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Dr Stephanie Cook MBE
Dr Stephanie Cook MBE
Orator Dr Dylan Thompson
Orator Dr Dylan Thompson
Dr Cook and Dr Thompson outside the Abbey
Dr Cook and Dr Thompson outside the Abbey

Internal News - 27 June 2008

Honorary graduate - Dr Stephanie Cook

Oration by Dr Dylan Thompson:

Chancellor, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you and the congregation Dr Stephanie Cook MBE, an Olympic gold medallist and World Champion who reached the summit of her sport without sacrificing her long-standing aspiration for a career in medicine.

Stephanie Cook is probably most well-known for her outstanding sporting achievements in Modern Pentathlon. The pentathlon of the ancient Olympics was designed to test the skills of the ideal soldier of that time and so Baron de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, decided that the Modern Pentathlon should reflect similar 19th century demands; riding an unfamiliar horse, fighting with a pistol and sword, swimming and running.

Success in all sports requires considerable talent and dedication, but success in the five events that comprise the Modern Pentathlon requires the versatility to develop diverse skills and fitness for very different events and challenges.

Between 1998 and 2000 Stephanie Cook won bronze, silver and gold medals at the world championships in the Modern Pentathlon Team event; but this was just the warm up.

In the space of the following 12 months, Stephanie went on to win an individual gold medal at the Olympics in Sydney in 2000 and additional gold medals at both the European Championships and the World Championships in 2001. Later that year she was awarded an MBE for services to Modern Pentathlon and she was the Sports Writers association Sportswoman of the year.

Stephanie became a household figure through appearances on popular TV programmes such as ‘A Question of Sport’, ‘This is your life’, ‘Grandstand’ and ‘Sport Relief’.

An active sportswoman whilst at school and then at the University of Cambridge, it was not until 1994 when studying at the University of Oxford that a notice on a college bulletin board prompted Stephanie to try Modern Pentathlon.

She started to compete nationally and found that she was rather good at it. Indeed, it wasn’t long before she was beating most of the national team and she was selected for her first international competition – just days before taking her final medical examinations.

For a couple of years she maintained international competition whilst working the notoriously long hours of junior doctors. In 1999, she took the decision to put her medical career on hold to concentrate on Modern Pentathlon.

With the help of lottery funding she relocated to join other elite athletes training at the University of Bath. Stephanie recalled this critical step whilst giving a talk at an international conference and she said that “of course this was a huge risk. I had no guarantees of success, but then fear of failure is never a reason not to try. It was also daunting watching the rest of my colleagues climbing up the medical career ladder, but then I had the rest of my life to pursue medicine. And if you really want to achieve something enough then I believe that you will find a way”. The risk paid off. Within two years she was Olympic, European and World Champion.

Stephanie surprised many people by retiring from Modern Pentathlon at the peak of her achievements and as the reigning Olympic, European and World Champion. She commented on this when receiving the Sunday Times Helen Rollason Award for inspiration in late 2001 “I was training to be a doctor before I even took up pentathlon. I was always going to go back to medicine; it was just a question of when, rather than if”.

Stephanie realised her sporting potential without compromising her first love, medicine. Stephanie is currently on maternity leave following the birth of her first son and is due to return to work in August to complete her training as a GP. She is research-active and has published original papers, reviews, abstracts and letters in various scientific and medical journals.

Although no longer involved in sport as an athlete, Stephanie continues to play an important role. She was an ambassador for the London 2012 Olympic bid and is a member of the Sports Advisory Group for the London 2012 organising committee. She was a foundation member of the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine established in July 2007 and earlier this month took part in the ‘Excellence in Health – The Olympic Ideal’ conference organized by the British Medical Association.

Stephanie’s careful stewardship of her two potentially contrasting life-goals serve as a reminder to us all of what can be achieved if we have self-belief, if we are willing to work hard and if we make the right decisions at the right time.

Chancellor, I present to you Dr Stephanie Cook MBE, who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Medicine, honoris causa.