Para Table Tennis champion Jack Hunter-Spivey hails importance of unsung heroes in his life

Whether you're an elite athlete or amateur playing for fun, most of us rely on the help and dedication of sport's unsung heroes.

We all know them - they're the volunteers, coaches and family members behind the scenes offering support that often goes unnoticed.

But not anymore. Here, we want to shout out and recognise all those who go the extra mile to make sporting dreams a reality.

Jack Hunter-Spivey celebrates winning Commonwealth Games gold medal Credit: Zac Goodwin/PA Archive/PA Images

Liverpool's Jack Hunter-Spivey is a Commonwealth Para Table Tennis champion and bronze medallist from the Tokyo Paralympics.

It has been a long and challenging journey to the top of his sport but he admits he would not have had the success or even be here today without countless unsung heroes in his life.

Jack, 27, now wants to use his story to highlight the importance that unsung heroes play in every athlete's journey.

Jack Hunter-Spivey in a Liverpool kit as a child

Jack says: "As a child I wanted to be like my idol Steven Gerrard. Being born with cerebral palsy though, meant my sporting pathway led to the Paralympics rather than Anfield.

"My bronze from Tokyo and gold from the Commonwealths are my pride and joy.

"Winning them took thousands of hours of practice, hundreds of hours of competing and countless unsung heroes.

"For me that support started at home. Growing up was tough and we didn't have much money.

"But both my mum and older brother did everything to make my sporting dream a reality."

Jack and his older brother Chris as children

Jack's brother Chris is seven years older than he is. When Jack started playing para table tennis he gave up evenings to take him to training and cook him tea.

Chris Hunter says: "I felt like it was always my job to be an at home father-figure.

"Someone who could show the ways of the world and how things should be and how you can make someone's life better.

"There's times when mum would be too ill or distracted to help out as much as possible and that's understandable we've all had struggles.

"But as long as you guys were happy and healthy that was me happy so whatever I could do to help I always would do."        

Jack with his friend Joe Tighe

But it's not just family who make sacrifices for sporting aspirations.

For Jack, his good friend Joe Tighe has been instrumental in his journey raising money for wheelchairs and driving thousands of miles to competitions.

Joe is 73-years-old but the pair met when Jack joined his first table tennis club.

Jack says: "I remember ringing in the morning and saying 'Joe my chair is snapped and I need to fly to China can you help me?'

"He got it all together and I went off to play the World Championships."

Jack with Joe at Commonwealth Games

Joe believed and invested in Jack's future. Despite the rising cost of living he is hopeful there are people doing the same today.

Joe says: "It would be a lot harder for some people because things are very tight now.

"But when you see somebody with the ambition you can't help but go the extra mile to get money. I'm sure that's what happening for quite a number of people."        

Halton Table Tennis Club is a special place for Jack. He started playing at the club run by Karen Tonge OBE at the age of 10-years-old.

Along with Halton Borough Council, the club subsidised fees to allow Jack to train.

Karen says: "It's about giving people opportunities to try and reach their potential.

"Jack's mum was a single parent at the time, hadn't got much money so if he hadn't got the money we just let him in. When he got good enough we managed to get grants."    

Jack with his girlfriend Lucy Waller

Jack's toughest battle has been with his mental health. Things got so bad that he even planned to take his own life.

It was only a chance meeting on online dating with his now girlfriend Lucy Waller, that stopped him from going through with it.

Lucy says: "I always remember getting that message from Jack explaining his life and disability and I thought for someone to be so open with me at the beginning it meant a lot."

Jack and Lucy at Commonwealth Games

"I just knew that if we could form that foundation and he had somebody who would stick by him and champion him through the low days and the high days then he'd be able to unlock his potential."         

Jack says: "Thanks to a lot of love and support I'm in a much happier place now.

"Without so many amazing people in my life I wouldn't be here today or have gone on to achieve success in sport."

Jack on top of the podium at the Commonwealth Games Credit: Zac Goodwin/PA Archive/PA Images

"This is my story and every athlete will have their own.

"Whether it's grassroots sports, or Commonwealth Games champions, unsung heroes are the back bone of every athletes dreams.

"So just know that when you're looking at a podium or a Sunday League football team everybody has unsung heroes."      

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