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Olympic Silver Medal for Cardiff University Physio Alumnus

22 September 2021

Tom Barras (BSc 2015), Cardiff University graduate, qualified Physiotherapist and Olympic Medallist has achieved more in his 27 years than some of us would hope to in a lifetime.

Tom represented Great Britain at the rowing World Championships at both Junior and U23 level. However, it was not until he was a Senior International that he drew the attention of the rowing world. He won a bronze medal in the single sculls in 2017 in Sarasota-Bradenton, becoming only the fourth Briton ever to win the men’s equivalent. He recently went on to achieve a silver medal in the quadruple sculls at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

However, in addition to having an award-winning athletic career, Tom also graduated from Cardiff University in 2015 with a degree in Physiotherapy. He went on to become a chartered Physiotherapist, where he has helped others in both NHS and Private outpatient clinics.

The Cardiff University alumnus recognises how far he’s come in such a short space of time. Now, challenging some of the best rowers in the world, he’s also balancing a career in Physiotherapy; healing and improving patients’ lives.

Tom tells us why choosing Cardiff helped him in his journey: “It wasn't actually until I visited Cardiff University on an open day that I was sold. The ability to study within the world-renowned University Hospital of Wales, and learn in an environment with cutting edge equipment and facilities was hugely exciting. As were the state-of- the-art, high performance sport and rowing facilities based at Talybont, The Welsh Institute of Sport and Channel View leisure centre. The School of Healthcare Sciences felt warm, friendly and welcoming, whilst the lecturers and sport staff were as richly engaging as they were impassioned about their respective fields. Even amongst the huge modern lecture halls and smart, state of the art practical rooms the place still felt very homely.

“The university rowing club, backed up and supported by Welsh Rowing, provided me with plenty of teammates to train alongside, pushing me to get quicker, stronger and more technical. However, it wasn't just the rowing itself which added to my enthusiasm for university sport- it was the trips to the ASDA café between sessions, the Wednesday nights at the Students’ Union, and the games of badminton at the university gym, which made the training feel much more wholesome.”

The seamless blend of career choice and passion for sport came together at a young age for Tom. It was from that point that being successful in his sport and studying for a career in Physiotherapy seemed the obvious choice.

"As a child I loved sport- however, aged 15, I started to really struggle with a pain around my knee. A physiotherapist discovered I had an extra bone growth coming from my femur (thigh bone) and following surgery to remove the growth and successfully return to sport, I was inspired. Iit was here I started to see the symbiotic relationship I could get between studying physiotherapy and succeeding as an athlete. Since completing my studies I have been able to take a whole wealth of knowledge from my degree and apply it to my sport.”

Now an Olympian, Tom really believes hopes the Games can help inspire others to get active and keep moving,

“The Olympics showcases a plethora of sports often not televised or reported on, and if someone, somewhere, has been willing to try a new sport because of the games, then I believe that we as Olympians have succeeded. The silver medal for me - it’s the cherry on top of that luxuriously rich and flavoursome cake!”

However, it clearly has never been just about an athletic career for Tom. He loves his work as a physiotherapist, enjoying the opportunities to help enable individuals to improve their health, wellbeing, and quality of life.

“Even though I am now a practising MSK outpatient physio (work done in the evenings after training), my favourite memory actually comes from my time on a neuro placement. We had this lovely elderly lady who had previously been told not to expect to walk again. I was there for the last handful of weeks as we first managed to use the standing hoist to get her up out of the chair, and then on to walking a few steps with the hoist in tow. Unbeknownst to the patient, her family were outside the ward watching her take these few steps again and as she did, they burst in, celebrating and cheering. The ward erupted into a round of applause and the patient was overcome with tears of joy. It really touched my heart and showed a glimpse of how much of a positive effect we can have on people's livelihoods and wellbeing.”

It's clear that Tom is an inspiration in more ways than one and has already achieved so much - not only for himself, but for others too. We anticipate that this won’t be the last we’ll be hearing about his achievements.

Even if his only goal was to inspire, then Tom has certainly succeeded.

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