, Rob.

“She gets so frustrated at the limits her condition puts on her and this will really focus her mind on what she can do. Poppy doesn’t think ‘I can’t’ but rather ‘with a little help I can’. I’ve got my work cut out though as Poppy doesn’t want to just take part – she wants to win!

"Last year was very much exploring what was possible. This year we really understood much more how families living with disability can be enabled through design, and the impact on wellbeing. It is also apparent that the vision and engagement by UWTSD last year has been realised and has had a broad ranging impact on awareness in the UK," he adds.

The University of Wales Trinity Saint David, who are project partners in CIC, are also fully supporting Rob and Poppy’s challenge, with the University’s Swansea College of Art sponsoring the re-design of the boat.  The University’s renowned health and sports specialists were also instrumental in preparing Rob for his first challenge, working with him on his training schedule. 

Poppy is such an engaging and enthusiastic young person with a great zest for life and a wonderful thirst for adventure.  As soon as Swansea Triathlon organiser, Scott Powell from the company, Activity Wales learnt of the father and daughter’s bid to compete, he was delighted to be able to help them take part.

 “It’s a real honour to have Poppy and Rob take part in the Swansea Triathlon as their story is incredibly inspirational,” says Scott.

“Their strength and determination really does show that anyone can achieve anything they want.  We are deeply passionate about the events we deliver and we work extremely hard to show that the sport of triathlon is not just for elite athletes – it’s simply a fantastic way for people to keep motivated, fit and healthy. 

“I’m sure that Poppy and Rob will inspire many others to take up the challenge.  We know the people of Swansea will come and support all athletes taking part and we hope that we can help Poppy raise as much money as possible for Cerebra – a truly awesome cause”.

Rob and Poppy are taking part in the Swansea Triathlon to raise money for Cerebra, a national charity based in Carmarthen dedicated to helping families with children with brain conditions discover a better life together.

“Families where a child has a brain condition face challenges every day,” says Elaine Collins, PR and Marketing Manager at Cerebra.

“Just to learn, play, make friends, enjoy and experience the world can feel difficult, even impossible. But we don’t believe there’s any challenge that can’t be overcome. A spirit of relentless discovery drives everything we do and our Innovation Centre team are delighted to be part of Rob and Poppy’s journey together”.

If you would like to support Rob and Poppy please visit www.justgiving.com/Rob-Jones42

For more information on the charity, visit www.cerebra.org.uk

Further Information

For further information, please contact Sian-Elin Davies at UWTSD by contacting sian-elin.davies@uwtsd.ac.uk / 01267 676908 / 07449 998476 OR Elaine Collins at Cerebra - 01267 242583 / 07887 803437 elainec@cerebra.org.uk