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Tanni Grey-Thompson: How to inspire change
It's about helping people think differently to help themselves.
On this episode of the Escape Your Limits podcast, Tanni Grey-Thompson talks sport, politics, business, family inspiration and how we can make the most of opportunities in fitness post-COVID.
A global ambassador of sport, Tanni is most famous for her world records, London marathon wins and Paralympic gold medals. However, it's her work in UK government that's inspiring change at the highest level to improve lives and raise the bar of how good we can all become in business and every day life.
The Escape Your Limits podcast is brought to you by Escape Fitness – a global community of gym design and gym equipment specialists that are looking beyond exercise alone to escape mental, physical and professional limits.
Tanni Grey-Thompson on the Escape Your Limits podcast.
Who is Tanni Grey-Thompson?
Born with spina bifida and paralysed from a very young age of around six years old, Tanni grew up surrounded by a supportive family that always challenged her to try new things and explore the world. At 13, she found her love for wheelchair racing and went on to reap success after success in marathons, world record attempts, and multiple Paralympic Games.
Today, Tanni is an ex-athlete, proud Welsh woman, a mum, a wife, a Parliamentarian and an inspiration to many around the world.
Tanni has continued to be involved in sport and physical activity. She is chair of ukactive, and a board member of institutions including London Marathon, the Sportsaid Foundation, the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and Join In.
In 2010 Tanni became an Independent Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords, taking the title Baroness Grey-Thompson of Eaglescliffe in the County of Durham. As a working peer, Tanni uses her experience and knowledge during debates in the House and she has spoken on a range of issues including disability rights and welfare reform in addition to sport.
Tanni Grey-Thompson episode highlights.
- How we can take the positive aspects of working from home in how we continue to work after the pandemic lockdowns are lifted.
- Why having an athletic mindset will enable to challenge yourself all the time and be better in other areas of life such as business.
- Why doing the boring stuff, whether it's training, working or writing speeches, will enable you to make the most of your time to make a difference, when competing, selling or speaking in public.
- What mindset you can take to appreciate the value of time in reaching your goals and working towards whatever your success metric for the future is.
- Why everyone should try new things before they decide if they want to pursue them or not, making decisions from an informed position.
- How even if you get stereotyped or stuck in one image from a previous success, there are more parts to what you can do and what you can achieve that people need to see instead of sticking with a single perception.
- What you can do to prepare your children for the world and inspire them to make a difference, even under challenging circumstances such as living with a disability.
- Why evaluation is key for any win, loss, success or failure. This will enable you to see where you made the most impact or where you may have missed an opportunity.
- What societal challenges Tanni Grey-Thompson has faced as a disabled women and how she's overcome these challenges, or changed attitudes to educate ignorance.
- Why fitness isn't taken seriously on a nationwide level and what the COVID-19 pandemic has done to highlight the need to embrace physical activity at all levels.
- Why we like to think we're a nation of sports lovers but we're actually a nation of people who like watching big sports events.
- How physical activity is more than just about gyms and leisure centres.
- What we can all do as industries and communities in changing the mindsets of people when it comes to fitness and physical activity.
Full episode transcript.
Tanni Grey-Thompson 0:00
For me, P.E. needs to have the same same status as literacy numeracy, and physical literacy needs the same status as literacy and numeracy. It's healthy mind body spirit. If that works in the Olympics it's gonna work for school.
Matthew Januszek 0:12
Welcome to this week's escape your limits podcast and today we speak to the global ambassador of sport, who's broke 30 world records one six London marathons, competed in five Olympic Games, and won 11 Paralympic gold medals. off the track. She's using her experience as a crossbench peer in the House of Lords and our conversation today we talked about sports, business, politics, and the opportunities for the fitness industry post COVID. I think you'll really enjoy this episode with Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. So Tanni, thank you so much for joining us today. Where are you locked down at the moment.
Tanni Grey-Thompson 0:53
I'm locked down in the northeast of England in a tiny little town where I live which is quite near the Northeast. post in the North Sea. So, for our summer, it's still pretty cold at the moment. But the good stuff I take out of where we are now is that this is the longest I've been home in. In 20 years, I normally spent a huge amount of time traveling. So in this very weird times, I'm actually quite enjoying being at home with my family, but probably best not to ask them because they might not be quite so happy that I've been home for so long.
Matthew Januszek 1:25
So how are you managing to do you know, do what you do from from home? Has it been sort of fairly easy transition? Have you enjoyed it?
Tanni Grey-Thompson 1:34
The transitions been fine. I mean, I'm, I'm sort of like an early adopter of all sorts of different technologies. So, you know, when I was an athlete, I had a heartrate monitor, you know, really early on and you know, tracking devices and all these different things. So for me, it's definitely changed how I work in that. Actually, I have more time to work. And the temptation of working from home is that you, you know, you can do a lot of extra hours. I'm sort of trying to balance myself whenever we come up, locked down, but it's actually For an awful lot of people, it's been really hard, you know, working from home if you've got children. Now, luckily, my daughter is 18. So, you know, she's really self sufficient. But for a lot of people, you know, the social and physical isolations being been really difficult, not least in, you know, the space of, you know, people trying to be physically active, they're doing lots of different things from what they normally do so on my daily sort of timeout, and it's been amazing in the number of people riding bikes who have never been on their bike before. So I've now taken into taking spanners out with me and shouting at people how to adjust the bike to get the seat height, right. So my husband's a cyclist. So yeah, that's kind of my little bit of giving back is just shouting, you know, put put your bike seat up two inches, no, find it easier. So it's all just really strange at the moment, and it's going to be like this for, you know, many more weeks.
Matthew Januszek 2:51
Yeah, that's that's right. It's it's an interesting time. I guess. You know, what you mentioned about getting a lot of stuff down. I think that's one of the things I have found I'm like you I'm sort of most weeks on on a row on the road on a plane traveling. And it's amazing how sort of efficient you can be when you're just focused. And I guess travel takes a lot out of you, doesn't it?
Tanni Grey-Thompson 3:14
Yeah, it does. And, I mean, it's good. I mean, I've got the least number of emails in my inbox I've ever had.
But I do miss, you know, the contact with people the work I do. Now, you know, a lot of the work I do can be bumping into people's in, you know, people in the corridor in Parliament, and you can bring a huge amount of change in informal situations. And it is a bit I'm spending so much time online actually being online all the time is really exhausted. So I'm trying to balance how much time I spend, you know, in into the online meetings every day, because that's hard. But, you know, what I'm trying to do with with all the different roles I have is, we actually need to find the capacity where we are now to think about the good stuff that we're doing and for disabled people, you know, working from home, the technology Without using this being great, you know, for people who want flexible work, and we've got to find ways to keep the good stuff, when we're actually allowed out again and not go back to some of our traditional, not terribly effective ways of working.
Matthew Januszek 4:13
We were having a conversation just the other day about plans for getting back to work. We, you know, we've got a lot of people in England and we were talking about the same thing. It's like, Well, what do we should we just, you know, kind of look at, there's obviously some stuff that's probably not been good, but, you know, what are the things that have worked? Well, you know, the efficient a lot of people are very effective from working at home, you know, they're an hour commute each way and, and the stress of that commute and the extra time that they could be doing other things, I suppose, you know, be interesting, see what you thought about, you know, do you think in terms of working conditions that there are probably some benefits if, you know, that probably could be taken forward, you know, in terms of traditional company structures where everybody has to go into an office every day night.
Tanni Grey-Thompson 5:01
Yeah, I mean, certainly the number of desk spaces we're going to need need in the future, I think it's going to change. You know, if you work in the big cities, I mean, commuting an hour and a half each way in and out of London is just the norm for a lot of people. And I've got a colleague who commutes over two hours each way every single day, who has suddenly said, I don't, why am I doing this? And it's like, well, I was telling you that before. And you know that there's a lot of talking in work in the last sort of couple years about presenteeism and bringing your whole self to work and, you know, people feeling that you can contribute when you're in work, because there's other things going on in your life. And I think we've thrown that presenteeism on its head that, you know, the, I mean, I've got every platform going, but for a lot of things, the platforms can work, you know, if you're disciplined and you know, I think especially if, you know, people and the platforms can can work quite well. So, you know, we don't have to be rushing around in the same way. So, you know, I hope we I hope we do think differently about upset. And, you know, I've, I've always felt, you know, I live 300 miles north of London, which in US terms is nothing but, you know, I traveled to London 49 weeks of the year, because that's where I think I have to be and actually, you know, I don't need to do that. So, I think, you know, I'll be thinking really differently about that more what my life's gonna be. And if it hadn't been to this, I wouldn't have challenged some of those things for myself. So, you know, I'm, it's gonna be justice. I'm quite excited. But you know, I think there are a lot of good things that can come out of this.
Matthew Januszek 6:33
Hmm, are you from what I've read up on you? You seem to be a person that challenges norms and doesn't go with the flow. Is that something that you that you developed when you were you know, as a as a younger athlete and brought some of those things into business?
Tanni Grey-Thompson 6:49
I think as an athlete, you've, you've got to challenge yourself all the time, because you've got to be better every week, every month, you know, every season, you've got to be better, faster, stronger. You've got to have your world rankings. You've got to have you, you know, you hit your time targets and it truck and road racing. So I think and you've got to find solutions to everything, you know. And so, you know, if a piece of equipments not working properly, you've got to find a way to fix it. If your training is not going right, you need to evaluate it and find a way. So I think for me, and that's partly my upbringing as well, my parents were very sort of solution focused. So I think that that helps that, that the solution to an issue is not often the one that you'd like or not not often the easiest route. So you've got to find lots of different ways to move forward. So I think a lot of the skills that I learned from being an athlete transfer into the business world because actually in sport training, really boring. You know, it's very repetitive. You know, it's a means to an end. We will train in 12 to 15 times a week. I mean, I love trading eight times a week, but 15 times a week was you know, you you eat you sleep, you train, and you get and but you do it because you've got this moment to compete and race. bid against other people, and works a bit like that, you know, you have to do lots of really boring, dull, boring stuff to get to the point where you can produce a report or make a sale or do something that is important for the business. So I think that's a really useful skill I learned through sport was you just got to do you got to do the hard graft. You know, if I work in politics, now, you know, you, you have to spend a lot of time writing speeches, because the way our Parliament works, you might have two minutes, that is your time that you've got in the chamber to make a difference. And so, you know, you can't do it on a wing in a prayer. You have to prepare and plan and, you know, maximize those two minutes that you've got. So, yeah, I think there's been a lot of stuff that's been useful from one life that's led into the other.
Matthew Januszek 8:46
Hmm. You talk about I've listened up on a lot of interviews you've done you use the word time quite a lot. And sort of, I guess, the analogy of the amount of training you do, and then Through your five Olympic Games you did the amount of minutes that you're actually performing, you know, is, is, you know, where did that that sort of, I guess, appreciation of time and effectiveness come from?
Tanni Grey-Thompson 9:15
I think some of it was my father who was amazing in terms of fighting to get me into, you know, good education. And I was born with Spina Bifida.
You know, I was paralyzed at a very young age.
And he was sort of very keen on saying you've got a limited time to achieve. And then it was after my second Paralympics, so I was 23. And, and I remember coming home and just thinking, I wonder how long I've been on the track at Paralympics at two games to win the medals that I had at that point, which at that point was for gold, silver, bronze, and it's like, oh, gosh, that's not very long. how long you've been traveling by that point? I've been training for 10 years. And it's like, right, okay, I've got if I'm going to do the next four year cycle. Okay, I've got to really deliver. So my Paralympic career five games 16 medals is 19 and a half minutes. I mean, if you added in every other race I did, you know, which was, you know, London Marathon, Boston, la Heidelberg. You know, if I added in all the tracker, you know that that would water it down. The stuff that was really important to me was Paralympics. And so that's the thing that made me go out through the door every day when it's freezing cold or snowing or, you know, it's windy, and I meant to be doing 20 miles training and you don't really want to, it's like, right, okay, I just need to get out and do it. You know, and because if I don't do it today, you can't catch up tomorrow. You know, you can't just work through the night as an athlete, you've got to rest and you've got to eat properly. And so when that that for me was that? Yeah, so every games, so the idea of actually was to keep that I kind of had an idea I might be able to try and fit five games in based on you know, me being 19 at my first games. And kind of part of the idea was I wanted to keep that if I could do all the distances I wanted to do, I wanted to try and keep that into 20 minutes because in sport, it's the least amount of time, you know that that's important. So, you know, I kind of my husband who was my coach would say that I, you know, I should have been close, you know, should be 19 minutes not 19 and a half but, you know, the debate
Matthew Januszek 11:22
it's a hell of an achievement. And do you think a lot of that I guess sort of resilience in it because I you know, from what I've heard you you've you've had some great successes, but you've also lost a lot of racism, which must have meant you you know, shaking yourself often picking yourself up back up again, was it was a lot of that shaped by your parents or your your father in particular,
Tanni Grey-Thompson 11:46
occasionally shaped by my parents. So both my parents are only children in different ways that had restrictions on their upbringing. So my, my mom's parents were in their late 40s when they had she was about have us have a surprise baby. So she was almost brought up by parents who were kind of a grandparents age.
And my father was really sick when he was young, so he wasn't allowed out and play and you know, so I think when my parents had been my sister, they were very much keen on encouraging us to try lots of different things do things differently. You know, my dad, they both loved sports. So, you know, I was very much encouraged to do that. But dad was like, you know, well, how do you know you're gonna like wheelchair racing? Unless you do it? How do you know if you can learn? So he was very much, you know, try loads of things, because then you've got time to find what you like. And I'll be honest, I thought wheelchair racing was really dull and boring. And, but then I wasn't good at any other sport. Like, I mean, I really wanted to play basketball, but you know, wasn't great. And then I tried wheelchair racing. And like, actually, this is quite cool. So I think for me that was instilled from a young age that you know, don't sit on the sidelines going, I don't want to do it. Do it from an informed position. So I didn't even realize they were teaching me some of this as I was growing up. And some of it you only realize much later on in life but yeah, my, my parents were really keen on trying to remember there was one year I wanted to do four races in a week. And everyone told me I was stupid and shouldn't try it. And the only one who said you should do it was my dad. Okay, so the first race was in Toronto on the Saturday and Sunday. I was racing in Zurich in Switzerland on the Tuesday night out who's in Denmark on the Thursday night and Atlanta, the pitch to 10 k on the Saturday and my dad just said, we've got passport and credit card, give it a go, like what's what's the what's gonna happen, you missed your flight, you have to pay, you know, don't miss like, cuz you love to buy a new flight, and that's quite expensive. So, you know, it's like, what's the worst worst thing happened was I don't make money, you know. So that kind of encouragement. I think as well it was a lot of you know, face to face, do things that scare you, or challenge you. And then another example 2012 Makes a Paralympic Games I got asked to fly into the open a sermon on the wire and I'm scared of heights like really don't like heights. And I remember going yokel do it and then go do it. And then having a chat with the guy who was in charge of me and I found out he was one of the most experienced wire guys in the world. And when I told him how scared I was, he just said to me, the night of the opening sermon in London Paralympics, we're not gonna let you die. You go, okay. Like, I can do so, you know, it's not without a lot of safety around and a lot of protects, but you've got to do things that challenge you. And yeah, in my career from the beginning to the end, I lost more races than I want. But people only remember the ones who win. You know, I didn't win a race the first five years I competed. So, as a junior, you know, so, you know, it's, I think for me as an individual, it's weighing up. Do you have Venn diagrams? I don't know when this is a British thing. That the teaching maximum scope, we have these circles all interconnect. And I think you know, a lot of people on the outside just see me as an athlete then or as a politician now, but for me, I'm a combination now I'm a mom, I'm a wife, I'm a parliamentarian, I'm well shine. And to me, it's not just being stuck in one image of me, it's understanding that there's lots of different parts that make up me, and what I can do and what I can achieve.
Matthew Januszek 15:23
I know, I know, you've, you know, part of your your career has been lobbying to improve transport access to people, you know, various disabilities and, you know, access steps, that kind of thing, but I was interested to read it sort of when you was younger that your parents did, did the opposite and didn't make it very easy. Is that
Tanni Grey-Thompson 15:47
so um, I, I became paralyzed at the age of about six. So what happened is I'm missing a number of vertebra at the back of my spine. And then as I grew my spine collapse, so it's actually my own vertebra that seven My spinal cord and paralyzed me I could never walk very well at all. But that kind of paralyzed me and you know, I didn't miss a day school, there wasn't any pain and it just happened really gradually over about three years. And my dad was an architect and he knew how inaccessible the world was because he helped build it you know, every building he was part of designing had steps because apparently they look pretty and you know, cobblestones and you know, curbs and all this nonsense, which is rubbish, if you will to that. So he didn't want to make our house the only place I could live. And he refused to make it wheelchair accessible. So I used to have to get out of my chair and, you know, transfer through the front door and drag my chair in and I used to crawl up and down the stairs to get to my bedroom. And, and actually, that was really good for me at that age. At that time, I wouldn't suggest that's probably good for everyone. But um, it's actually about 10 years ago, my dad was really elegant. You we didn't have much time left them, I kind of wanted to say thank you to him for some of those because as a child, you never say thank you to your parents. And I just said to him about, you know, some some of these moments. I remember I was seven. And he showed me a book, I had pictures of the Taj Mahal and the Sydney Opera House and these amazing buildings from around the world. And he was really fun to bridges as well. And he was like, right, you need, you need to go and visit these places, you need to do that you need education, you need a good job. And I was like, Well, okay, and that had a huge influence in my sports career. I'm a political career. So I sort of said to dads, to remember that that conversation we had when you were seven. And I said, you know, it changed my life. You know, it made me believe that I could do stuff and he was like, nope, don't remember it. Oh, great. Okay, thanks. lost the bonding moment. And right, and then about half an hour later, he said, Oh, yeah, to remember it. Okay, but like now God, okay. So it's okay. Yeah. And he said, dumb human. I've been chatting, and you're quite an annoying child. And we didn't want you living at home forever. Yeah. Okay, thanks for that. So it probably wasn't my dad was quite sort of low key about these things. But I think there was an element of that, you know, if you wrap your kids in cotton ball, and you don't want anything to do anything they want you, you've got to give them space within safety and parameters, but you've got to let kids try things. And that's what they let me do.
Matthew Januszek 18:28
Hmm, what do you think about that? I guess nowadays you can with everything that happens in the world and everything seems to be dangerous and you can wrap your children and society in cotton one and I suppose in some ways that takes away a lot of what I guess what you built up, which is, you know, strength to deal with difficult situations. But I guess in life, we're all gonna, you know, as your father said, you know, there's going to be steps so you know, learn how to deal with them, you know, what's your views on that as you know, for bringing up children or even, you know, for sort of Developing younger people.
Tanni Grey-Thompson 19:02
You see now as a mom, I have totally different view on it because it's like I say to my daughter, I bring you read me when you get there, me when you come home. And she's like, Mom, can you just and then like I know. And no, so we try with with our daughter to try and you know, give her space to learn and to try things. And, you know, the sport she does is canoeing and kayaking, and we, you know, we did leave her at a training camp, you know, at the age of 12 when the kids were 20 parents that you know, and again, very protected very safe environment, but she had to be there all week and cook for yourself and get us up on and off the water because we couldn't physically be with him because we were my husband was coaching abroad and I had stuff in Parliament I had to be there for so we do try really hard to let them, to let Carys, learn because how can she measured her own safety and life She's had experience, but but it's really hard. I mean, her plan this summer she was going to go traveling through Europe with, you know, a best friend for two or three months. And I was like, Oh my god, can I go with her? Can I follow? And my husband was like: you were traveling the world on your own at 17 it's like, Yeah, I know.
It's different, but it's different. So yeah, it's, it's you gotta try that and go and it's not. It's not. It's not easy. It's really not that.
Matthew Januszek 20:33
So going back to you to your career as an athlete, what, what is what was one of your most memorable wins that you had and why was it memorable?
Tanni Grey-Thompson 20:42
Um, my last Paralympics, which was Athens 2004. I knew that was my last games going into it. I knew that I was probably only going to compete for another season. If I was lucky, and I sort of just about did two seasons after that before being completely broken and it was winning 100 Which was my weakest event, most pressure on me. And it was a memorable one because I'd lost my 102 days before, which was my strongest event. And which I've been unbeaten for and a few years. And I was the Paralympic and world record holder, and, you know, all these things. And I made a split second decision, which was the wrong one. And I put myself at the back of the pack and then 800 meters, that's really not a good place to be. And, and, and you can see actually, if you watch the video, you can see the point I made the decision. So the race plan was to go to the right time trying to take the speed out of the other athletes and try and take the kick out of them. And basically, that was the only way I was ever going to win. And you can see the point I made the decision to do something I've no idea why I didn't make that decision. And so yeah, coming back and what was hard was that everyone goes to try and do their best and every athlete has huge ups and downs in the If you win a games, you know your teammates, if you're lucky, you'll just go right. Well, you know, you keep the bus, you keep your food, you know, yeah, you're in the middle. But your, your mates on the team don't treat you any differently. You don't go back into the village with everyone go, Oh, well, you know, it's like, right, yeah. And what I found really hard was going back into the village and people just coming up and hugging me and saying you okay? And that was happening because I've been around a long time. You know, I know a lot of the athletes from different sports, the men's GP basketball team, and you know, quite big tough guys, you know, a couple of those guys that just came up, slapped me on the back and said, What was that? You know, ya know? And that was the hardest bit to deal with knowing that I've kind of disappointed people in people's kindness and that sounds really weird, but that was hard, but coming back and winning the hundred was amazing. And there's, there's a picture of me as I cross the line where I'm just you know, It's it's probably technically the best race of my life, actually, in terms of start to finish, everything was just every segment of the race was right. And that doesn't happen very often in your career. So, for me, that was that was quite if I had to pick one medal, it would be that but there's a little bit you couldn't have had the joy of the hundreds, without the huge disappointment of the 800. And although that was bad as I can't change it, I mean, I can't regret it. You know, actually, what I learned was one bad race doesn't make you a bad athlete. You know, it just it was missing and it's really miserable. But, you know, I can't change it. So move on.
Matthew Januszek 23:40
Yeah, what what she wants your view on losing, I guess cuz. Yeah. And that's in general terms, I guess, being an athlete or whether you're in, you know, everybody in Parliament and the loser vote or something. You know, what, how do you how do you look at it and cope with it when it hasn't gone as you'd planned.
Tanni Grey-Thompson 24:02
I think it's interesting because it's sort of winning and losing to most of the world is is, you know, winning or losing there. But actually, there's this sort of continuum on all the way in between, you know, you can not win a race when you had the most perfect day that you ever could have had you did everything right. You make good decisions, you know, you can win when you're not the best in the park, because someone else screwed up, you know. And so, if you ask me, my top 10 races, they wouldn't be necessarily racist that I'd won. But the middle table is based on gold medals. And that's it, you know, and a silver only counts as a type of bronze and bronze only counts as if there's a type of golden silver. So, for me, you've got it. You can't just come away from race where you've won and go, Yeah, I was amazing. You still got evaluated and you can't come a race from when you last guy was a disaster you have to evaluate. So that's I think what I was quite good at doing as an athlete as well is that you, you pick it apart you you look But what you did well, what you could do better and it's the same now in politics, if I make a speech, you know, I tried to Okay, what could have been better? Where did I lose the thread? Where did I make the most impact and, and also in the work I do now, you know, I can win a vote in the House of Lords, which is our upper chamber. But when it gets sent back to the House of Commons or lower chamber, it could get overturned. So when in a vote is not always necessarily the best thing for the legislation that I'm trying to change. Sometimes it's best to not vote and take half of what you want from the government and move on. So yeah, it's like the winning and losing is always fascinating, because it's, it's so much more complicated than that. And I'm great. I'm very, very lucky. I've got a group of critical friends, actually, some of them they were my training partners, you know, and some other people who watch me in Parliament and will watch my debates and now you know, ring and say, you know, God, that was boring. Well, you No or that was good for don't wear that color jacket gang because you know, it makes you look ill or brush your hair. Yeah. But, you know, feedback. And I think as an athlete, you learn to accept critical feedback. Because you have to, you know, the feedback you get as an athlete is pretty tough. Well, it's tough because you've got a clock and you've got a finish line. So you know, and so, you know, I'm very lucky that I have people around who are able to give me feedback. I mean, it. I'll be honest, I don't always take it very well. And when I try to but and but actually, usually after we kind of think, oh, okay, that was, you know, so I think it's really important that you have people around you who will be that critical friend, you know, it will just say, that was a bit dull, you know, so, you know, it's it's important to have that, because if you want to be better next time. You need more than what your own view because I'm hyper critical of myself. And so, you know, I need somebody to say Actually, you know what, that wasn't As bad as you thought it was, or actually, if somebody says to me that was as bad as you thought it was, it's like, okay, right?
Build it back up from the bottom again, you know, so it's, but I think it's how you learn about yourself to understand how you take criticism, how you deal with it, you know, it's how you deal with all those different things, you've got to learn a lot about yourself and, and in sport, it teaches you that because if you can't learn to deal with that, then it's really hard to make it as an athlete.
Matthew Januszek 27:28
I guess it must be difficult as well, when you're in the limelight. And there's a lot of people who got views whether again, whether that's in, you know, in public, or as a, as an athlete, you know, there must be a lot of people that have got their own views. How do you how do you sort of, I guess, measure yourself without getting too consumed with what's in the newspaper or, you know, what, what people are saying to you, you know, how do you sort of keep that balance and measure your own success and maybe not just being a About the medal, for example.
Tanni Grey-Thompson 28:03
I mean, it's not always easy. If you're, you know, if you're getting a barrage of people saying that they think you're awful, or you're not doing a good job, and, you know, I've had it in times in my political career where, you know, for something that I've done, you know, I've been, people have really gone for me. And that's hard because it's hard to switch off from that. And, but it's about trying to sort of find balance. I mean, some of the funny stuff that I get is, you know, people stopping me in the street saying, You're the athlete, aren't you? You're retired 13 years ago, but yes, you know, and like, oh, you're not as skinny as you used to be.
Because I'm not training. Okay, what you can't say ever, ever, ever, you know, you know, I'm not training 15 times a week anymore. So I don't need to have like zero body fat and you know, and so what, you just have to go good and, oh, you know, and some minutes really Funny. And some of it, you know, when people come up, you know, I've had people really swear at ministry and say, you know, you're a really bad person because you voted this way. And, you know, and that that's, it's not, I guess you just have to try and, you know, think you're doing the right thing and the decisions we make in politics, people will both love you and hate you for those decisions. And, you know, most of us want to be liked, you know, and it's, it's hard. But I think, you know, what I always say, maybe how I vote in Parliament. You know, I always, if I can't describe in five sentences, why I voted a certain way. I shouldn't vote on that topic. I mean, actually, no one ever asked me why I vote a certain way, you know, they'd be much more confrontational, but I think you have to understand, you know, and be able to explain to people so if when people say, why did you do that you have to give them the time to explain to them why you've done those things. You know, and sometimes they understand it, and sometimes they don't, and The reality is you can't in the job I do now, not everybody will love you for what you do. Yeah, so sometimes it's okay. And sometimes it's not. I mean, I think some of the hardest stuff I dealt with was actually when I was pregnant with and I had a lot of people saying to me that, you know, people like you shouldn't be pregnant, mainly disabled women. And some of that was quite hard to deal with, but then I kind of have had a good family around me who just, you know, support me and, you know, help help me through that. So, the, probably the discrimination I experienced as a disabled person is, is probably some of the toughest stuff to deal with. Because it's usually people like you and it, it comes with the pointy finger. Like, so. You know, my defense when when people actually mean people like you, I think disabled people shouldn't be allowed to do these things. So you know, before lockdown, I was told that people like me shouldn't try and commute a busy times because non disabled people have jobs. They're trying to get to go Yeah, that's wondering, and, and so my responses because I'm from Wales, which is one of the four home countries in the United Kingdom. You know, I just say what you mean most people? What do you mean wheelchair user? And that normally stops people and gets them to think a little bit. I mean, that's been rehearsed over many years. But it's finding a way you can challenge people without losing your temper and screaming at them, which might make me feel better for about two minutes, but actually doesn't change your attitude. And I have, you know, there are times where I do shout back at people but you know, what, I try to do this time shift people's view of what disabled people can and can't do. And most of the time, you know, you know, a lot of people aren't used to talking to disabled people or, you know, know what to say. And it's about trying to change those attitudes. You know, I've been I've lost count how many times I've been asked, How did you get pregnant? You have a mommy and daddy who love each other very much knew. Yeah, so you know, actually What sport again teaches you, you know, you get asked the same questions all the time you help you when you said you lost, you just get used to you get better at dealing with those things, the more it happens to you. So, experience and failure and doing things again or doing things differently, you get better at it because you have lots of practice of failure. I've had loads of practice that fail in all sorts of things. So that means you can be better when things go the right way
Matthew Januszek 32:26
to people come up to you and say stuff like that you don't know and say things like there are these people that you know,
Tanni Grey-Thompson 32:33
No, complete strangers. And I remember traveling with my daughter on a plane when she was about two and you know, I recognized as a wheelchair user, if something happens to the plane, I'm not getting off. You know, that's the reality and so from her being really young, we taught her you know what to do with the face mask and things like that, and I got on this plane. And one of the cabin crew said, but we don't travel with babies on the road who put the baby on It's like, Where's mine? No, no, who's the responsible person traveling with the baby? Mom? It's me. Then who? was the mother or father? Well, that's me. I'm the mother. No, where's the mother? The mother, my child. And they then said, Oh, well, you're not responsible. So we went through this thing with like, Harris, how'd you put your face mask on? So she, you know, to she was like, Where are the nearest exit, she's like, you know, and, and so in the end, some complete and utter stranger, that later him overheard this conversation, he was fuming how I was being treated, and he just said, you know, I'll be responsible for the child. So some bloke I'd never met before. The only way I was allowed to fly was if he said he would be the responsible adult to travel with and then he got off the plane and basically, you know, we got to where we're going to be chucked off beforehand. And, and made, you know, some really high level complaints. So it's that kind of thing that that happens, you know, which is just a bit bit annoying, you know, it's actually To be honest, there's lots of things where I'm probably Not terribly responsible, but you know, I'm not responsible, but we joke about it, you know, you know, from paraspinal it's like, okay, you need to learn to make food and you need to do this yourself and make your bed and, and, you know, do you know, learn to look after yourself. So I'm interested in people's perception of what you can be as a disabled person.
Matthew Januszek 34:21
When when you're in the, you know, in politics, I guess in the end you I guess you have to make a decision on one standing on one side or the other end as you say, it probably upsets people, but it's gonna upset somebody. You can see that certainly a lot. What we're going through at the moment, but deep need personally do you have to kind of spend some time with that position. And you know, sometimes can you get if you're going into a new area, can you sometimes do you allow yourself to be exposed to think, well, I've got my view, but I'm open to listen or do you know when you're in This type of site now I'm going to have to think this through, I'm gonna have to be confident and I'm, I'm not going to be swayed from, from this opinion that I'm going to be talking about.
Tanni Grey-Thompson 35:11
I mean, even things that I think I have a pretty fixed opinion on, I always try to listen to other views. Because I think it's always important to, to be challenged. And to get to a point, we think, Okay, do I still think the same way? Because my views over things have changed over the years, and sometimes change in a much shorter space of time. So I think it's important to be challenged. So, you know, things like social media, I mean, unless someone is very offensive to me, I don't block them or, you know, mute them because it's, you know, it's important to keep your mind open. I mean, we have huge amounts of paperwork that you have to read through. I, I don't vote on every single thing in the chamber because, you know, what, if there's stuff that I just don't know about, and I think I have to use my vote quite carefully. Because if I vote one way or the other, and it sways the vote that changes legislation. So if it's something I really don't know about, or something where, you know, I'm just right on the edge and just don't quite know whether it's that way or that way is the best thing to do. I don't vote, but I try that as much as I can. But it does mean reading a lot. I mean, actually, you know, what the best thing I ever learned at university was just a speed read. And that's, I did a politics degree. So I think, you know, the ability to take in huge amounts of information, I'm going to probably forget it two hours later. But to be able to assimilate information and make decisions is quite, but also having the confidence to say, you know what, I'm not voting on this, because I don't feel I know enough about it. It'd be really easy to go, you know, we still leave the chamber and go down one corridor, the other to vote. And it's having the confidence to say, you know what, on this, I'm not an expert. I'm not doing it. And I think that's important too. I have to live up to the things that I vote on.
Matthew Januszek 37:04
What about realizing that you've made a wrong decision? I guess, in politics in general, is that something that I because I, you know, my view is that, you know, once you made a decision for a number of reasons, it's not easy to go back, even if it's the wrong one, because there's so much invested in there. Number of things come to mind. But, you know, from your view, you know, being good at that role in, in government, for example, you know, should you if you realize you made a wrong decision, do you come out and say, Well, actually, you know, what I know now is different, and I've got that wrong, and I've trained you or, generally, does that not happen very often.
Tanni Grey-Thompson 37:46
So I think the House of Lords is quite interesting on lots of levels, because we're nominated. We're not elected. So we're there for life. And I mean, there's good and bad that comes with that. But it's based on coming with experience. So I got put in because my experience in sport and physical activity and disability rights, and those are the things that I mostly work on. But what you do get because the political, we also in, you know, Parliament have about 170, who are independents who aren't a member of political parties? Well, I'm one of those. And so because you can't be threatened by the political party, vote this way, or say this, or we won't let you be elected next time. I won't support you in your next election. Because we don't have that we have a lot of freedom to say, what what you want to say. And so one of the weird things is, which I never expected when I went in there was that if you sit and listen to a debate, people do stand up and say, Look, when I came in to the debate, I thought I was going to vote this way. Actually, I'm now going to vote that way. So I think we do have that freedom and that genuine. It's really interesting because it'd be great if we we all had that freedom in the outside world. Be able to say, you know what, I've changed my mind. Because sometimes there's so much pressure to not change your mind. And you know, you're going down a route, that's not the right one. But you can't, because that's sometimes sort of seen as weakness. We're actually it doesn't, it doesn't have to be weakness, it can be a sign of strength, to say, you know, what, we need to do something. So, yeah, it's weird. I mean, the House of Lords is not the real world on so many levels. But also, it's a place where you could also stand up and say what you think, you know, and, and that's, and you might have every other person in the chamber that disagrees with you. But you're allowed to speak there are rules as well, because there are ways that you can tell someone to sit down and be quiet if they're rude or offensive, or, you know, we have a lot of rules on being polite in the chamber. But you have the right to say what you think. And that's really powerful because there's lots of places. I mean, I've done lots of things on the outside world where you think, Oh, I better not quite say what I think because it's quite, you know, You know, it goes against what everyone else in the room saying or you know, it's people won't like me if I say that. So having a bit more of that in the outside world, I think will be really powerful that that freedom to be able to give a true and honest opinion...
Matthew Januszek 40:15
you must meet some amazing people in that area. You know, are there any sort of leaders that stand out? And what what do you think makes a really good leader?
Tanni Grey-Thompson 40:32
The best leaders I've seen that the people who aren't afraid to have really good people around them. And that's really powerful, I think as well, because you, I've seen people who think that they have to be the most educated, brighter, smartest person in the room. And if they lead everyone underneath, you know, needs to just listen to what they say that the really great people I've seen, are willing to listen to other people's opinions are willing to be challenged and give people the same bass on the breath to be able to just do the things they're good at. And that two way trust is really important to have. And, and, you know, recognizing that, you know, not everyone's gonna be brilliant at everything, everyone, I kind of think it's a bit like a jigsaw, everyone brings different strengths. And the best people I've seen are the people who, you know, you would stand behind and, you know, do do what you're asked. You know, I think we had that in the leadership for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. And I've seen it in other places as well, where, you know, you all understand what you're trying to do. And sometimes, you know, everyone's busy and doing a million things, it's really easy to, you know, go down a track where you don't quite understand what's going on what you're meant to be doing, you know, somebody who really sets really clear goals and targets, but but also is willing to listen to other people's opinions. And I'm very lucky that, you know, I get to work with a lot of people who were really clear in what they're trying to do. And that was It just makes it fun, you know, challenging, difficult, but also fun. And, you know, in the house lords, I've worked with amazing people. And we, he sadly passed away now was peer Joel Joffrey, Lord Jaffe. And he's the lawyer, that pretty much single handedly got Nelson Mandela off the death penalty. And then had to flee South Africa, his family, and he ends up in those laws. Politically, we didn't agree on a lot of things. But, you know, when you have somebody who has done that, and you think, okay, you know, I might not agree with you, but, you know, I work with it. And, you know, I mean, there's, there's so many people in the Lord's who come with that kind of background that it's, it's a fascinating place to be. Hmm.
Matthew Januszek 42:48
And for those of you for those for those people who are listening that don't fully understand, I put myself in that category what what is the main purpose of the House of Lords?
Tanni Grey-Thompson 43:02
Good question. So like many countries, we have two chambers. The lower chamber is the House of Commons, the upper chamber, which is the equivalent to the Senate is the House of Lords. And our job is to not try and run the country because we're not elected. You know, we're not there to steal power off any government, we're there to be a check and balance. So we're the teachers that mark the homework of the commons, who are the people? So our job is to say to the government of the day, are you really sure this is what you want to do? Do you want to have another think about it? So there are some things we can only send back three times and there are some things we can send back to our board. But basically, whatever comes through has to be agreed through both chambers. And you know what, we're really careful how we use that power. So a couple years ago, we voted on something and threw it back to the commons and there was lots of people kicking off same with sort of gotten beyond what we were legally entitled to do. We have loads of noise, and actually, we were just We were just using a bit of power that we hadn't used for 370 something years. So, you know, we're really conscious, we are not there to run, we're just there to say, have another thing, because based on our experience, have another thing. You know, that's, that's good, you know, that comes with a lot of responsibility. But um, you know, we, we, we try and be really careful about, you know, how we throw stuff back to the commons. Hmm.
Matthew Januszek 44:29
I've listened to you saying that politics is for losers, what changed your mind?
Tanni Grey-Thompson 44:39
So, this is what I said when I was 21. And I was just coming towards the end of my degree. So I did a degree in politics and social administration, I'd left for university, which was, you know, a great place to train and being, you know, it's still you know, fantastic University for sport. And my head of department asked me what I was going to do once I graduated, and everyone else for my year was going to work in politics and I was going off to be an athlete. And he said to me, oh, you're not going to work in politics. I was like, No, politics is the losers. I'm not doing that. And, yeah, not 18 and a half years later, I end up working in politics. So it was actually my head of department sent me an email, which was kind of like loser learner. I don't know if that's a thing outside the UK, but it was like, you know, so yeah. What, what you say sometimes comes back to bite you. So obviously, I don't think that that. Yeah, it was really funny out of everything I ever said to my head of department. That's the one thing you remember.
Matthew Januszek 45:44
Yeah, I guess that's an example of where you can change your mind if you if you don't get.
Tanni Grey-Thompson 45:50
Matthew Januszek 45:52
So So in terms of what's happening in the world today, you know, we've got right in the middle of this pandemic. And, you know, it's been interesting, I guess, to sort of watch it from both both sides of the world. But one of the one of the things that seems to be be very apparent is the, you know, is is the fact that if you're, you know, healthy and, you know, you've got a decent immune system, then you know, whether it's COVID, or anything else, you're in a very good position to, to deal with, you know, whatever comes your way. And I guess as a result, you know, that puts a lot of let you know, a lot less pressure on the health service of the world, which I guess was was people's concerns when this first came out. And then you kind of look at some of the figures, you know, I read up about it last night, you know, in the UK, according to one of the government websites, there's there's about 64% of adults that are either overweight or obese in the United Kingdom and, and, you know, children, you know, about 40% of, you know, 10 to 11 year olds, overweight or obese that you know, that's children And, and and I guess, you know, looking at the percentage that governments are spending on on preventative health care and, and yet, but how much they're spending on treating people that have kind of gone through that, you know, what, what's your views on that? Because it seems as though, you know, in terms of focus, it seems as though there could be a little bit of, you know, requirement to adjust where, you know, where we were spending our time, you know, what was your what's your views on that?
Tanni Grey-Thompson 47:31
Well, you know, for somebody who spent a lot of time in the USA over the years, you know, competing with my family, it's interesting. So we're in Florida two years ago, and there were lots of older people exercising and my daughter said to me, why, why do you see older people exercising out here, and then we don't sit at home and it's like, well, actually, the weather's nicer. But also, you know, we have a national health service that is free at the point of delivery. And they don't have that in the USA. And, you know, she says Sort of trip, she got taken ill with an ear infection and we turn up at the hospital, the first thing they do is run my credit card through to see what the limit is. And you go, Wow, Oh, wow. Okay. Um, you know. And so, you know, there's an element of that, that makes people put things off, you know, that they delay exercising, we have so much data that shows that exercise is good for so many different things, you know, for type two diabetes for and those numbers are, you know, just growing all the time. You know, if you do have cancer, or you know, number of health conditions, being fit and healthy going into surgery, and do an exercise helps you recover, you know, there's just so much stuff. So I feel a bit like a broken record going on about how important exercise and diet is, and that it's easier to write a prescription than it is to change somebody's habits and people have to learn to take more personal responsibility for themselves and think about it. But that comes we need to change our education system. And make health and fitness more fun at primary school you know, for, for younger children below the age of 11 we have to think about how we deliver sport and competitive sports and about, you know, young women what they want and how they feel comfortable, you know, exercising. I mean, it's also you know, you know, when I was growing up, we didn't, people didn't eat out the way they do now, you know, there's so much more choice of food and different things and distractions and, you know, we need to think a little bit about our own lives. But But exercise is really important. And one thing you know, that the research is coming through very strong at the moment with COVID-19 that if you're obese, you're much more likely to get it and you know, it's a really nasty, horrible, vile, you know, condition to these, you know, it's just not a good you know, well there's no good way to die, but you know, it's, it's really not you don't want to get it is that the ultimate you know, it's not about being trying to kill you. Because once you've got it, it's really, really difficult to kill. So when, you know, we have to, I think if we can through what we're going through now, shift that debate even more to think about prevention rather than cure, we've got to push really hard on that. You know, and we know with, you know, British schools, children lose 80% of their fitness through the six weeks summer holidays. But during lockdown, children have already lost 39%. So they'll be going into summer holidays, not going back to school, just losing more and more. And that affects children from poorer socio economic backgrounds, more than middle class children or wealthier parents and families. So, you know, we've got to change everything we do. And, you know, that's kind of a big part of my job now, is to get people thinking differently about how they exercise what they do, how they do it. And the good book about now is that I have seen people because we, you know, for a long time, we're only allowed out for an hour a day. They're making the most of their hour a day. And we have to make sure they they carry on, you know, exercising. I mean, I'd say to be fair to, you know, the gym and ledger sector, they closed down as soon as, as you know, they were told to and they only want to open safely. I've not met a single owner, manager CEO, who's making any rash decisions right now that the sector has really come together to say, okay, on this, we have to work together. And that's a really, you know, positive thing as well. But yeah, we just as a nation, we like to think we're a nation of sports lovers. We're actually a nation that likes watching big sports events. We love watching the Olympics and Paralympics and then we don't watch half those sports again for another four years. So you know, we have to change and actually become a nation of people who love physical activity. Not not just sit down and watch it on TV.