Former University of Sunderland student, Jonathon Riall, has been awarded Alumni Achiever of the Year at the recent University Winter Graduation Ceremony.
Now head coach of Team GB’s Paratriathlon team, who will be making their debut next summer at the Paralympic Games in Rio, Riall graduated less than a decade ago with a Sports and Exercise Development degree.
His achievement is nothing short of remarkable, having worked his way up through the ranks at the British Triathlon Federation from first being Participation Administrator in 2005 to now being Paratriathlon Head Coach and leading a first ever Great Britain Paratriathlon team to a Paralympic Games.
He said: “I think I managed by luck more than anything to get a role at British Triathlon within a couple of months of graduating.
“But it feels quite humbling to be back to receive this award and to be recognised for what I just see as a passion.
“It’s not really a job to me. To be able to help other people compete in Paratriathlon, and to be recognised for it is an honour.”
Based in Loughborough, Riall does not manage to get back up to his North East home in Whitley Bay as much as he would like.
“Trying to balance being in this role and having two young children has meant I have not managed to come back up as much as I would like,” he added.
“This graduation ceremony is probably my second trip up this year.
“The job is a very demanding role though, and I think any role at this level of sport is.”
His role has taken him to places he never imagined would be possible at a young age.
And another one of those places is Rio, where he will make his fourth trip next summer for the Rio Games when he leads the first ever Team GB Paratriathlon team.
He said: “Taking the team there is a kind of a pinch yourself moment when you look at it, because when I first took over in 2009, there wasn’t a guarantee that Triathlon would be in the Paralympics.
“So in 2010 when we found out it would be in the Games, we made sure we did everything we can to make sure we qualified for Rio.
“We had our test event out there in August. And although it was only a test event, it was the biggest competitive race that we’ve ever done as a team.
“We did incredibly well at that race, coming away with five medals. We spent a lot of time and a lot of energy making sure it was an enjoyable event, because we know when we go back next summer, it will only be enjoyable if we come back with more medals.”
Riall is looking to use the success of the London 2012 Paralympics as a springboard for his team as they look to help Team GB near to the 120 medals they won at the Games three years ago.
He said: “London was incredible for what it did just to Paralympic sport.
“It certainly catapulted our budding team into the potential pressures, but also the potential opportunities that they face.
“We’ve got an incredibly strong team. But there’s a lot to do and a lot of finishing touches to make. Our target next summer is five medals, of which we hope two or three of those will be gold, but that isn’t going to come easy.”
He was also very excited by the recent news that UK Sport are to be given a 29% increase in funding.
And he is hopeful that if his Paratriathlon squad match their expectations in Rio, the sport can go from strength to strength.
He added: “For us as a first time sport into Rio, we have incredible support from UK Sport, and it’s helped us get to where we are.
“If we do what we set out to do and what we set out to achieve in Rio, we would certainly like to grow our programme and develop it.
“It is unprecedented for the government to invest two cycles after London. But I think they are trying to do something that has not been done before and try to sustain our status as a world leading country for sport.”