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Inspirational People: Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

The life and achievements of a Paralympian

by Philippa Rae

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To celebrate the acheivements of Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

Preparation and materials

  • Gather some images of Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and have the means to display them during the assembly (check copyright). Some examples can be found at: and
  • For further information about Baroness Tani Grey-Thompson, see:

    - Seize the Day: My autobiography by Tanni Grey-Thompson (Coronet, 2002) 
    - Aim High by Tanni Grey-Thompson (Whole Story Audiobooks, 2012)
    - Tanni’s website, at:
    - WheelPower, British Wheelchair Sport's website, at:
    - British Paralympic Association's website, at:

  • Have available the song 'Firework' by Katy Perry or 'Eye on it' by TobyMac and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.


  1. Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson is a famously charismatic Paralympian and disability rights champion. 

    Show a photo of Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.
  2. Tanni was born with the medical condition spina bifida, which meant that it was unlikely she would ever be able to walk or run.

    Undeterred, after trying several sports, she decided to train as a wheelchair racer. In 1984, she won a bronze medal at the Junior National Wheelchair Games, going on to compete at the highest level – the Paralympic Games.
  3. Just like the Olympics, the Paralympics are held every four years and cover many different types of sports. As a world-class wheelchair racer, Tanni has taken part in 4 Games, winning a haul of 16 medals, 11 of which are gold. She has also won the Women’s London Wheelchair Marathon 6 times, 13 World Championship medals and held 30 world records throughout her sporting career.
  4. Tanni is considered to be a pioneer and was one of the first disabled athletes to connect with mainstream sports followers. It isn’t just her success as a sportswoman that singled her out and raised the status of disability sport but also her strong, forthright character.She has always eschewed the words 'pity' or 'plucky', challenging the view that she has had to overcome adversity compared to others. She has always felt lucky to have had the support and encouragement of her family and the opportunities that have come her way.
  5. Being an elite athlete in any sport requires immense dedication and hard work. Focusing on achieving high goals can often mean making sacrifices. Tanni’s sport of wheelchair racing required training in all weathers and, like any athlete, being able to overcome the disappointments when things went wrong.

    Like many highly successful people, Tanni’s philosophy is one of tenacity - to keep on trying. She took this encouragement from a saying that her grandfather used to use: ‘Aim high even if you hit a cabbage!’ This means that even if you don’t manage to reach your goals in life, you gain a great deal from trying. The most likely way you will achieve your goals is through sheer hard work and not being afraid to fail.

    It is this understanding that has enabled Tanni to bounce back from some of the hardest moments in her life. For example, a year after spinal surgery, she won four gold medals at the Barcelona Paralympics in 1992. Four years later, she dramatically lost the 800-metre race at the Atlanta Paralympics in 1996. Despite being written off by people, Tanni turned things around and eventually won the 100-metre race, showing immense mental strength.
  6. Tanni has been an inspiration to many people, both able-bodied and disabled, in sport and in other fields. People have been inspired by her dedication, which has rewarded her by her reaching the pinnacle of sporting achievement in her chosen field, making her an international ambassador for parasport. People have also been inspired by her attitude to the obstacles that she has overcome with such a positive and spirited attitude. 
  7. Tanni retired from racing in 2007 and now dedicates her time to helping others in sport, as well as being a disability rights champion. She has been awarded the highest honour, made a people’s peer in the House of Lords, and her achievements have been recognized in many other ways, too, such as being bestowed with a number of honorary degrees.
  8. When Tanni was born in 1969, people were less enlightened about disabilities than they are today and attitudes were very different. Tanni has always said she was lucky to have been born into a family with parents who were such a great encouragement and motivational force to her. She doesn’t see herself as having had any of life’s disadvantages, although there have been plenty of times when she has had to fight back both on and off the sports field. 

    Tani’s philosophy does not take the view that walking is good and not walking is bad. For her, being in a wheelchair gave her more mobility, not less. It never stopped her from doing anything that she wanted to. She finds it irritating if people look at what she can’t do rather than what she can. Tanni is a great inspiration to many people.

Time for reflection

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson was born with a mobility disability, but in her actions and attitude she has always showed that it did not stop her from setting goals and achieving what she wanted to do.

Tanni has shown herself to be exceptionally determined and dedicated to achieving her goals. She spent many long hours training in all weathers and unglamorous surroundings, such as multistorey car parks, to perfect her racing. Things didn’t always go so well and the path to the international winner’s podium was paved with setbacks, but she kept going.
We can learn from Tanni’s achievements and her philosophy that disappointments are part of everyone’s life journey.Tanni was not only prepared physically for her racing but also her mental philosophy was strong and positive. Her motto has been one of never believing that she couldn’t do or try something. She always conveys a great positive spirit and has learnt to deal with life’s up and downs. Tanni has faced immense challenges and won.

Do we have the same attitude?
Do we find it easy to give up at the first hurdle or do we persevere?

Dear Lord,
Thank you for the uplifting  story of Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. 
Help us to face the challenges in our lives with courage and determination.


'Firework' by Katy Perry
'Eye on it' by TobyMac

Publication date: February 2016   (Vol.18 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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