MARK Colbourne’s life changed forever when he broke his back in a paragliding accident in 2009 and it has changed once again after his success at the London 2012 Paralympics made him one of the stars of a fabulous sporting year for Great Britain.
The 43-year-old paracyclist from Tredegar wowed the nation by winning one gold and two silver medals in the velodrome and on the road in the summer.
He’s been overwhelmed with the response from the public since his triumphs and says all his hard work over the last three years has been fully rewarded.
“I spent two years living off an overdraft. My parents thought I was mad trying to pursue this dream but I knew how fit and strong I could get in the bottom of my heart,” said Colbourne, who was speaking at the Sport Wales Coach of the Year awards where his first coach Neil Smith was honoured.
“I knew, and Neil Smith knew, that one day I was going to stand on that podium in London or Rio.
“It was about proving to my parents that I could do it and the hard work has paid off for me now.
“Unfortunately my father passed away in February from stomach cancer but my mum is very proud of me,” he added. “I’m really glad that she was there in the velodrome to see me on that podium getting a gold medal at a home Paralympics – it was a dream come true and it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Colbourne paid tribute to Newport coach Smith, who was named the performance development coach of the year at the annual awards ceremony in Cardiff on Wednesday.
“From day one Neil Smith was there with me and he’s stuck with me every step of the way,” said Colbourne.
“Even when I moved to Manchester and had a full-time coach in Manchester called Tom Stanton, Neil was still there in the wings giving me advice. And he was there commentating when I won in London, which was the icing on the cake for me – it took it full circle.
“It’s wonderful to see him get this award and I can only add my gratitude for what he’s done for me.”
After his medal success Colbourne enjoyed a welcome home parade in Tredegar before meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
“We had a great homecoming in Tredegar,” he said. “I really enjoyed it and the town council were great.
“They gave me the freedom of the town so I can graze my sheep in the park. Unfortunately I don’t have any sheep but I’ve got my stamp and my gold postbox, which is a privilege.
“And it was an amazing experience getting the invitation from the palace in the post.
“It was unbelievable to go there with the other athletes and meet the Queen.
“We spoke for about three minutes. She asked me what I’d won my medals for and was I getting well?
“There’s not many people who get to meet the Queen, win a gold medal and get a gold postbox all in one year.
“Rio 2016 is the next big target now.” he added.
“The clock is ticking again so it’s up to me to repeat the process all over again.”