Gerry Kinsella MBE

Presented by Sir Philip Craven

This is a truly civic university, firmly rooted in this extraordinary city, and its defining ethos comprises three deceptively simple yet very powerful words: dream, plan, achieve.

Each July during Graduation Week, the University's highest honour – an Honorary Fellowship – is bestowed on a select band of individuals outside the University, in recognition of their outstanding achievement in a given field or profession, and who personify and inspire others to 'dream, plan, and achieve.'

We present Gerry Kinsella today for two reasons. Firstly, for his outstanding contribution to sport, as both an elite athlete who won Commonwealth, European and World Championship medals with the Great Britain wheelchair basketball team, and for inspiring the next generation to get into sport. And second, as founder and Chief Executive of the Greenbank Project in south Liverpool, for the opportunities he has created, both locally and nationally, for young people with an impairment or who are disadvantaged, to experience the power of sport and education to transform lives.

Born in Liverpool in 1949, Gerry contracted polio in infancy and spent his childhood and early teenage years having difficulty walking and definitely not running when in his heart he was a young man of action and speed.

His 'eureka' moment came at age 18, when he visited the internationally-acclaimed National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and had the chance to try both a wheelchair and basketball. He says of the occasion: "I was the ugly duckling who became the graceful swan in my wheelchair. It gave me freedom; it gave me grace; it enabled me to play my sport all round the world."

Gerry and I were to become team-mates as members of the all-conquering Southport and then Mersey Meteors wheelchair basketball teams from 1968 until 1986, and we both represented our country at the sport, winning gold for England at the Commonwealth Games in 1970 and 1974, and winning the European Championships in 1971 and 1974 and the World Championships in 1973 with the Great Britain team. I can vouch that Gerry Kinsella is one of the greatest wheelchair basketball players the world has ever seen. 

An all-round athlete, he also represented Great Britain at the Paralympic Games in Israel, Germany and Canada, achieving bronze in swimming and athletics; and won numerous gold medals in pentathlon and table tennis at the Stoke Mandeville International Games over a 15 year period.

One side of Gerry that very few people know is his natural habit of absolutely playing by the rules and to the rules. Once in France in 1969 he was classified as a player with less physical movement than he knew that he possessed. This would have been advantageous to the British wheelchair basketball team. However, Gerry said to the physicians doing the classifications that if they did not put him in the class that he knew he should have been in then he would not be playing. They changed it!

Gerry felt he owed much to Stoke Mandeville and devoted himself to giving something back after his retirement from competitive sport. He has been a board member of the English Federation of Disability Sport for many years, and his dream has been widespread sporting opportunity for all. As he says: "Stoke Mandeville is the flagship. But we also want every conurbation in the land to have the right facilities, to make sure sport reaches everyone, from children to those with ambitions of being a Paralympic or Olympic champion."

With this in mind, he had set up the Greenbank Project in 1983, which aims to enhance the opportunities and status of impaired and/or disadvantaged people through education, training, employment, sport and recreation. The college focuses on young learners aged 16 to 24 and the Greenbank Sports Academy is now the North West's leading sports and leisure facility for people with an impairment, regularly hosting national and international sporting events and encouraging its use by the wider community. Its Sport Development Foundation Degree provides an inclusive access route to study at Liverpool John Moores University. 

Gerry was justly awarded an MBE in 1991 for his work with Greenbank.

This is a man of indomitable spirit and indefatigable energy. The Greenbank Project is a registered charity, and to raise funds Gerry has completed at least five London Marathons and completed a wheelchair-push from Land's End to John O'Groats. 

I would say to you, don't look at what doesn't work, look at what does. The heart, the mind, the brain and the will to succeed. The heart and the mind are never injured, and through the transformative power of sport, people can just blossom. Then after sport, they move on to succeed in other ways.

As President of the International Paralympic Committee, I believe that the 2012 Games will prove to be a tipping point for the Paralympic movement. The London 2012 Paralympic Games will quite simply be 'sport like never before'. Our elite athletes will captivate billions around the world, will inspire millions, and ultimately lead societal change and alter perceptions of what can be achieved by a person with an impairment. As Gerry has done over the last 40 years.

Gerry is one of Liverpool's greatest sons and I think it is most appropriate that he should receive an Honorary Fellowship in 2012, the year the Paralympic Games return to the nation that founded them back in 1952.

Thus, it is with great pleasure that I present Gerry Kinsella, this most distinguished son of the great city of Liverpool, for admission to our highest honour, as an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.