Image of the Liverpool Cathedral

Beth Tweddle MBE

Oration

Presented by: Dr Zoe Knowles

At Graduation, the University's highest honour – that of an Honorary Fellowship – is bestowed upon an individual, in recognition of their outstanding achievement in a given field or profession, and who personifies and inspires others to 'dream, plan, and achieve.'

Pro-Chancellor, I can think of no more deserving recipient for a Fellowship than Beth Tweddle, a recent graduate from BSc (Hons) Sports Science from this University. It gives me great pleasure as her former sport scholarship mentor to present her to you today. 

Beth has been supported throughout her career by family and friends and it is lovely to see them here today celebrating her achievements on this special occasion. On behalf of LJMU you are all very welcome.

Born in South Africa on 1 April 27 years ago, Beth moved with her family, Jerry, Anne and older brother James, to Bunbury, Cheshire when she was 18 months old. Lively and energetic in nature, Beth eventually found a natural outlet for her exuberance at the ripe old age of 7 when she joined the Crewe and Nantwich gymnastics club and her gymnastics career began. 

Years of dedicated training led her to the City of Liverpool Gymnastics Club to train with coach, Amanda Reddin who has recently taken up the prestigious post of GB National Coach and will direct the British women's artistic gymnastic squad on the approach to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. 

If I can take you back to when Beth started competing internationally, British women's artistic gymnastics had, at that time, a minimal presence on the world stage. She once recalled quite candidly having to fight with Russian competitors for practice time on the uneven bars because Britain's gymnasts were dismissed as amateurs. 

Over the course of a career spanning two decades she has dramatically changed that perception and has been instrumental in the recognition of British women’s gymnastics as a formidable force at International championships. 

Her record speaks for itself – she was the first British woman to win medals at the World Championships, ultimately becoming a triple world champion, winning on the uneven bars in 2006, the floor exercise in 2009, and the uneven bars in 2010. Six time European Champion, Commonwealth Champion and seven consecutive National Championships between 2001-2007. 

She is a three time Olympian, competing in the 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, and of course in this summer's London Olympic Games. 

It is a testament, it has to be said, to her determination that she even made the Olympics this summer. A knee injury followed by keyhole surgery meant that she had to sleep with a special machine applying ice and compression around her knee in the run up to the competition. 

And of course, as we all know, she delivered when it mattered, winning bronze on the uneven bars with a routine featuring her signature move, where she switches from a release and catch element to a cross-hand grip then flips from one bar to the other which has now been named 'The Tweddle' in her honour. 

Alongside the intense training and competition schedule required to succeed at this level Beth studied for a BSc (Hons) degree in Sports Science here at LJMU. 

She was one of our first LJMU Sports Scholars and became an ambassador for the University, not only featuring in most of the University's prospectuses and publications but also in encouraging other talented athletes to follow in her footsteps – notably Hannah Whelan, a fellow Beijing and London 2012 Olympic gymnast who is currently studying Sport Development at LJMU and Hannah Clowes, 2008 Olympic Games reserve, who having followed Beth into sports science and is now completing an MSc in Sport Psychology.

Hannah Whelan is quoted in the 2012 prospectus as saying "Beth Tweddle advised me to go to university so that my life wasn't all gym, gym, gym. She recommended LJMU and her advice was spot on." 

Away from gymnastics and higher education, Beth established a company called Total Gymnastics, that works with schools, leisure centres and gymnastics clubs to help develop and inspire future generations of sports men and women. Her enthusiasm and hands-on approach to this business venture has introduced thousands of children to gymnastics and who knows, perhaps there is a future Olympic champion amongst them. 

And now that she can relax slightly after the Olympics she has a slightly scary list of things she wants to do – just your average ambitions: bungee jumping, sky-diving, abseiling – all the things she's not been allowed to do for fear of injury. In August, she was strapped to the top of a biplane to go wing walking as it flew loops over the Gloucester countryside. 

Beth's attitude and approach to both her studies and sport make her a role model to young individuals. 

Indeed when I spoke just this morning to my own children who have got the gymnastics bug themselves at 6 and 7 years they know of her and her achievements and that their school, like many more across the UK, has a signed photo in their sports hall wishing the pupils well in their sporting ambitions. 

I think this epitomizes Beth, who daily engages with her over 43,000 followers on Twitter from across the world and supports a multitude of charities, events and causes both locally and Nationally including the NW Air Ambulance, Imagine charity at Alder Hey and Princes Trust. 

Thus, it is with great personal pleasure that I present Beth Tweddle MBE, this most distinguished daughter of our city and proof of our ethos to dream, plan and achieve, for admission to our highest honour, as an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.