Image of the Liverpool Cathedral

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson DBE

Oration

Presented by: Professor Frank Sanderson

Tanni Grey-Thompson is Britain's best-known Paralympic athlete, having performed at world-class level for the past seventeen years, in distances ranging from 100m to the marathon. Her career has taken her around the world to every major international event. 

Her 13 Paralympic medals, six gold medals in the London Marathon and her comprehensive set of British and World Records make her achievements second to none in the disability sport arena.

Born in Cardiff in 1969 - her 35th birthday was on Monday of this week - Tanni Grey was christened Cerys but became known as Tanni when her elder sister kept calling her 'Tiny'. Despite being born with spina bifida and confined to a wheelchair from the age of 7, her parents Sulwen and Peter, never treated her any different from her older sister who was not disabled. It was all about what she could do, not what she couldn't do.

Tanni, who went to St. Cyres Comprehensive School at Penarth, was sports-obsessed from an early age - Gareth Edwards was her sporting hero, and Welsh rugby remains a consuming interest. She began competing in wheelchair athletics when she was 13 and unexpectedly won a Welsh Junior title at the age of 15. 

From school, she went to Loughborough University where, in addition to completing an honours degree in Politics and Social Administration, she was able to develop her strength and racing technique. 

Although probably best known for achievements in the London Marathon where she has won 6 times, Tanni has an unparalleled record as a track athlete. She made her international debut in 1987 and in the following year, won a 400 metre bronze medal in the Seoul Paralympics. Then came two silvers and a bronze at the World Championships in 1990 and in 1991, the year of her graduation, she won gold medals in the 100m, 200m, and marathon in the World Wheelchair Games. 

In 1992, she achieved her first world record, over 200m, and was the first British woman to go under 2 hours for the marathon. Later that year, she set 4 world records in Canada, and then won gold medals at 100, 200, 400, and 800 metres at the Barcelona Paralympics. 

In 1994, she won 4 gold medals at the World Championships, and at the Atlanta Paralympics in 1996, she broke the world record for 200m in the heats and won 3 silvers and a gold - some commentators judged this to be a modest achievement by her exacting standards. 

Four years later, she won 4 gold medals at the outstanding Sydney Paralympics.

Tanni now lives in Redcar with her husband, Dr. Ian Thompson and their daughter Carys Olivia, who was born in February 2002. Apparently Carys is just like her mother - the same independence, determination - and a fiery temper.

Tanni readily acknowledges the role that Ian plays in helping sustain the competitive edge to continue competing at the highest levels. Not only does he give her honest advice but he has also been the ideal training partner for such a highly driven and competitive person. He is also an athlete who competes in wheelchair marathons and she draws huge motivation from the prospect of beating him - I understand that this is still a work in progress.

Not surprisingly, Tanni Grey-Thompson has received numerous accolades and awards in recognition of her sporting achievements:

  • Awarded an MBE in 1992 for services to disabled sports
  • Awarded third place in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2000. She was unable to accept this award because there was no ramp to the stage - hundreds of viewers complained but Tanni was unconcerned about the oversight
  • Twice voted BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year 
  • Welsh Woman of the Year in 2000  
  • Awarded an OBE in the Millennium New Year’s Honours List in honour of her services to sport
  • She has been voted one of only four British sportswomen to appear in the book '50 British Sporting Greats' published by Cassell's in October 2002
  • In a poll undertaken in 2003 by Ouch, the BBC's disability website, Tanni was voted the third greatest Briton of all time behind Professor Stephen Hawking and the late rock star Ian Dury 
  • The Walpole Best British Sporting Achievement Award in 2002 
  • The Commonwealth Games Sports Award for Best Female Disabled Athlete in 2002 
  • In 2003, an Honorary Doctor of Technology from her almer mater, Loughborough University 
  • And the accolade Tanni most values - her election to the Laureus World Sports Academy alongside such sporting legends as Pele, Jack Nicklaus, Michael Jordan, Boris Becker, Ed Moses and Alberto Tomba, placing her firmly amongst the world's leading sporting superstars

Alongside this impressive list of sporting achievements Tanni has brought her energy and focus to the administration, management and politics of sport. She has been: 

  • The Chair of the Wheelchair Racing Association 
  • Disability Development Officer for British Athletics 
  • Member of the United Kingdom Sports Council
  • Member of the  Manchester Commonwealth Games  Organising Council and
  • Patron of the British Sports Trust

In addition, Tanni has lobbied on and promoted many issues and causes associated with disability sport and disability in general, resulting in a much higher profile for sports for people with disabilities, and improved access and understanding of the people and sports involved.

She has continued to expand her broadcasting and media work, writing articles for several leading newspapers including the Daily Mail and The Guardian, and gaining a reputation as an outstanding conference and motivational speaker, able to connect with a wide range of people from school children to corporate executives. 

She's often to be heard on radio, making numerous guest appearances on Radio Four, Radio Five Live and on local radio stations. And her TV work includes appearances on BBC Question Time, The Weakest Link, A Question of Sport, They Think It's All Over, and Blue Peter.

And recently, Tanni has been developing her presenting skills by co-hosting BBC Wales X-Ray series, a watchdog programme addressing the problems of consumers.

A self-confessed perfectionist, Tanni Grey-Thompson has reached the pinnacle of sport through talent, dedication to training, and by focusing on winning and seeking ways to achieve excellence in her own personal performance. This epitomises a true high achiever.

Thus I have pleasure in presenting Tanni Grey-Thompson, OBE, outstanding paralympian and inspirational role model, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.