Interview with Paralympic champion Marc Woods

Marc Woods9 November 2015

At 17 you were diagnosed with cancer that resulted in your left leg being amputated, how did you deal with that?

I knew I had an issue with my foot and had been waiting for some form of diagnosis for a while. When it came it shocked my parents, especially my dad. Despite this I quickly decided I wasn't going to feel sorry for myself. I'd been aware of bad things happening to other people on the news, in other countries, and given it little thought. So after about literally ten minutes of receiving the news, I figured no one would feel sorry for me so I wouldn't feel sorry for myself. It’s human nature to want to carry on and I did just that.

You’d been swimming before the diagnosis, when did you decide to get back in the pool and was it just exercise, or something to do, or did you, at that early stage, have grand medal plans?

In the days before my amputation I tried to imagine what I would and wouldn't be able to do after the operation. I wasn't sure. However, I had been a lazy county swimmer before so I had a reasonable understanding of swimming and that having one leg wouldn't stop me. I arranged to go swimming the day after I had the stitches out of my leg (8 days after my op). Once I got over the fear of banging my fresh stump there was a huge sense of freedom and a realisation that I could still be a good swimmer. Six months later I was faster with one leg then I had been before with 2!

In a 17-year career you’ve won 12 medals in 5 Paralympic Games and a further 21 in World and European Championships, are there any wins, medals or results that stand out for you?

Every medal means something different to you depending on what is going on in your life. Quite often the overwhelming feeling is one of relief. ‎Relief that the hard work has paid off.

Sydney Paralympic Opening Ceromony

Your proudest moment?

Winning the gold medal in Sydney was by far my proudest moment. It had been a hard journey for the team and for me particularly. I say this not least because whilst it was my proudest moment it was also one of the worst as my father, who had been my coach for my first 2 games, died of a massive stroke just a couple of days before we were due to leave for Sydney.

That must have been really hard?

My father would’ve been sorely disappointed if I’d pulled out because of him. He taught me to be resilient and was incredibly supportive. He loved what I did and supported me at every step. There was no question about letting him down.

And you’re a big supporter of youth sport and The Teenage Cancer Trust?

My father was a huge influence and he brought up my brother and I to always 'put back' into society. I support a variety of charities and focus on the ones where my background, experience and credibility can have the maximum impact. Teenage Cancer Trust, Youth Sport Trust and Climbing Out are the ones I give most time to.

What came first, the public speaking or the TV commentary job?

Speaking came first. Lots of my friends became teachers and I would speak at their schools. Later I delivered hundreds of schools talks for Teenage Cancer Trust. My first corporate engagement came in 2000 and my first commentary work in 2002. By the time‎ I retired from swimming in 2004 I was able to step into the speaking work full time.

Marc Woods speaking at an event

What is about speaking you enjoy?

I love that I learn so much about organisations and the people who work for them. Every business has a unique set of different challenges around the specifics of their product and processes. However, every business shares common challenges around their people, their teams, their leaders and their ability to communicate and work together.

What topics do you cover?

Having been working in the speaking industry for 15 years and competing for Great Britain for the for the same amount of time I am not short of content.

Regular topics include: change, responsibility, feedback, teams losing and winning together (one team), agreeing common goals, back office support, leadership journey, communication, marginal gains, coaching/leadership philosophy, constant improvement, personal best....

Your speaking style?

I'd primarily describe myself as authentic. I don't try to be anything I'm not‎. Beyond that I’d hope people would say I’m engaging, self-deprecating and humorous.

What’s the future hold for you Marc?

I plan on continuing to speak as long as I can.  I love doing it. I'll also be ‎standing to be Chairman of the British Paralympic Association in 2017. However most of the time I’ll be focussing on being a good dad to my 6-year-old girl and my soon to be 3 boy.

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