Keynote Speaker – Dame Katherine Grainger DBE

Dame Kathleen Grainger, Britain’s most successful female Olympian, has won a silver or gold medal at the last five, yes five, Olympic Games.

We had listened to inspirational speakers, heard how actively Wales has engaged in the struggle against Modern Day slavery, learnt about the great projects through which clubs are across the Federation have educated, enabled and empowered women and children. Follow that! Dame Kathleen effortlessly rose to the challenge of commanding an audience of 1200 Soroptimists with her talk “Dreams do Come True.”

Her long journey from her first day out rowing, when her sister was thought to be the naturally talented oarswoman, to her final medal at the Rio Olympics gripped, entertained and held messages for us all.

Sharing our ambitions, and our vulnerability to failing to achieve them, as the British female rowers did on the eve of that first final in Sydney, unites us as a stronger team. On that occasion the women rowers stepped up from their predicted fourth place to a first ever Olympic medical for British oarswomen.

We can draw self-belief  from the success of others. Four years later, with an Olympic medal-winner already in their midst, every single female oarswoman who rowed in the Athens Olympics went home with a medal.

It is so easy to be deterred from celebrating success. During the twelve minute wait for a photo-finish result in Sydney Dame Kathleen felt herself slip from exuberance at her first Olympic medal, to hope that it would be not bronze but silver, to anxiety that it might not be a silver (it was.). In 2008 the team entered the Beijing  Olympics as world champions but were beaten to first place by a fraction of a second. Rather than celebrate their silver medal they were devastated at “losing”, apologising profusely for their failure.

Every small step forward each one of us takes can contribute to a much more larger overall change. Between Beijing and London there was a constant search for every possible marginal improvement and at last, in 2012, that longed for gold medal, roared home by a crowd so noisy that they drowned out the “ping” that signalled their win to the crew.

That seemed like enough and for two years Dame Kathleen turned her attention before taking up the hardest challenge of all, returning to Olympic levels of fitness and skill, pressing on even through the disappointment of not being selected to compete until the very last minute and entering the race ranked tenth out of twelve boats. That silver medal was the sweetest of all.

What a closing speaker. We left out conference inspired by a supreme sportswoman, carrying her messages of support for each other, the value of small steps as well as big ones and her infectious self-belief into our Soroptimism for the coming year.

Read more about Katherine Grainger DBE

Susan Butler, SI Ilkley