The talk formed part of the University’s Voices of Diversity series and was held online on 7 March to mark International Women’s Day. She was joined by the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Professor Rachel Thomson, who hosted the discussion.
Tanni, who graduated in 1991 with a degree in Politics and Social Administration, is one of Britain’s greatest Paralympic athletes. The Baroness won 11 gold, 3 silver, and 1 bronze medal across five Paralympic Games between 1988 and 2004. She won the London Wheelchair Marathon six times and held more than 30 world records throughout her career.
In 2005, the Baroness became a Dame for services to sport. Five years later she was created a life peer and was conferred as Baroness Grey-Thompson of Eaglescliffe in the County of Durham.
She is currently the Chair of ukactive, a Council Member for UK Sport, Member of the Sports Honours Committee, and is involved in a number of other organisations in roles such as Trustee, Adviser, and Non-Executive Director. She is a well-known television and radio sports commentator and is often involved in key events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
During the Voices of Diversity talk and Q&A session on Monday evening, the Baroness shared with staff, students, and alumni honest insights into her life as a Welsh disabled woman who is a mother, wife, parliamentarian, and Paralympian.
She talked about experiencing misogyny – particularly in her early career – and how these experiences taught her skills in how to deal with the world. She commented on how things are changing, but that change is slow.
The Baroness shared personal experiences of discrimination as a disabled woman – for instance having meetings booked in inaccessible rooms. She also shared that people would often suggest that she shouldn’t be a mother as a disabled woman.
An ongoing issue, and something that the Baroness frequently shares public insight into, is lack of accessibility on trains. She is passionate about continuing to challenge issues and to strive for change.
Tanni discussed her school life, and how her parents fought to enrol her in a mainstream high school. Without that, Tanni says she wouldn’t have found sport, and wouldn’t have got into Loughborough.
Life at Loughborough
Having originally applied to study History, Tanni found herself switching to a Politics degree. She found that the discipline of studying helped in her life – but at the time wasn’t interested in pursuing a career in politics.
The Baroness lived in Towers Hall, and fondly remembers training up and down hills around the campus. She shared some suggestions on how her time at Loughborough could have been improved by considering where lectures are on campus, and the travel between those spaces.
Starting out as an athlete, she found that the Loughborough community helped her to find her voice to share opinions on disability sports.
Celebrating achievements and personal highlights
Throughout the session, the Baroness shared insights into her sports career as well as her route into the House of Lords and experiences as a parliamentarian. The audience also heard about how she made a transition in her career after retiring from athletics and how she planned for that move.
She also talked about making decisions about getting married and starting a family – and timing these life events around the athletics calendar to maximise her sporting career.
The Baroness shared a few key sports-related highlights to end. She said:
“I’m a massive Welsh Rugby fan, and because of what I did in sport I got to lead the Welsh Rugby team out in 2005 against England at the Millennium Stadium […] that is still one of my favourite moments.
“I competed in the Olympic Stadium the same night that Cathy Freeman ran, the pressure that she went through – she was carrying a nation on her shoulders […] She is amazing what she gives back to sport.”
More information about the events and initiatives taking place as part of Loughborough University’s International Women’s Day celebrations can be found on the dedicated website.
Thank you to Baroness Grey-Thompson for volunteering her time.
If you would like to watch a recording of the session, please get in touch.
About Voices of Diversity
The purpose of these events is to have open, honest conversations with diverse voices from a range of experiences and backgrounds to help facilitate positive change and ultimately educate the University community to make a difference, professionally and personally.