Wonderkid Wednesday: Jac Downham’s story

The global superstars of the Premier League, NFL and Formula 1 circuits may be the headline grabbers when it comes to sport. However, at GYS we know very well that there are unsung heroes across the world of youth sport. For this week’s Wonderkid Wednesday we were told one of the most inspirational sporting stories you are likely to hear at any level. 

From being lucky to survive as a baby, to being told he’d never play competitive sport in his life, Jac Downham was dealt a hardest hand imaginable. However, the now teenage triathlon star has overcame every hurdle thrown in his path. GYS caught up with someone who’s been at his side every step of the way – his mum, Cheryl – to find out more about his remarkable journey. 

Cheryl told GYS: “A few months after Jac was born, in October 2000, we decided to go to Wales for a family holiday. Walking down the beach on a sunny September afternoon, Jac suddenly turned blue. We rushed him to a local GP who called the ambulance immediately. Luckily at the hospital in Aberystwyth the paediatrician was on duty that day. At this point Jac died on us three times before they could move him to intensive care. Later that day a crash team flew in from Booth Hall Children’s Hospital in Manchester to stabilise him and fly him back to Manchester.

“Jac arrived in Manchester, where they could only tell us how his situation was by the hour as no one knew exactly what was happening. Once he was semi stable we requested to be transferred to a hospital closer to home so we could have the support of our families at this very difficult time. Jac was under the watchful eye of an amazing team at Ormskirk Hospital and it was they who actually diagnosed Jac as having Kawasaki disease. This led to him being transferred to Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool.

“Jac continued to stabilise and just in time for Christmas, we were finally able to get him home. He began taking daily warfarin and having weekly chocardiograms to check the size of the aneurysm. Every other day he’d be at Alder to have his warfarin levels checked and make sure his blood was not too thin. It was a very up and down time for our family.”

Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel was beginning to flicker. Cheryl continued: “As the years passed Jac began to lead a pretty normal life but was advised never to play competitive sport, which was very difficult as a young boy amongst his peers. He did all he could, within the restrictions and became a keen swimmer.

“In 2006 we moved to Dubai and everything changed. Sport was such a big part of daily life and Jac was desperate to get involved. It was shortly after we made the move that Jac joined his first football team. We were so anxious but we had to let him do what he wanted. Even though there was always a thought at the back of your mind that he could have had a heart attack at any time. We’re so glad he took this step, as Jac would not be the person he is today if we hadn’t have let him develop himself.

“Over the years his new-found sporting confidence stuck. He began taking up cricket alongside his football, training with the ICC. His cricket journey has progressed to coaching and at the age of 16 he obtained his Level 1 Cricket Coaching qualification.

“In 2016 he took the next step on his sporting adventure – triathlons. Jac came third in his first ever triathlon at the U19 age group of the Roy Nasser Triathlon in Dubai. From that point on, he was hooked. Jac joined My Tri Club (MTC) in September 2017 under the watchful eye of Ben Parnell. Ben is an amazing role model to all the children at the club, and the coaches too.

“Next weekend Jac is competing at TRI Fest but he is going to undertake the Olympic course as he usually does the sprint. He is working up to Iron Man 70.3 in Dubai 2019. That is his current vision and goal to achieve at the age of 18.

Cheryl summed up the story with a simple yet important message. “Jac has learnt not to take everything for granted and you strive to achieve what you believe in. You follow your goals and passions no matter what is thrown in your path. As they saying goes… ‘you can do anything if you believe in yourself.’”

GYS wishes Jac the very best of luck for his upcoming events and his sporting future. We are thankful to Jac and Cheryl for taking the time to share his story. We hope the GYS readers can take as much inspiration from it as we did.