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Gladiator Shirley Addison “Sport Taught Me to Persevere and to Bounce Back”

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Athlete, television personality, public speaker, ambassador and full-time mum – Shirley Addison (née Webb) has set a pace few can rival.

“Unwind. What’s that?” she says. “I drive my husband crazy because I cannot switch off and relax.”

At the age of 20, Addison left her family home in Whitley Bay to study mathematics at Edinburgh University after turning down an offer to study at Oxford.

At the time, diving was her sport and the draw of the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh proved too great to resist. It’s not surprising Addison feels passionately about the legacy Glasgow 2014 venues will leave.

“The new facilities in Glasgow are incredible. One of the fantastic benefits is that more events will come to Glasgow in the future, giving young people the opportunity to continue seeing world-class sport, right on their doorstep.”

Addison is the daughter of 1970 Commonwealth Games hurdler Andy Webb. She attributes much of her sporting success to her parents.

“They gave me every opportunity as a youngster to try many sports. They backed me 100% and were always there watching me compete.”

But it was a meeting with double Olympian and two-time Commonwealth Bronze medallist Chris Black in 2001 that transformed her career. Black was working as a volunteer coach and dedicated himself to taking Addison from club thrower to Olympic athlete – a feat achieved in just three years.

“It was a tough period – adapting from having been a social butterfly involved in many sports, to focussing exclusively on hammer throwing – all day, every day.”

Addison would go on to represent Scotland in two Commonwealth Games (Manchester 2002 and Melbourne 2006) and Great Britain at the Olympic Games, World Championships and European Championships for athletics. Competing in the hammer throw event, her personal best of 67.58m is the Scottish National Record and places her third on the British all-time list.

In 2008, households across the country saw Addison reclaim the arena as she emerged as ‘Battleaxe’ on the television show Gladiators. When asked about the highlights of appearing on national television, Addison remains characteristically down-to-earth.

“The weekly spray tans were pretty cool!”

Addison shows no signs of slowing down. Her role as a Performance Lifestyle Adviser with sportscotland places her back on the frontline helping athletes overcome their day-to-day challenges. And what advice would she give to someone aiming to fulfil sporting ambitions alongside other commitments?

“Say yes to any opportunity that comes your way – you just never know where it could lead you to.”

Addison is also a member of the Athletes’ Advisory Committee (AAC) for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and patron of the charities Meningitis UK and Dance Kaleidoscope. She is a regular speaker at formal events, conferences, universities and schools – as well as presenting on television and radio.

“I do still get nervous in public-facing situations, but sport definitely helped build my confidence. It also taught me to persevere and how to bounce back when things aren’t going well.”

What’s next?

“Next up is Glasgow 2014! My husband and I sat down and did our ticket application last weekend. We have also applied to be volunteers. I’m really excited to see the positive impact the Games will have upon the youngsters I’ve worked with.”

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