NEWS20 March 2014

‘Aim high, even if you hit a cabbage’

UK

Self-confessed ‘data geek’ Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson shared her secrets to success at the MRS Conference.

As a child, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson’s grandfather offered her some words of wisdom that have stuck with her ever since: “Aim high, even if you hit a cabbage.” 11 gold, four silver and one bronze Paralympic medal, six London wheelchair marathon wins and a seat in the House of Lords later, she’s still not entirely sure what he meant. “I’d love to say it translated to something more lyrical in his native Welsh,” she says, “but it doesn’t. What I took it to mean is that it’s important to have a goal and a dream, and to stick with it no matter what.”

Grey-Thompson’s keynote speech at the close of the MRS Conference boiled down to a few simple pointers to success: work hard, always keep your goal in mind, and prepare for the unexpected. “The only thing I had control over was being the best I could,” she said. She told stories that illustrated how individual success is not always about individuals – she has always had a strong team around her – and how important it is to remember that “one bad race doesn’t make you a bad athlete.”

She also confessed to being a “data geek”, which she has found useful in both her sporting and post-sporting career. As an athlete, her husband would feed race and training data into a computer in order to generate estimates of the times she needed to achieve in order to meet her medal targets.

In her role as a crossbench people’s peer in the House of Lords, with specialist interest in sport, disability, health and youth development, she relies on “external data” to inform her work: “It’s important that I build trust, so I need to know that the information I’m getting from outside is accurate. Without it, I couldn’t do my job.”

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