There are few greater role models in the field of disability sport than Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson and so it was a privilege to meet with Britain’s most successful Paralympic athlete.
With the London 2012 games fast approaching her views on how young athletes can be encouraged to compete in disability sport events are clearly important. The problem, according to Tanni, is that young athletes with disabilities are often at a disadvantage at school and ‘it is a real challenge to make sure they get access to P.E.’ It is refreshing to hear that things have moved on since Tanni was still at school, some 25 years ago, but she still maintains that there is work to be done. In many ways she hopes that London 2012 be a huge positive for the disability sport community in general but issues a stark warning that ‘there is a real danger that we will just focus on those couple of weeks for the games and won’t think about what we should do afterwards.’
Tanni hopes that London 2012 will be used as an opportunity to leave ‘not just a physical legacy in terms of whether we have an athletics track or not, but a legacy in terms of trying to change the mindset of sports clubs, schools and parents to encourage kids.’ She suggests that these things ‘are not that difficult, but need to be carefully planned.’
In light of the suggestion that there needs to be greater encouragement for young people to become involved in sport we talk of the driving influences throughout Tanni’s career. She places responsibility not only upon her parents who ‘had a huge input’ to try and overcome the kind of discrimination which still existed at the time when Tanni first became a wheelchair user but also on another wheelchair athlete Chris Hallam who won the 1987 wheelchair marathon. She says that he was a role model who ‘broke down a lot of sporting barriers, showing that wheelchair athletes were able to compete.’
Great Britain’s preparation for the London 2012 Paralympic games clearly also important to her. But what has to be done differently for these young sportsmen and women in preparation for such big events? She tells me ‘there are lots and lots of positive things to be said about lottery funding and now athletes who gain a place on the squad have much better access to medical care, physio support and nutritional support.’
For Tanni, the message seems abundantly clear, that with the required support and with greater role models, awareness and encouragement a belief which was instilled in Tanni that you can ‘do anything you want’ will ensure that the future is bright for disability sport.