Sam Watkins said his love for ice hockey had kept him going through health difficulties.

Source: BBC Sports

A young ice hockey player who overcame injuries and a heart defect is ready to play for Great Britain at the under-20s World Championships.

Sam Watkins, 18, from Telford, was diagnosed with pulmonary atresia with ventricular septal defect; a life-threatening condition if not treated.

He needed multiple heart operations and also surgery to fix two broken legs, causing him to miss time on the ice.

But he said he was now “fully fit” and looking forward to the tournament.

He had his first operation to correct his heart defect when he was just four days old, and that was followed by open heart surgery when he was a one-year-old.

Despite that, Sam said he started playing ice hockey when he was four, with the encouragement of his father, former GB player Tom Watkins who is now his coach at Telford Tigers.

Sam said: “It’s definitely where I’ve got it from, the enjoyment of it and the love of it.”

His travails, however, did not end in his early years. He needed cardiac catheters inserted on several occasions before having open heart surgery again in November 2013.

Sam Watkins plays for Telford Tigers in the NIHL National Division.

In December, he travels to Lithuania with fellow Tiger Bayley Harewood and Rhodes Mitchell-King for a seven-day international tournament, involving five games.

Great Britain hopes to win promotion from Division II Group A.

“We’re all young, fit and excited to be there,” Watkins said.

He said his ice hockey friends were closer than school friends and added: “When we go to these GB camps, or play for the GB teams we have a brilliant time.”

But he said his mother still worried about him every time she watched him play.

“She’s not the biggest of fans, she doesn’t like it when I block shots,” he said.