David Pond awarded Honorary Doctorate by Loughborough University

Each year Loughborough University confers degrees and doctorates on honorary graduands from a range of fields. We are delighted to celebrate David Pond’s Honorary Doctorate in recognition for his “remarkable loyal and hard-working commitment and leadership to GB wheelchair rugby.”

By Ellie-May Storr

Loughborough University Alumni and former Chief Executive Officer of GB Wheelchair Rugby David Pond has been a significant contributor to the Peter Harrison Centre for many years. We caught up with him to relive his journey on a very special day as he was invited back to campus to receive an honorary doctorate for his contributions to wheelchair rugby and the Peter Harrison Centre.

David joined GB Wheelchair Rugby with a clear mission to professionalise the organisation, ahead of the London 2012 Paralympics. After “falling in love with the people and the game” he stayed for 12 years and was anintegral part of their rise, seeing the small-budget organisation grow from 70 people to a professionalised establishment with 30 teams and different variations of the sport. The team’s growth and strength were highlighted in their success at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, whereby they won gold under David’s leadership. 

David Pond visiting the Peter Harrison Centre

David’s passion for Para sport and heightening awareness and participation drove his motivations for success.

“I’d never even heard of wheelchair rugby, and this really stuck out to me. It made me think, why haven’t I heard about this? We needed to raise its profile and look beyond disability. I became very focused on what we could achieve together.”

We asked David to describe his highlights of working for wheelchair rugby. Despite their gold medal winning success, David focused on the process of getting to Tokyo, rather than the outcome:

“We've given people with a disability an opportunity to play something which they really enjoy. It is more than a game, it's a way of life. People learn from each other, about themselves and about what they're capable of, instead of being restricted by their disability. So, for me, one of the highlights would be seeing the growth of the game today from where it was when I arrived.”

It wasn’t all plain sailing for David and the team, after losing all their funding in the run up to the Paralympic Games, David attributed the team’s success to “genuine bloody mindedness and hard work.” The success clearly meant more to the whole team than just a medal…

“It's not just the gold medal, that was the icing on the cake. It's the process together. It was about beating the system and saying we're gonna do this. We're gonna do it together. And we did it. So that to me, that was amazing.”

Throughout David’s time at GB Wheelchair Rugby, he worked closely with the Peter Harrison Centre. Several Doctoral Research students have worked with David and the Wheelchair Rugby team, producing ground-breaking, innovative research papers. David spoke highly of the Centre, expressing gratitude to Professor Vicky Tolfrey in particular:

“The centre is a real jewel in Loughborough’s crown. Vicky’s vision, drive, commitment, and knowledge is world class and world beating. For me to be able to work with her has been real joy and such an honour. People should not underestimate its power, this research doesn't exist anywhere else.”

David expressed his surprise and emotion upon the news of receiving his honorary doctorate, playing tribute to his family and Professor Vicky Tolfrey, who were a key part of his journey.

“I am very emotional. It's not just my award, it's Vicky’s, it's the centre’s, it's the athletes. It's my staff who work with me. I am so proud to be receiving this, but it is not about me. It is about the journey and so many people have contributed”.

After reflecting on what was an amazing career which ultimately started at Loughborough University, David summed up his thoughts about the Peter Harrison Centre:

“It really is world class, innovative and excellent”.

It was a huge privilege to catch up with David and hear about his journey on an incredibly special occasion. On behalf of everyone at the Peter Harrison Centre we would like to congratulate David on his very well-deserved honorary doctorate and thank him for his exceptional work throughout the centre and at Wheelchair Rugby! 


Team GB Wheelchair Rugby after winning gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (Photo credit: Paralympics GB)Team GB Wheelchair Rugby after winning gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (Photo credit: Paralympics GB)