AS AN ENDURANCE athlete, Gethin Davies-Jones is used to pushing his body to its limits.

Both he and brother Glyn were keen competitors who took part in races - but when 55-year-old Glyn collapsed suddenly during an event in Tenby in 2019, the family made the shocking discovery he had been living with undiagnosed coronary heart disease.

Sadly, Glyn died later in hospital. Mr Davies-Jones' mother, Helen, was in her late forties when she died from a sudden cardiac arrest.

"Losing family members when they were of a young age had a huge impact on me," said dad-of-one Mr Davies-Jones, who is from the Caerphilly area. "There are so many conversations and memories I now won’t be able to have with my brother and mum, and their experiences have put my own mortality sharply into focus."

He added: "Cycling is a huge passion of mine - I enjoy competitive time trialling and I’m a beginner triathlete.

"The sport is great for my mental health and since taking it up I’ve been able to lose 12kg in weight.

"However, when I get out on my bike, there is always the worry in the back of my mind that what happened to my brother could happen to me."

South Wales Argus: Gethin Davies-Jones, pictured with late brother Glyn. Picture: Gethin Davies-JonesGethin Davies-Jones, pictured with late brother Glyn. Picture: Gethin Davies-Jones

Mr Davies-Jones will now take part in a new study, funded by the charity the British Heart Foundation, which looks at how heart scarring impacts athletes.

Heart scarring is a key feature of many heart diseases and has a strong association with abnormal heart rhythms, which can cause a life-threatening cardiac arrest.

A previous small study involving male athletes aged over 50 found that around half of the participants had developed scarring on their heart.

It is thought this could be caused by their levels of exercise, as during endurance sports like long-distance running and cycling, the heart must work even harder to pump blood. However, it is still unclear how scarring has developed.

"My interest in this study is so immediate and deep, as it will help me understand more about my own heart health," said Mr Davis-Jones. "It’s great the British Heart Foundation is funding this research, as it could really benefit athletes like me."

The new research will monitor the heartbeats of more than 100 athletes over two years to measure how endurance exercise impacts their heart.

Overall, the research will aim to understand if heart scarring in athletes is linked to abnormal heart rhythms, and could inform future research around ways to avoid or reduce heart damage in endurance sports.

“Exercise is good for the heart, but studies have suggested that people who participate in long term endurance sport could lose the health benefits of exercise... and we are all familiar of the devastating but rare occurrence of sudden death during sport," said Dr Peter Swoboda, who is leading the new study.

He believes the new research "could help identify who is most at risk, and some of the lessons we learn could be applied to younger athletes, too".