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Swansea student in triathlon challenge for Heart Research

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A student at University of Wales Trinity St David is taking on UWTSD Swansea Triathlon on 28-29th May to raise vital funds for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and put a positive spin on what’s been a tough time for her family.

Sophie Taylor, originally from Cardiff, who is studying a BA in Product and Furniture Design at the university’s Swansea campus, decided to raise money for the BHF because her sister Hollie’s partner has a heart condition and is grateful for the medical research and treatment which has enabled him to live a happy life.

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Alex Martin, who now lives in Abergavenny and is originally from Hereford, found out he had congenital heart disease just before his 24th birthday during a medical examination when he was in the process of joining the army.

Alex was born with a bicuspid aortic valve, and the discovery meant he couldn’t sign up. But thanks to progress in science, surgeons were able to replace his heart valve, giving Alex a future with his partner, Hollie.

Alex says, “From a very young age I’ve always wanted to join the army, however, this was turned on its head at the age of 23. After undergoing an army medical check, it was discovered that I had heart valve disease and I had to have open heart surgery to replace the valve. Through the diagnosis and surgery my girlfriend Hollie has been my rock. We’ve been together since we were eighteen and our relationship has never been stronger.

“When Sophie approached me about doing a triathlon last year, I was super excited for her. Like everything, it was postponed, and here we are less than 2 weeks away from Sophie attempting her first multi-sport event. It was made even more special when she told me, that she wanted to do it for me! When I say, ‘me’, I mean on behalf of me for the BHF. I thought, ‘what a lovely idea,’ and was more than happy to help in any way possible. Be it training advice or letting her use my kit for the big day. I could not be prouder of her and cannot wait to see all the hard work pay off on race day.

“Without people like Sophie doing events like this and raising money for the BHF who knows where I would be. So, thank you Sophie – Now let’s go and smash race day!”

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Alex and Hollie

Sophie says she’s taking on the challenge to turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one, “Life so far for my family hasn’t been easy and my mental health has suffered. When we found out about Alex’s condition it was a big strain on my sister and I saw how much it affected her. Myself and Hollie are very close and have always been rather active, but this is one of the biggest things I have ever done in my life. I can’t say it’s been easy juggling my second year at university and training as I have had to balance my time well; but it’s the smile on my sister’s and Alex’s face that will make this all worth it as this is just the beginning of what I want to do for the British Heart Foundation.

“I think Alex is the main reason I am doing this as he’s always been inspiring for me when it comes to sport as he’s always encouraged me to explore in different activities, and since his operation he has been limited to the activities he can do. So this is me doing it for him and showing myself also what I am capable of.

“I just want to give something to those who are battling every day, because if we all did the same the world would be a different place.”

She adds, “Since it was established the BHF has helped halve the number of people dying from heart and circulatory diseases in the UK each year, but sadly every day hundreds of people still lose their lives to these conditions. It’s only thanks to support from people like us that BHF-funded researchers can help create new treatments. £24 could pay for two hours of research by an early career scientist, but every pound helps so I wanted to take on this challenge to do as much as I can for people living with heart conditions.”

Alex’s partner, Sophie’s sister Hollie says, “I could not be prouder of my sister for getting out there and doing something she has never done before. More than anything I would like her to be proud of herself and realise how far she has come. Like many students, Soph has been struggling with her mental health since starting her degree during the height of covid. It really took its toll on her. However, she has used this triathlon as a challenge to help her overcome her struggles.

“When Sophie mentioned she would like to do the Triathlon for the British Heart Foundation, Alex and I were choked by the gesture, as the charity has been of huge support to us and our families over the last few years.

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“In November 2019, Alex was sat in an army medical room unaware that he was waiting to be told that his life was not going to turn out how he planned it to be. The medical uncovered the signs of a congenital heart condition known as a bicuspid aortic valve which caused the dilation of his ascending aorta. Through many consultations and appointments, it was clear that Alex required urgent treatment.

“In October 2020, with a number of setbacks due to the coronavirus global pandemic, Alex finally underwent open heart surgery at the age of 24. Since, his surgery, Alex has made a speedy recovery, and although the dream of an army career has been halted, he is able to live his life as close to normal as possible and looks to join Sophie in her next Triathlon Event, whenever that maybe.

“Both our families have recognised that without the support, research and aid offered from the British Heart Foundation and the cardiac specialist, the outcome of Alex’s story would be very different.”

Jayne Lewis BHF Fundraising Manager said: “We are so grateful to Sophie for supporting the BHF’s research. For more than 60 years the public’s generosity has funded BHF research that has turned ideas that once seemed like ‘science fiction’ into treatments that save lives every day. But millions of people are still waiting for the next breakthrough.

“Today in Wales around 340,000 people are living with the daily burden of heart and circulatory diseases. We urgently need the public’s support to keep our lifesaving research going, and to discover the treatments and cures of the future. It is only with donations from the public that the BHF can keep its lifesaving research going, helping us turn science fiction into reality.”

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To support Sophie, go to: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sophie-taylor91

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