TANNI GREY-THOMPSON is one of British sport’s most inspirational and iconic figures, the winner of 11 Paralympic gold medals, a crossbench Peer in the House of Lords, motivational speaker, broadcaster and mother.
Britain’s greatest Paralympic athlete, she amassed a remarkable medal haul over 16 years and five Paralympic Games of 11 gold, four silver and a bronze, all from the confines of a wheelchair.
In 2005, she became ‘Dame’ Tanni Grey-Thompson for her services to sport. In March 2010, Tanni was created a life peer and was conferred as Baroness Grey-Thompson, of Eaglescliffe in the County of Durham.
A hugely respected and courageous sportswoman, Grey-Thompson has become a global ambassador for disability sport. In addition to her many Paralympic medals, she won the London Marathon six times in her career.
In August 2009, she was made a member of the Gorsedd at the 2009 National Eisteddfod in Bala, Gwynedd.
A politics graduate, she has also been active in public life, working both in sports and public administration.
Born on July 26, 1969, in Cardiff, and christened Carys Davina, her two-year-old sister, Sian, called her ‘tiny’, pronouncing it ‘tanni’, and the nickname stuck.
Confined to a wheelchair from the age of seven due to spina bifida, she attended Birchgrove Primary School in Cardiff and was determined to find out for herself what she could and could not do. Her parents were always supportive and encouraged her independent streak.
After a long battle with the local authority they were able to secure a place at mainstream school. Tanni attended St Cyres Comprehensive in Penarth and it was here that she first discovered an interest in sports.
After trying a range of sports she realised at age 13 that wheelchair racing was her sport of choice. After major surgery had grafted a metal rod on to her spine, she joined the Rookwood paraplegic club in Cardiff and started her competitive career, making her debut for Wales at the Junior National Championships aged just 15.
In her last year as a junior athlete she won the Junior National title over 100 metres and, at 17, became part of the British Wheelchair Racing Squad.
Her first Paralympic success was in 1988 when she won bronze in the 400m wheelchair race at the Seoul Games.
She graduated from Loughborough University in 1991 with a BA (Hons) degree in Politics and Social Administration, but lost a year of competition when she had to return to hospital for further surgery on her back.
Undeterred, she focused on the Barcelona Paralympics of 1992 and promptly hit the headlines with quadruple gold medals in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 metres and a silver in the 4x100m relay, as well as claiming her first victory in the London Wheelchair Marathon. It was at Barcelona that she became the first woman to break the 60-second barrier for 400m.
That year, Tanni was awarded an MBE and named The Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year and Sports Writers Association female disabled athlete of the year.
She went on to win the 800 metres gold in the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, along with three silver medals in the 100, 200 and 400 metres.
Tanni married Dr Ian Thompson, a research chemist and wheelchair athlete, in May 1999 at St John’s Church, Cardiff, followed by a honeymoon in Sempach, Switzerland – ensuring there would be no interruption to training.
At the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, Grey-Thompson won another four gold medals in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 metres.
That year alone, she was awarded an OBE and picked up a glittering array of accolades, including The Sunday Times Sports Woman of the Year, BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason Award, Sportswriters Award, Welsh Woman of the Year Award, Welsh Sportswoman of the Year, Best Welsh Sportswoman of 50 years and Pride of Britain Special Award.
She gave birth to daughter Carys in February 2002. At the age of two, Carys saw her mum win her last two gold medals at the Athens Paralympic Games and was often spotted at the side of the track supporting her mum and dad whenever they competed.
Grey-Thompson, who held over 30 world records during her career, has been recognised by sporting organisations worldwide for her achievements, which included five gold, four silver and three bronze medals at World Championships.
She was one of only four female athletes to appear in the top 50 British Sporting Greats poll undertaken by publishers Cassell Illustrated and is a member of The Laureus World Sports Academy alongside sporting legends such as Pele, Jack Nicklaus, Michael Jordan and Ed Moses.
Already a holder of the OBE and MBE, Grey-Thompson was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2005 New Years Honours List.
Grey-Thompson, who also won the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year on three occasions, maintained a close interest in the sport after retirement from competition by nurturing the next generation of British Paralympians.
She went on to become an independent crossbench Peer in the House of Lords, taking the title Baroness Grey-Thompson of Eaglescliffe in the County of Durham, and has played an active role in promoting sport and physical activity for disabled people.
As a working peer, she has used her experience and knowledge during debates in the House and she has spoken on a range of issues including disability rights, welfare reform and of course, sport.
Grey-Thompson became a board member of the London Marathon, the Sportsaid Foundation, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and Join In, plus other organisations including Transport for London, the London Legacy Development Corporation and the London 2017 Organising Committee.
She was inducted to the Stoke Mandeville Hall of Fame by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2003 and on December 15, 2019, she was presented with the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award.
Oxford and Cambridge Universities have each awarded Grey-Thompson honorary degrees, among many such awards from the likes of University of Wales, University of Swansea, University of Glamorgan, UWIC and Cardiff University.
In 2003, she was awarded Honorary Freedom of the City and County of Cardiff, and among numerous distinctions she was St David’s Awards Winner in 2014 and named as Chancellor of Northumbria University in 2015.
Grey-Thompson is patron of numerous charities including the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme, the Wembley Stadium Legacy Trust, Zoё’s Place Baby Hospice, President of Sportsleaders UK, a UNICEF Ambassador and a Council member for the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.
Her autobiography Seize the Day was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2001.
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