Baroness Grey-Thompson says self-pity is a wasted emotion

The one lesson I’ve learnt from life: Baroness Grey-Thompson says self-pity is a wasted emotion

  • Baroness Grey-Thompson was born with spina bifida and reveals her life lessons
  • Her parents instilled a strong work ethic in her she’s passed on to her child 
  • She says you have to experience the lows in life to appreciate the highs  

Tanni Grey-Thompson, 51, has won 11 gold, four silver and a bronze medal in five Paralympic Games. She has also won the London Wheelchair Marathon six times. Created a life peer in 2010, she lives with her husband, Ian, and their daughter Carys, 18, in Co. Durham.


I was born with spina bifida. My parents named me Carys but when my elder sister, Sian, tried to say ‘tiny’ it came out as Tanni and the nickname stuck.

In time, I could walk a little bit, but then my spine collapsed, severing my spinal cord, and I’ve been a wheelchair user ever since.

It never occurred to me to shake my fist at the Almighty because of the cards I’d been dealt. I knew I couldn’t change my impairment so my attitude was just to get on with it, something fostered by my family. I can honestly say I’ve never felt any residual resentment. Down the years, people told me I’d never have a job, never do this or that and I just ignored them.

Tanni Grey-Thompson (pictured), 51, has won 11 gold, four silver and a bronze medal in five Paralympic Games

I’ve always tried simply to be as good as I can at what I do. I’ve known success and failure along the way and I think you need to experience both to appreciate the highs when they happen. My biggest challenge has been other people’s perception of what being a wheelchair user is like.

My attitude has always been that if I want to bungee-jump, I will, although as it happens I don’t like heights. Yes, it’s a pain if I get out of the car, it’s raining and one of the chair wheels falls out and rolls down the hill. And, of course, there’s never anyone around. But most of the time, it’s fine. I’ve always regarded self-pity as a wasted emotion.

My parents instilled quite a strong work ethic in me and I’ve tried to pass that on to my daughter by example. You don’t want to come to the end of your life full of regrets. When I finished any sporting event, my dad would always ask the same question: ‘Did you race well?’

In other words, had I competed to the best of my ability? That, to him, was more important than winning. And that’s always been my motivation. Strive to be your best. You can’t do more.

  • Baroness Grey-Thompson is one of 22 contributors to A Few Wise Words (Amersham Publishing), sharing personal insights and advice.

Interview by Richard Barber

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