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Honorary Degree Orations
Dame Kelly Holmes
Public Orator, Steve Grainger presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Monday 23 July at 10.30am
Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen, graduands:
It is rare in life that we have the opportunity to meet one of our sporting heroes, it is even rarer that we have the opportunity to work alongside them – I’m lucky enough to have had the honour of doing both and it’s my great privilege today to be able to introduce them to you.
Born in Kent in 1970 Kelly Holmes had an early introduction to athletics – through her school – Hugh Christie School – and then through her membership of Tonbridge Athletics Club. Inspired by another Loughborough graduate – Sebastian Coe – and his performance at the 1984 Olympic Games in Moscow Kelly enjoyed a string of early successes in the sport becoming English Schools Champion. Joining the army at the age of 18 she put her energies into becoming a Physical Training Instructor and, for a while, athletics took second priority. It was whilst watching the 1992 Olympics on TV and seeing Lisa York – an athlete she used to regularly beat – competing there that her Olympic dream was re-ignited. Over the next few years she combined her army career with her training and was soon back on the road to glory – becoming National 800m champion in 1993 and adding the 1500m crown one year later.
I first met Kelly in the autumn of 1996 when she helped us to launch the Specialist Sports Colleges programme at Barking Abbey School in North East London. I had watched her as an athlete and knew that she was going to be good but talking with her that day I soon became convinced that this was one determined person and that she wasn’t just going to be good – she was going to be great! Her journey to greatness is an inspiration to us all – this wasn’t just an athlete that trained hard and succeeded – Kelly is an athlete that had to overcome setbacks along the way that would be enough to force many others to retire. A stress fracture at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a ruptured Achilles tendon at the 1997 World Championships, a bad virus prior to the 2000 Sydney Olympics and a number of serious leg injuries whilst training for the 2004 Olympics could, by many, have been seen as career ending moments but not for Kelly – for her these were life defining moments – occasions that instilled in her even greater determination and commitment to succeed.
Kelly’s belief in herself and her dream put her in a strong position going into the 2004 Athens Olympics but few of us could have imagined what would come next. To represent your country at an Olympics is a great achievement, to reach an Olympic final must go down as one of the greatest achievements, to win a medal at an Olympic Games is a place reserved for only the truly talented, to win a Gold medal gives you a special place in history – to win Double Gold in Track and Field athletics means you have made history – on the 28th August 2004 Kelly Holmes did just that.
With all the challenges and setbacks leading up to Athens – along with the “no compromise” focus that she had to give you could have imagined that a rest might be in order – but not for Kelly. She still had things to do – a belief that she could achieve in other areas. Her achievements since Athens have continued – the development of “On Camp with Kelly” – a mentoring programme for talented teenage female athletes, a “no compromise” performance on TV’s Dancing on Ice programme and the well deserved honour bestowed by the Queen in the 2005 New Years Honours list making her a Dame being just a few of the highlights.
Just under 2 years after winning Double Gold Dame Kelly was part of another winning team – the team that brought back the ultimate prize to the UK – the rights to stage the Olympic and Paralympic games in London in 2012. As an ambassador to the bid few of us will forget the pictures of Kelly in Trafalgar Square as the news came through on that historic day. A key element in winning that bid was the promise to use the Games to inspire young people to take part in sport. This has become integral to Kelly’s latest challenge – in January 2006 she was appointed as the National School Sport Champion and since then has been working with us at the Youth Sport Trust to raise the profile of physical education and school sport and to motivate more young people to get involved. Self belief, ambition, determination, commitment are all essential requirements to reach the top in sport – they are also the very things we want young people to learn through their education. They are all attributes that Kelly Holmes has in abundance and it is fitting that she has chosen, in her retirement from top level sport, to commit to helping young people be the best that they can be – in sport and in life.
This is a remarkable person – someone who has achieved so much but is now giving so much.
Chancellor – I have the honour to present to you and the University, Dame Kelly Holmes for the Degree of Doctor of the University, honoris causa.