Giles Long has established himself as a powerhouse of the Great Britain Paralympic Swimming Team. He is one of the most successful and well-respected Paralympic swimmers of our time.
Giles’ life and career delights audiences from many countries with humour and tales of how sheer grit and teamwork can achieve the highest levels of performance. With excellent feedback every time many organisations re-book Giles for further events.
Giles’ journey to elite success is very different from the typical athlete. At the age of thirteen Giles was diagnosed with cancer. The bone tumour in his arm meant that his dreams of going to the Olympics, held as a seven year old boy, were shattered.
Despite the apparent end of his potential competitive able-bodied swimming career, Giles carried on swimming, finding the process of goal setting and building a team around him, in a time of rapid change, not only focussing but exhilarating. But coming to terms with his newly acquired disability was something Giles initially struggled with. The culmination of this anxiety was at a GB Paralympic training weekend when he entered a huge room full of other people with a disability. This made him realise what having cancer really meant, and he faced a decision as to whether to continue as a disabled swimmer.
A chance meeting with an eminent swimming coach changed all that. In what is a very poignant part of Giles speech, Giles manages to have the audience sitting on the edge of their seat. He’ll have you crying one minute and laughing out loud the next.
Giles broke his first World Record at the age of 17 and in 1996 qualified for the 100m Butterfly at the Atlanta Paralympics as the fastest man in the world. But an unexpected beating in the heats by a newcomer forced Giles to re-evaluate where his targets and goals truly lay. He left Atlanta with the gold, though only just. It was a wake up call.
The lessons learned honed Giles’ skills in change management, leadership, in teambuilding and how to create positive teamwork. Giles was able to make the hard decisions necessary to remain at the top even through low periods where stagnant performance and poor results all pointed the other way.
At the Sydney 2000 Paralympics Giles again took gold, setting a new World Record in the process. With one dream realised another had to be created. With that Giles decided to go for 3 Gold medals, from 3 Paralympics, in one event. Taking hard decisions early, driving change earlier and keeping those in his team motivated, produced a performance at the Athens Paralympics in 2004 which Giles tells as a triumph in his speech.
This fantastic performance produces reflection on an exceptional career, giving clarity of how far the extent of each individual’s team stretches, the importance of every individual as a leader, and how they can use positive change to their advantage.
These are all explicit and implicit messages that Giles passes on to the audience in an entertaining, and sometimes subtle, way that allows them to examine their own attitudes and fears, and how they can meet their own challenges.