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Letter to Gail Emms

Dear Gail,

I have read your recent article about how you are struggling to get work since winning your Olympic Silver Medal in 2004. Read the article here. I have every sympathy for ANYONE who is struggling to get work. However, you have been in a very privileged position. You were able to pursue something you were very good at and enjoyed, whilst being funded to do this. You achieved enormous success: I was thrilled when you won the silver medal. And I am absolutely sure plenty of doors opened as a result of your Olympic medal, in the way of after dinner speeches and appearances.

There are plenty of people who have sacrificed their lives and health for UK: if you think of members of the armed service, who return to UK, maimed and/or with PTSD. They also struggle to adapt to civilian lives and I am sure they have also won medals. There are also plenty of people who have had incredible success in their own fields: the performing arts, writing etc, who either get injured or dramatically are dropped by their agents and are no longer earning money. Likewise people who are suddenly made redundant. Believe me, they also don’t necessarily have their phone calls returned for 3 weeks or more.

Here’s the rub: and I don’t wish to be unkind but you won the medal in 2004 and there have been plenty of Olympic medalists since then, who are also crowding the market with their appearances and speeches. Like any business or personality you have to adapt your message rather than relying on your Olympic medal alone. The wonderful speaker Kriss Akabusi used to speak about his wonderful achievements in athletics. But he realised that he wasn’t being booked as much, as, for the same reasons as you, there were ‘newer’ medalists and his story was ‘old’. He worked hard to develop his speeches and offerings so they were responding to his client’s needs and adding value. He no longer relied on his Olympic medal opening doors. He works incredibly hard with potential clients before the event to ensure his speech (which is always bespoke) is totally on message and of incredible value to all of his audience.

I know from reading comments on Twitter about you, that you appear at schools; I also heard sportswomen speak at Speech Day at my school, but it was always related to sports and winning. Why not use the struggles you are experiencing and how you get out of them, as content for your speeches? This is so relevant to your potential audiences. And as for some ideas of what you could do, here are a couple.

  1. Be a teacher. You have a Sports Science degree. You’d make a great PE teacher, particularly for girls.

  2. Become a speaker in Schools. This is hard work but a great way to give back. You would be fantastic at this.

  3. Do some volunteer work for the Badminton Association. I know they will have given you some great support when you were competing and in particular as a junior player. It is time to give back, and it will make you feel better in yourself.

  4. Be a university lecturer in either Sports Science or Sports Performance. You will have invaluable experience to share with the students.

  5. Become a coach for the Badminton Association. I am sure you have a lot to offer the next generation of players.

  6. Do that job in Starbucks. There is no shame and the experience you will get from that will be invaluable. Given that you are a motivational speaker, this will give you more insight into coping with adversity than the win, win attitude.

We all have times of winning and success, and times when we struggle. Real champions and exceptional people know how to find their way out of adversity and struggles and when you are able to survive these times, you will have far more to offer the world. Good luck.

Susan