“Inspiring people to achieve their best” – Sally Gunnell won the nation’s heart at the 1992 Olympics when she won gold in the 400m hurdle race. In fact, Sally is the only British woman to have held Olympic, World, European & Commonwealth titles concurrently. She is admired not only as a great athlete but also for her down-to-earth approach. Now a popular sports presenter, Sally is an excellent motivational speaker and a wonderful business mentor.
Sally Gunnell OBE speaks on the following topics:
Sally Gunnell OBE is the greatest female athlete this country has ever produced and the only woman in history to have ever concurrently held all four major championship gold medals – Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European as well as the World record.
Sally started out on the athletics circuit with Essex Ladies’ Club, initially as a long jumper and pentathlete, before switching to the 400m hurdles, where she had her most famous successes. Sally quickly established herself as force to be reckoned with in British athletics and in 1992 at the Barcelona Olympic Games she achieved the one missing piece from her already impressive trophy cabinet; an Olympic Gold medal.
Following her retirement in 1997, Sally moved from the track to the television studio and, after a spell with BBC Sport commentating on their athletics coverage, she moved to prime time television. In 2004 she teamed up with Colin Jackson as a mentor on the BBC1 sporting talent search show Born to Win fronted by Dermot O’Leary and she returned to our screens in 2006 in the BBC’s hugely successful Marathon show, Run For Glory. The BBC were so thrilled with her newfound role that she was signed to appear in the BBC1 show, Only Fools on Horses in association with Sport Relief where she learnt the art of show jumping.
As an energetic mother of three, and former athlete, Sally is always keen to draw on her wealth of knowledge and experience to help inspire and encourage families to get active and healthy. In 2006 she worked along side Raisingkids.com and Crystal Holidays to promote this and in 2007, spurred on by her involvement in Run For Glory, she teamed up with Flora to head up their team of First Timers and take on the challenge of running the London Marathon. On a hot Sunday in April, Sally completed her first ever marathon in an impressive time of 3 hours 50 mins. She also acts as a consultant and ambassador for the UK’s leading active play organisation, Tumble Tots, working with them to help parents get their kids active in a fun and engaging way.
As well as this, Sally still finds time to spearhead charity events such as Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life and continues to fulfil her role as figurehead for the British Heart Foundation where she is involved in a number of their key initiatives.
Recently voted one of the country’s top ten Olympic heroes in a public poll by the National Lottery company Camelot, Sally is a popular, inspirational and motivational corporate speaker. Approachable and down-to-earth, she not only tells her own incredible story but she works with businesses to help them get the very best out of their staff and show that with the right mindset, it is possible to achieve anything.
“Sally was “guest Olympian” at our event to launch a new development programme for high potential managers and captivated the audience with an inspirational and motivational presentation. We were also struck by how friendly, approachable and humble Sally was as she chatted with guests afterwards.” Lloyds TSB Bank Plc
“I just wanted to drop you a note to say a big thank you for speaking at our event last week, it was the perfect end to the day. I’ve received excellent feedback from delegates, who found your talk hugely inspiring, you accessible and very down to earth with many saying that you were the highlight of the day! Thanks again and best wishes” BT
Could you please just pass on my thanks to Sally for her presentation last Thursday. It was absolutely superb, the pitch and content were ideal and it made a perfect, and highly motivational, end to our ASPIRE programme!! PHS
“Sally was an ideal choice to open our new state of the art physiotherapy gym. During our exclusive opening event she was professional, engaging and really down to earth which made everyone feel comfortable. We cater for people with sports related injuries and Sally gave an inspirational speech; in which she highlighted well from her own experiences about the necessity for a gym that provides physiotherapy services such as ours. We were overwhelmed by her willingness to chat to everyone and took an active interest in the service The Horder Centre can now provide.” The Horder Centre
“Just wanted to say a huge thank you for all your support with Sally's visit to the branch today. We had the best time…..Partners loved it, with a real buzz being created across all departments. Sally and Jon were fantastic, and we'll be riding on the wave of their visit for some time in the branch.” John Lewis
Who or what was your motivation to achieve?
I’ve always loved athletics. That was my main motivation; loving it and enjoying it. When I was a kid, there were some fantastic athletes that I thought were amazing, including Shirley Strong and Ed Moses. I wanted to be like them. They seemed perfect at what they did and I can remember wondering how close to perfection I could get as an athlete. That obsession to get better, to be my best, drove me on.
Why is it important for businesses and organisations to motivate staff in recession?
When times are hard, you have to put maximum effort in to everything you do; even then, it might not be enough. Working so hard against a background of massive uncertainty can be totally draining. If your bosses aren’t leading you and inspiring you, life can become pretty grim.
I’ve visited lots of businesses over the last three or four years who are suffering in one way or another. But the business leaders are looking for opportunities to show they value their staff, that they want the best for them. So they invest in training, incentives and in other forms of support.
I had a lot of big setbacks in my career, with several pretty nasty injury layoffs. I had to work really hard to get back to something approaching my best level. It was easy to feel low and de-motivated. I relied on support and guidance from my coach; without his belief in me, it would have been a whole lot harder. He helped me to deal with the uncertainty of my situation. I know from personal experience that motivating people in tough times is critical if you want to be successful.
What was the turning point of your sporting life?
I don’t think there was one moment; there were lots! I remember leaving school and suddenly realising that I had to take responsibility for myself and for my training; I had to show commitment. I was still very young and that moment of realisation was definitely a turning point.
Another turning point came when I was 22. I’d come fifth in the 1988 Olympic Final. I had a very clear and calm thought; “this can really happen”. I left Atlanta knowing with certainty that I had what it took to push on and reach the podium. All I had to do was work hard!
Of course, there were loads more twists and turns along the way. I didn’t become invincible! But I got so much confidence from that Atlanta race.
What was the turning point of your personal life?
Again, I don’t really see a single turning point. I guess there have been some changes of direction. After so many years of striving to be the best athlete I could, I settled in to family life. I’ve always wanted to improve myself as a person, so these days it’s not about gold medals, but more about bringing up my three growing boys properly! It’s important for me to have a full life, to have challenges for myself, to have quality time (a horrible phrase but you know what I mean) with my kids, husband and friends.
When I retired from athletics, I knew that I needed to leave behind all the old goals and objectives. It’s so hard to walk away, but on the other hand, there are many other aspects to life and I’ve loved exploring them.
Were there times you thought you would not succeed?
Yes, definitely. I got very low when I was injured. It’s amazing how your mind can start to tell you that you’re not going to get back, that you can’t make it. I worked really hard on staying focused and shutting out that voice of doom. But I won’t lie; it was very difficult at times. That’s why you need a good team around you; a support network. They help you to keep your mind on the job, to stay positive.
What are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Healthy Living is my new challenge. My family and I are working on a healthy lifestyle, but it’s also about my business of the same name. I’ve got a passion for what I call a “real” exercise and eating regime; one that works for each person, for each family. Life’s about having fun and enjoying yourself, so I don’t go for faddy diets or crazily tough exercise. I think it’s much better to make a few small changes to achieve a lasting difference; it’s no use starving yourself for six weeks, then returning to old habits, because you end up back in the same place. I’ve had a lot of fun sharing ideas with companies and individuals. The good news is, there’s plenty more still to do!
Can you delegate?
Oh, yes! This is a strong point; just ask any of my team!! But seriously, I have to delegate, because there’s so much going on. I’m very lucky, because I’ve got a fantastic team who are talented, like a laugh and don’t mind me charging around, firing ideas off. We all get on well with each other, which means we can speak honestly; I really value that, because we always know where we are on an issue. Projects don’t get stuck, because if someone’s got a problem, they flag it and we work it out together.
What makes a good manager or leader?
When I’m asked this, I always think back to my athletics coach. He was a great listener. He seemed to understand me, to recognise what I needed as an individual. He had this amazing “learning mentality” for want of a better term; he was always trying to develop himself and that rubbed off on me. He seemed to know so much, but at the same time, he wanted to know more.
He valued teamwork and actively encouraged it; my training group was critical to my success and he knew how to get us all working together, for each other as well as for ourselves. There was a solid self-belief there, but it wasn’t “know it all” arrogance; it came across as dependable, reliable. It gave me the sense that I could get through my own uncertainties. Leadership isn’t so much about being certain, it’s more to do with managing the uncertainty for yourself and for your people.
Why do you think it is important to book an external speaker?
Some of the people who have inspired me most have been speakers that I’ve heard. A good speaker will do much more than tell you a story. They’ll give you a sense of excitement, of possibility. It’s very easy to be held back by your beliefs, by staying in the same routine. A good external speaker will bring new ideas, new thoughts and a good old fashioned dose of fun and inspiration, too.
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