By Alec McQuarrie
Tirion Thomas could not bear to see her beloved Bala Rugby Club team collapse when her Under-16 coach stepped away, so the youngster did the unthinkable and took over the reins herself.
The Manchester-born prop passed her coaching exams on her 18th birthday and having seen the number of girls’ teams explode under her tutelage; she was nominated for The National Lottery’s The People’s Portraits campaign.
Thomas’ unwavering dedication has been recognised as part of a campaign championing the individuals and projects who have achieved incredible things for women in sport in their communities, with the help of National Lottery funding and players, who raise £30 million for good causes every week.
To celebrate Thomas’ incredible achievements, artist Yoniest Chun, known for his cartoon-inspired work, has created a digital piece of art that immortalises her story.
From rescuing her own side, Bala now has five full girls’ teams from Under-9 upwards and Thomas is thrilled with the exponential growth of the women’s game. “I think it’s down to the realization that women can play a sport such as rugby, but also us raising awareness ourselves saying we want to play which has been supported by so many people,” said Thomas.
“I think the number of girls and women coming into the sport is crazy. As president of the Swansea University rugby team, from 20 applicants we had 130 people sign up this year.
“So, it shows that it’s not just on a World Cup level, it’s right from grassroots. It just takes that one person who’s not scared to do it.
“I went on to that pitch aged 11 and showed the boys how to do it.”
Before starting a midwifery course at Swansea University, Thomas juggled her coaching qualifications with schoolwork and even took a year out to support Clwb y Bala.
“The coaching courses were mixed and also at a younger age it was quite a step to take, but it needed to be done for women’s and my community at home,” said Thomas.
“So, it was something I felt passionate about doing and getting it done as soon as possible.”
National Lottery funding not only helped Thomas through her coaching badges, but also provided essential supplies that saw the popularity of the female section rocket.
1st 📸: At the age of 18, Tirion Thomas couldn’t stand to see her favourite Bala Rugby Club disappear, so she took over to keep its legacy alive. Since then, the female participation at the club exploded - now, they have five full girls’ teams.  @SportWales #ThanksToYou pic.twitter.com/jJ5JW7v4Iv
— National Lottery Good Causes (@LottoGoodCauses) November 17, 2022
“National Lottery funding supported me doing those coaching courses and buy kit for us, she added.
“When we first started, we were going out in ancient rugby kit that was down to our knees.
“Then at the season presentations we were able to buy awards for the girls. That’s the part that rewarded the girls and made them want to put more effort in. Those little things go a long way.”
Thomas has played with Wales international Gwenllian Pyrs and captain Siwan Lillicrap was a coach at Swansea University before she went professional in March.
And Thomas got up early before her shifts to cheer on her idols at the Rugby World Cup, delighted that the WRU has finally rewarded their stars with full-time deals.
“It's absolutely amazing,” Thomas said. “It’s the way that rugby needs to go.
“I have no doubt that women’s rugby could be as big as men’s rugby one day.”
Three additional digital portraits have been created and unveiled by digital artist, Yoniest Chun, which immortalise the stories of other individuals and projects who have achieved incredible things for women in sport in their communities. These include Helen Hardy from Manchester Laces in Manchester, Fiona McIntyre head of girls’ and women’s football at the Scottish Football Association in Scotland and Elaine Junk from Mid-Ulster Football Association in Northern Ireland.
National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk