Q&A with Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson
In the run-up to the London 2012 Paralympic games, we were joined for a Q&A in September 2011 by one of Britain's greatest Paralympians, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. With a total of 16 Paralympic medals, including 11 golds, she held over 30 world records and won the London Marathon six times during her career.
Since her retirement, Tanni has continued to be involved in sport as vice-president of the Women's Sports Foundation, a non-executive director of UK Athletics and a member of the board of the London Marathon. In 2010, Tanni was appointed to the House of Lords, where she serves as a non-party political crossbench peer.
Tickets for the Paralympics are on sale 9-26 September 2011 and are available here.
Q. ragged: Which events at the Olympics or Paralympics are you going to try to see in person in 2012? Have you had any trouble getting tickets?
A. Tanni: I think all the events will be really amazing and there is something incredible about the Paralympic Games if you have never experienced it before. The events I am applying for are boccia as it is so tactical, and has so much tension, and athletics, as this was my sport and it would be fantastic to have a packed stadium for all the competitors. I would also recommend wheelchair rugby because there is just so much violence!
I did manage to secure Olympic tickets in the second phase of applications, and we will be going to Greco-Roman wrestling which we are all looking forward to - especially my daughter Carys who is really excited about going and has been researching all the details of the sport. The Paralympic Games provides an opportunity for many people to be part of a fantastic experience at London 2012 and to see elite sport, fierce competition and amazing moments the like of which they have probably never witnessed before.
Q. IreadthereforIam: I'm always disappointed at the lack of representation of disabled athletes on TV. Do you think that the Paralympics and similar events should get better coverage, which is more in line with the 'able-bodied' Olympics on terrestrial TV (instead of the 'red button' or iPlayer, for example)?
A. Tanni: Television coverage of disabled athletes is increasing all the time and I think London 2012 has really helped that, too. I also believe that local newspapers and radio stations play a role in promoting disabled athletes and that the athletes should put themselves forward for those opportunities. Unlike when I was competing, there is also Twitter and Facebook, which athletes can use to communicate, so things are certainly going in the right direction.
Q. Grumpala: Do you think that there are more or fewer opportunities for female athletes in parasport compared to the non-disabled sports world? Both in terms of participating and in terms of attracting the kind of sponsorship necessary to make a career out of it?
A. Tanni: Para-sport is very even in terms of opportunities. The challenge that I see is keeping girls in sport once they have finished school and I think we need to ensure there are arranged sessions - not necessarily competitive - to keep them active. Hopefully, London 2012 will provide the impetus to keep people in sport or to reignite their interest.
Q. TheCrunchyside: Some colleagues at work have said they are buying tickets because they couldn't get tickets for the 'normal Olympics'. This comes across as very rude and patronising and I'd welcome your ideas on a good riposte.
A. Tanni: I think the response is to focus on what the Paralympic Games is all about - do they know the levels of drama, the winning and losing, the competition and the thrilling elite sport that come with the Paralympic Games? If they come, I feel sure they would have an amazing time.
Q. TheCrunchyside: Is there a case for combining the two games and holding a merged Olympics rather than having separate events?
A. Tanni: Unfortunately, this is very difficult due to the sheer size and scale of both events. There would be so many athletes to manage logistically and it would go on for so long that people may find it harder to follow. The approach that has been at the heart of London 2012 has meant that the Olympic and Paralympic Games that we will see next year should be as integrated as possible, whilst working well together side-by-side.
Q. TheCrunchyside: Why is there a separate Special Olympics for people with learning disabilities?
A. Tanni: The Special Olympics has more of a focus on participation and also on life skills, with competitive sport banded according to ability. It is a strong event in its own right and works incredibly well for the group of people it serves.
Q. CMOTdibbler: How do you think more people with disabilities can get involved with sport, especially those with acquired disabilities? It seems hard for people who need a bit of adaptation to find advice on how to become involved with sport. For instance, I'd like to cycle, but I've found there's no good place to get advice, or find parts to adapt a bike to accommodate my upper limb disability.
A. Tanni: First, good luck with your application and I share your excitement about the Paralympic Games coming to London in less than a year. I hope that London 2012 can really inspire people with disabilities to get involved with sport by witnessing some of the amazing competition and achievements on offer. That would be a fantastic legacy.
In terms of a practical starting point, I would recommend going to Parasport.org.uk, which has updates on local clubs and events going on around the country with regards to disability sport.
Beyond that, I would recommend contacting your local clubs directly to see what they have to offer.
Q. Blu: My son (who has a mobility disability) cannot wait to see the Paralympics. He is utterly inspired by it. Did you have a particular role model who inspired you, or a defining moment when you thought 'I can and will do this'?
Also, my son's school would like to have a disabled athlete or coach run a general sports session for all children in the school. Do you know any organisation or individuals who could supply such a session?
A. Tanni: It's great that the London 2012 Paralympic Games is already inspiring children like your son. My role model was a guy called Chris Hallam, who is a retired Welsh Paralympian and wheelchair athlete. I can remember watching him win the London Marathon when I was a teenager (he won it twice, in 1985 and 1987) and turning to my mother and saying, "I'm going to do the London Marathon one day." I hope that young people watching competitors at the Paralympic Games in London will be similarly inspired.
In terms of a defining moment, that would be my first race win when I was 16 at junior level. It really made me and others around me realise that I could do this and I have never looked back.
Q. kipperandtiger: May I ask what made you decide to pursue sport as a career? And what was the most difficult obstacle to overcome while pursuing that ambition - and how did you overcome it?
A. Tanni: As with most other sportspeople, the reason I went into sport was because I have a real love for it and I am also very competitive. The most difficult obstacle I faced was the attitudes of others who didn't think I could make it. Having friends, family and a coach wcho really understood me and supported me meant I could cut through that.
Q. fivegomadindorset: How easy or difficult was it to combine motherhood and training? What drives you, and a very belated congratulations on becoming a Baroness by the way.
A. Tanni: Thank you very much! Combining motherhood and training was chaos. When I was pregnant I used to sit next to the treadmill so that my daughter Carys would get used to it and sure enough when she was born, if I went on the treadmill she would fall asleep. We used to take Carys to a lot of meetings and I think she had fun. For example, we would put her in the long jump sand pit with a bucket and spade to build sand castles.
As for what drives me, this is simple. To win. To be the best. To win (again).
Q. IreadthereforeIam: My son was born with spina bifida seven years ago, and has been asking lately whether he'll 'get better' soon. We've tried to explain that he has a lifelong condition, and that he'll always have it. We meet with other families with children of a similar age with Spina Bifida, so he knows he's not on his own - do you have any advice for me as a parent with regards to him accepting that he is the way he is, in a positive way?
A. Tanni: My parents always gave me the confidence to believe I could do what I wanted. My advice would be to focus on the opportunities and what you can do rather than what you can't. I wish him and you all the best for the future.
Q. madwomanintheattic: We live on the edge of the Rocky Mountains in Canada, and my daughter has cerebral palsy due to a birth injury. Recently, we were privileged to spend the day at a great fundraiser for Rmasc.ca where we were extremely lucky to have four Olympians and Paralympians attend and give their support, and this year my daughter has been able to take part in loads of activities like skiing and swimming.
Is there a national register of organisations that actively provide sporting activities for children and youth (and indeed adults) with disabilities/different abilities? It often seems impossible at a local level to identify opportunities.
A. Tanni: I think it is fantastic that your daughter has been able to take part in so many activities, and would encourage her to keep trying new things and to keep pushing the boundaries. I share your optimism and really hope that the London 2012 Paralympic Games can provide that spur to get more disabled people involved in sport.
The best national resource in the UK is Parasport.org.uk, which has updates on local clubs and events going on around the country with regards to disability sport. Beyond that, I would recommend contacting your local clubs directly to see what they have to offer. However, I am not really sure about what is available in Canada!
Q. IcedTeaAndBuns: What age did you start to compete? I have found it quite difficult to find any wheelchair sports locally for my son, the few that are there seem to start at secondary age (11 upwards) and I wondered if there are any sports or events out there for younger children?
A. Tanni: Hello IcedTeaAndBuns (nice name by the way). I was 12 when I started to compete but things have developed since then. Again, I would recommend looking at Parasport.org.uk to see what is on offer. However, I would also suggest doing things as a family that are fun, rather than just competition at that age.
Q. Grumpala: Do you think that encouraging disabled and non-disabled kids to play sports together would be a good way of encouraging integration and raising the profile of parasports, or do you think that it's more important for kids with disabilities to have teams and sports clubs that are just for disabled people?
A. Tanni: This is a tricky one. Without wishing to sound like a cop-out, this really depends on the sport and the child and has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. In some situations it is possible to integrate well, but others are more difficult.
What I think is most important is that the child takes part in sport and experiences different activities, as I think that can provide fantastic benefits. I certainly think that disabled kids should take part in PE at mainstream schools, alongside the rest of the children.
Q. fivegomadindorset: What's your opinion on Oscar Pistorius qualifying for the World Championships?
A. Tanni: Oscar is a great athlete who wants to compete against the best athletes. In his event that means competing against mainstream athletes as we saw in Daegu. It is a great opportunity for him, and Oscar also brings a great profile to the Paralympic Games and disabled sport in general. It will be great to see him in action at London 2012, so I hope that you are thinking of applying for tickets!
Q. chimchar: As a fellow Welshie, what is your favourite thing about being Welsh? Grindiolch!
A. Tanni: Quite simply, I think the best thing about being Welsh is... knowing you are from Wales! However, if I had to pick one thing it would be the fact we talk to anybody and the friendliness. When I was about to give birth to Carys, we drove back to Cardiff to make sure she was born Welsh even though we were living in England at the time.
Wales has a fantastic record as part of the Paralympics GB team and I am sure there will be more medals for Welsh athletes at London 2012 next year.
Q. Tenebrist: You've already achieved a great deal as an athlete. What would you most like to achieve as a member of the House of Lords? Is there a particular piece of legislation you would like to see passed?
A. Tanni: Thank you. The one thing I would like to achieve is more severe penalties for people who abuse Blue Badge parking spaces! Hopefully, we are close to achieving that one. Beyond that, I am very involved in the Welfare Reform Bill and I really want to ensure that we make the reform the best it can be for everyone.