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Gladiators ready?

Friday, 08 March 2024 Matt Jones

Matt, from Cardiff, turned low confidence and mental health challenges into prime time glitz and glamour when he took part in this year's Gladiators.

Mae'r dudalen hon hefyd ar gael yn Gymraeg. This link will take you to a Welsh translation of this page.

I was always last to get picked at sport in school. I struggled with confidence and had anxiety that my body just wasn’t able to do sport or be fit.

Watching ‘real’ people take on the Gladiators on a Saturday night back in the 90’s made me think maybe I could change. I did press ups and situps in my bedroom and built up to swimming and the gym at my local leisure centre.

Even though I wasn’t actually that strong, feeling strong really helped the teenage me be more confident and happier about my body, and that helped me have better relationships with family, friends and, very occasionally, girls!

I carried on weight training through to adult life. Never anything extreme but it always helped me, not just with confidence but with feeling healthy and positive.

Kids then happened and spare time evaporated, but I didn’t want to lose those benefits of training so I bought some weights and tidied my garage as best I could to fit it into my day.

Road to nowhere

My job is Civil Engineering - designing and building big transport projects like roads and bridges. I spent 7 years planning a £1.5 billion scheme, leading a team of hundreds, fronting up a year long public inquiry. We got the permissions to build. I did my job. But the Government decided not to go ahead. I’ve never really admitted it but if I’m honest, this knocked me into some depression.

Then came Covid.

Like lots of people lockdown completely changed my life. Rather than putting on a smart suit, working in an office or out and about meeting lots of people, my social interaction dropped to just the checkout people at Lidl (who to be fair were lovely!). My confidence went down further, close to back to that nerdy kid who couldn’t do a press up.

Mid life crisis, or mid life challenges?

As I was coming up to 40 years old, much like when I recognised my mental health wasn’t good as a kid and fitness pulled me up, I realised I needed it again to get me out of the hole I was finding myself in.

I set myself challenges to give myself that buzz that exercise does so well. I first signed up to a bike ride to Paris, despite not having a bike. Then I signed up for an Ironman triathlon (a 2.4km swim, 180km bike ride and marathon), despite not being able to swim. I wasn’t particularly good at either but I did them and the finish line feeling was amazing.

Next I did something I’d always thought about but kept putting off - a white collar boxing match. The fight night was the total Rocky experience – MC, entrance music, lights, and all the jazz. Unsurprisingly I got knocked down, a lot, but I kept getting up and somehow won the fight.

I was maybe pushing things to the extreme, but undoubtedly any kind of exercise was always helping my mental health. Even just going for a walk when my kids are in an activity for an hour always makes me feel so much better.



Last Summer it pinged up on social media that there was a remake of Gladiators. I never expected to get on but had to apply.

The crazy challenges I’d been doing meant I was in decent shape and I managed to keep up with the other hopeful applicants at a trial day. In a piece on camera I spoke from the heart about my journey with fitness and how I hoped I could help my two young boys, and anyone else out there, to learn faster than I did to be confident and try new things to get the most out of life.

Unbelievably I got picked and soon after I was in the arena in front of 4000 people and a TV audience of millions doing all the games I’d loved watching as a boy; the wall, gauntlet, powerball, hang tough and, the ultimate, duel. Continuing the theme of my ventures into any sport I wasn’t particularly good, but by this stage of life I’ve worked out that doesn’t matter.

What matters is being comfortable with who you are, giving your best and having fun.

I didn’t stop smiling through the whole day of filming my episode. Okay maybe for a little bit when I fell down the cargo net on the final ‘eliminator’ assault course, but I got back up it. Maybe a little bit more when I fell down the ‘travellator’ ramp, but I got back up it.

Swinging through the finish line and showing my two young boys, and the young me, that with hard work and determination even a geek can compete against the best was my victory.

What next?

After all the excitement of my mid-life challenges I’ve stepped out from training alone in my garage and joined a local community gym. As well as the physical fitness, meeting friendly faces and having a little chat also helps remedy feelings of loneliness when working from home so this feels good for me know.
Try out things and see what works for you.

You definitely don’t have to be running at a 6’6”, 23 stone gladiator to feel good! Literally just a walk or a swim can work wonders. People are often intimidated by the gym or joining a club but fitness and sport is for everyone of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities, not just the perfect specimens! I promise you there’s something out there you’ll love doing and people will warmly welcome you to join in.
I’m really grateful for how exercise has rescued me from poor mental health and anxiety throughout my life and helped me feel positive and happy. If it can do that for a nerdy geek like me, I’m sure it can help you too.


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