We have such fantastic sporting opportunities in Wales, from elite competition all the way down to grassroots level. And whether you’re supporting your team or participating, there’s a passion that’s part of our culture and history.
I was brought up with adventure and sport as an integral part of my life, and living on the Gower Peninsula, I had the perfect landscape for it. I was a runner from a young age, but then went off to study music at Cardiff University. I expected to train as a singer, but my life chose a different path. I’ve ended up as an adventurer and ultra-marathon runner.
Where I lived really helped to shape that, and I was fortunate to have all the support I needed. I was very lucky with athletics. I had a track just 15 minutes down the road, and never had to travel far to train. And when I played rugby for Wales at university, we had a passionate coach who inspired us all to push ourselves.
We’ve got the world class facilities, the passion and so much talent in Wales, but it’s all about developing, nurturing and inspiring each new generation. It begins with the very first steps. Tour de France 2018 winner Geraint Thomas often talks about the Maindy Flyers Youth Cycling Club, which he belonged to as a child. Without organisations like that, and the volunteers out there to make sure children can take full advantage of the opportunities, our efforts wouldn’t be bearing fruit.
We have many other inspiring figures at the moment. Welsh athletes won a record four gold medals at the 2016 Olympics. Jade Jones took top honours for the second Games running in taekwondo, Hannah Mills won gold in sailing, and Elinor Barker and Owain Doull in cycling. It's a feat we repeated at the Paralympics, with Hollie Arnold (javelin), Aled Sion Davies (shot put), Rachel Morris (rowing) and Rob Davies (table tennis) all bringing home gold medals. And then there's the amazing performance of the Welsh football team in Euro 2016 – including Gareth Bale, of course.
It helps that so many of them are down-to-earth people. You could see why everybody was so supportive of Geraint Thomas, and so many people came to see him in Cardiff Bay after his victory. He’s a humble guy as well as a winner, and people can relate to that. He said at the end: "I’m just a normal person who’s worked really, really hard."
I think our sportsmanship is unrivalled. It’s all about heart and spirit. I was out in France to watch the Wales football team play at Euro 2016, and saw them win 3-1 against Belgium, one of the best teams in the tournament. People couldn’t get over the Welsh passion – it was infectious, and even the opposing teams were wishing us luck.
Back home, it was something that really brought Wales together, as sporting success does. People who usually had little interest in football were going to watch it on the public screens put up in the parks. And it was so pleasing that Euro 2016 drew the world’s attention to the Welsh language, with the UEFA tournament holding its first Welsh press conference.
I think our sportsmanship is unrivalled. It’s all about heart and spirit."
It’s great, too, that Wales has a growing reputation for hosting big sporting occasions. Cardiff has hosted both the men’s and women’s UEFA Champions League finals, the Anthony Joshua fight at Principality Stadium and the Volvo Ocean Race stopped off here too. We've also had the Ryder Cup come to South Wales, and seen riders tackle some of our nation's most challenging (and beautiful) terrain in the cycling Tour of Britain. All this has great potential to inspire future stars.
I’ve been very fortunate to travel the world as an athlete and a broadcaster, and people are always asking where I’m from. At the beginning, when I’d tell them I was from Wales, I didn’t necessarily expect them to know where I meant. But so many people know Wales, and they’ll often say: "You live in a playground of adventure!"
It’s true – I do. I can go out of the door and I’m almost in the mountains. I can be sailing on the ocean in the morning and then be on top of the highest peak in the afternoon: I call them my blue gym and my green gym.
Our recent sporting success makes me very proud – both of my nation’s achievements, and that I’ve had the privilege to compete in some of the world’s toughest races and fly the flag for Wales. Coming from Wales has shaped the person I am.