Achieve the Impossible: Introducing Professor Greg Whyte
I recently met sports scientist Professor Greg Whyte OBE, a principle advisor on CONTENDER, face-to-face for the first time. In my last post, I mentioned that Greg was a sports scientist of international renown. A former pentathlete, Greg competed in two Olympic Games. He was also the Director of Research for the British Olympic Association at the Olympic Medal Institute (2001-2004) and then Director of Science and Research at the English Institute of Sport (2004-2006).
But, if you know nothing about sport or science (like me), then you will probably be most familiar with Greg’s work for Sports Relief. He is one of the key figures in the campaign, training the British celebrities undergoing the flagship endurance challenges. So Greg got Cheryl Cole, Gary Barlow and Chris Moyles to scale Kilimanjaro; David Walliams to swim the English Channel; and Davina McCall to run, swim and cycle the 500 miles between Edinburgh and London (YouTube the particularly harrowing Lake Windermere). Furthermore, Greg doesn’t just train the celebrities, he does the whole challenge alongside them to boot.
The morning we met, I forced myself to break a sweat in the gym – just so I could look the man in the eye.
Greg is one of three lead collaborators for CONTENDER, and the other two are coach Milton Nelms and ex-swimmer Caitlin McClatchey. On one hand, they will enable me to fully understand the multi-layered drama of elite sport, brokering encounters with experts and athletes from a range of disciplines and helping me to push my story to an exciting dramatic extreme. On the other hand, they are the ‘plausibility police’, ensuring that the play is a pertinent and timely reflection of athletics at this moment in time. Greg and I are beginning our collaboration by focusing on the technical innovations used by athletes to measure (and micromanage) their performance in training. More about that in a future post.
In another future post I also intend to wax lyrical about the joys of pop sports psychology touching on Steve Peters’ The Chimp Paradox and the work of Professor Joan Duda’s ‘Empowering Coaching’ method. In preparation for our meeting, I read Greg’s Achieve the Impossible. This book also takes a significantly psychological approach to accepting physical challenges and training for them with plenty of practical advice to boot. It also includes case studies in which Greg describes (often first-time) athletes he has trained to achieve the seemingly impossible.
So I want to close this entry with an anecdote from Greg’s book: a case study in which four women, all inexperienced swimmers, took on the challenge of swimming the Channel in a relay-style one hour rotation. It is worth noting that more people have reached the summit of Everest than have successfully swum the Channel, largely due to the cold and the tides. On the day of the challenge there was a gale 6 wind with waves as tall as a house. I want to draw attention to one swimmer in particular:
‘Pat [was], a fifty nine-year old great-grandmother who as a child contacted tuberculosis which resulted in her losing her right hip, which was fused, leaving her with no movement in the hip.’
And, yes. Pat successfully swam the Channel.
Professor Greg just finished training my old university friend Radio One DJ Greg James to do a mighty five triathlons in five days. It is still possible to sponsor him - or Jo Brand for her epic walk - at Sports Relief here.