Up for the challenge

Up for the challenge

We catch up with Greg Whyte to ask him about his recent work in public engagement in sport science and to find out what it's like training celebrities for Sport and Comic Relief Challenges.

Greg Whyte
Greg Whyte helps Radio 1 DJ Greg James complete his five triathlon challenge

Olympian in modern pentathlon, physical activity guru and world-renowned sports scientist, Greg Whyte is something of a celebrity around here. Greg is a Professor in Applied Sport and Exercise Science at Liverpool John Moores University and an authority on exercise physiology, sports performance and rehabilitation. He has extensive experience assessing, treating and improving the performance of elite athletes and sporting enthusiasts. Greg has been named amongst the Top 10 Communicator Scientists in the UK by the Science Council and he received an OBE in 2014. But perhaps what he is best known for is his involvement in Sport and Comic Relief Challenges. Since 2006, Greg has applied his sports science work to train, motivate and coach various celebrities such as David Walliams, John Bishop, Jo Brand, Davina McCall, Gary Barlow, Eddie Izzard and Dara O'Briain to complete some of the toughest challenges. Through his involvement, he has helped raise over £35 million for charity. This year Greg will be taking on his own challenge – his ‘50@50’ challenge will see him take on 50 swims across Europe in both pools and open water.

Last year was a busy year for you, tell us what you got up to?

I began the year with Sport Relief looking after Jo Brand on her 'Hell of a Walk' from Hull to Liverpool (which covered 140 miles in seven days), followed by Radio 1's Greg James on his five triathlons in five cities in five days (swimming in freezing open water!), then Blue Peter's Lindsey Russell on her Zorb across the Irish Sea. I also spent time writing my new book on exercise and pregnancy, 'Bump It Up', as well as doing lots of media (print, radio and TV) related to physical activity, European football and the Olympics. I also presented at some fabulous public engagement events including the Cheltenham Science Festival.

You’ve been involved with public engagement with the School of Sport and Exercises for many years, what do you enjoy about this work?

Science is an amazing area and there is no better way to pass on the wonders of science than through sport and exercise. I love the integration of all the disciplines in sport science from physiology to engineering and talking to people about what we do as sports scientists is an amazing experience. All too often academics sit behind impenetrable walls, hiding away their work from the public. For me, public engagement is probably the most important job of a scientist, but also, one of the most difficult and challenging.

Greg Whyte

Greg speaking at an anti-doping in sport event.

You must have spoken to thousands of schoolchildren over the years about science subjects and careers, what is the key message you try and get across?

ENJOYMENT. The more you love a subject the easier it is to learn.

You’ve won several awards for your work including being known as one of the top UK science communicators. In your opinion, what makes a great science communicator?

There are a range of attributes that great science communicators must have. Firstly, the ability to explain the complex in simple terms is fundamental; it shouldn't be an opportunity to show off how intelligent you are, it should be about how much your audience learns. You have to be fun and engaging; your audience learns a lot more if they are smiling and laughing. In addition, don't just rely on words: use images, video, props and even get the audience to participate in your talk to keep them fully entertained and engaged. Finally, love what you do; if you love it, your audience will too.

You’re probably most well-known for your work with Sport Relief – what do you set off to achieve with the celebrities on these challenges?

The most important thing to remember is that we all have the potential to achieve something great in life. You don't have to be a celebrity to achieve success but will have to have the one ingredient that all successful people have – the ability to work hard and the tenacity to keep going even when the going gets tough.

Public engagement is becoming a significant part of university ‘core business’. What would you say to inspire those who are thinking about being involved in this type of activity?

Public engagement should be an integral part of every academic's work. But, it's not easy! To excel at public engagement takes hard work and commitment however, it is worth it in the end. After all, an academic's greatest skill is to teach others the wonders of their discipline to create greater understanding.

Be sure to follow Greg on Twitter during his ‘50@50’ challenge. For this challenge he hopes to raise awareness of the benefits of swimming, drowning prevention and swimming inequality, as currently around 25% of people in the UK are unable to swim.

If you're inspired by Greg and interested in becoming a science communicator, why not get involved in FameLab?
Discover the public engagement work and research within LJMU's School of Sport and Exercise Sciences.


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