Olympic athlete opens school sport and fitness centre

Dame Katherine Grainger DBE shared her sporting experiences with the 900-strong audience at the event

Britain’s most decorated female Olympic athlete, Dame Katherine Grainger DBE recently visited St Helen and St Katharine School to open their new Sports and Fitness Centre.

Following a tour of the Centre with Director of Sport, Sarah Wilson, Dame Katherine recounted her sporting career to a 900-strong audience, including students from the John Mason School and Fitzharrys School in Abingdon, and spoke about the passion, determination and belief needed to break boundaries in sport and become a champion.

Praising the school facilities, which include badminton, netball, volleyball, tennis, basketball, indoor football and indoor hockey courts; a group cycle studio, ergo fitness suite with 12 indoor rowers and a dance studio, the theme of her speech was centred around taking chances and seizing opportunities. She discussed the importance of trying, sometimes failing, but always persevering.

Believe in big dreams, do things that you’ve never done before and you will achieve what has never been achieved before – Dame Katherine Grainger DBE, Olympic athlete

Dame Katherine said “Believe in big dreams, do things that you’ve never done before and you will achieve what has never been achieved before. Overcoming disappointment makes you focus on being better, you must move on.” There was laughter throughout when she added, “I studied Law at University as I wanted to make a positive impact on the world. Instead, it appears that I managed to do that wearing Lycra and sitting in a boat going backwards.”

Hatty and Dame Katherine celebrate Dame Katherine becoming the school’s first honorary ‘HelKat’


Following the speech, Dame Katherine chatted with students, staff, invited guests from the world of school sport across Oxfordshire and donors from the wider school community. Dame Katherine was made the school’s first honorary ‘HelKat’ and raised a St Helen’s boater in the air to celebrate.

Headmistress, Rebecca Dougall summed up the afternoon, “It was an enormous privilege to welcome such an inspirational and iconic sportswoman to our school. It is important for young women to build their confidence, a quality that Dame Katherine exemplifies, both in and outside her sport.

“Our new Sports Centre is testament to the fact that at St Helen and St Katharine the benefits of being involved in sport at all levels – building physical wellbeing, mental resilience and strength – is an essential part of every girls’ individual development,” she said. 

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