BMF Conference: Triumph over adversity

Published:  20 June, 2015

Best known as Britain’s most successful female canoeist, two-time Olympian and six-time World Champion, Anna Hemmings MBE, knows what it takes to succeed. Her personal story of triumph over adversity and her commitment to continuous and never-ending improvement was the perfect motivation speech for delegates at the BMF All-Industry Conference.

Ms Hemmings has had a glittering sporting career, having broken into the top flight of canoeing at the age of 19 when she won her first European Championship in marathon canoeing. With a clear vision to become a World Champion and an Olympian at such a young age, she soon realised that talent alone wasn’t going to be enough to help her achieve her goals.

“Everyone on the starting line is talented, but to be a champion you have to have the focus and determination to succeed,” she told the audience. “As an athlete you have to train hard, but to succeed you have to look at what you can do differently and see where you can make changes to stay ahead of the competition. By checking and fine-tuning what you’re doing, however small it may be, could be the difference between winning a sliver or gold medal.”

With increased pressure from people expecting Ms Hemmings to win every competition she took part in, she told delegates how she identified what she described as ‘Control the Controllables’ to overcome the doubts she was having prior to races. “There’s no point in worrying about what others are thinking because you can't control their thoughts," she acknowledged. "You have to focus on your own strategy and see what you can change to be at your best."

The feeling of standing on a podium after winning a competition was something that spurred Ms Hemmings on to do better in her next race. She told the audience: “I knew that to win future competitions I would have to improve on my performance as it wouldn’t be good enough to repeat what I had done again. It’s important to not lose focus and momentum - you can’t think about sustaining performance, you have to improve it.”

Having won her very first World title in 1999, Ms Hemmings is the only British female canoeist to ever hold both European and World marathon canoeing titles concurrently (1999 and 2005). However, like many journeys, Ms Hemming’s wasn’t without struggle. In April 2003, she was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and was told by medical experts that she might never race again.

Despite receiving the devasting news, she refused to give up and vowed to return back to training and racing again. “There is one thing you can control and that’s your attitude,” she said. “In order for me to compete again, I knew that I needed to become more resilient as this is what allows you to thrive rather than survive.”

To return to fitness, Ms Hemmings realised that she needed to embrace change and drop old habits, as she explained: “I needed to build the right team who I believed in and who believed in me."

Just two years after she was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Ms Hemmings signalled an astonishing return to the sport by regaining her status as the World’s leading marathon canoeist at the 2005 Marathon Racing World Championships in Perth, Australia.

Throughout her career Ms Hemmings won 11 World and European Championship medals. She also competed at the Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

In conclusion to her presentation, she told delegates: “Success should be measured not by the positions we have achieved, but by the obstacles we have overcome along the way.”

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