Today to coincide with the London Marathon on Sunday I’d like to write about Britain’s first disabled sports superstar, the remarkable Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson (now Baroness Grey-Thompson).
Tanni was born Carys Davina Grey on 26th July 1969 in Cardiff, Wales. She was born with spina bifida. As a toddler she could walk, and even run around. But as she grew, more pressure was exerted on her malformed spine and her ankles and knees grew weaker. She was seven when she had her first major operation on an exposed part of her spinal cord. That same year she became confined to a wheelchair.
At 13 she had another major operation which involved grafting a metal rod onto her spine to help straighten it. She then had to wear a plaster cast jacket and was bedridden for six months. In her late teens she also had to miss a year of university when agonising pain led to the discovery that the rod in her back had broken through the scar tissue. She underwent a further operation to remove it, followed by another six months in bed. It reveals Tanni’s extraordinary tenacity that at 13, and despite terrible pain, she decided sport was her life and that she wanted to compete for Britain.
Her Paralympic career started as early as 1984 when she took part in the 100m at the Junior Games for Wales. Her international career began in 1988 in Seoul, where she won a bronze medal in the 400m. As a young athlete she also competed in wheelchair basketball.
Tanni graduated from Loughborough University in 1991 with a BA (Hons) degree in Politics and Social Administration, and in 1999 she married Ian Thompson, a research chemist and also a former wheelchair athlete who had broken his back in a road accident, although he can walk with a stick. They met at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and have one daughter. Ian Thompson had been a cycle racer and now holds the British 5,000m record for wheelchair racing.
Tanni’s fifth and last Paralympic Games were in Athens in 2004, where she won two gold medals in wheelchair racing in the 100m and 400m. In total in her Paralympic career she won 16 medals (11 gold, 4 silver, and 1 bronze), and also 13 Championship medals (6 gold, 5 silver, and 2 bronze). She also won the London Marathon 6 times between 1992 and 2002. In 1993 she was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to sport, advanced in 2000 to OBE. In 2005 she was promoted to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). She has received numerous honorary degrees, and was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year 3 times (1992, 2000, and 2004).
Tanni retired from competitive sport in 2007 and expanded her television presenting career. She also took up coaching. On 23rd March 2010 Tanni was created a Life Peer on the recommendation of the House of Lords Appointments Commission, and she was introduced to the House of Lords on 29th March 2010, swearing the oath of allegiance in both English and Welsh. She currently sits on the board of the London Marathon, and is Chair of the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation Commission on the future of women’s sport. She is also a patron of numerous charities.
Tanni’s autobiography ‘Seize the Day’ was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2001.
I’ll be heading to The Mall on Sunday as a friend’s daughter is running in the children’s marathon. The kids run 5 miles and finish in The Mall just before the elite runners come in. I’m looking forward to being a part of it and visiting my London again!