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Tapping into the talent within

Published on isbi School News dated Wednesday 3rd of December 2014

A top sportsman tagged as the greatest all-round talent of his generation has been delivering a can-do message to pupils at Wisbech Grammar School.

As an undergraduate at Cambridge University Alastair Hignell won four double Blues, captaining the university at rugby and cricket, and scoring over 1,000 runs in a first class cricket season in the same year that he gained his degree, and he went on to win a total of 14 rugby caps for England.

However, he explained that everything was thrown into jeopardy during his time as a leading sports broadcaster after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, and he was pole-axed by the life-changing announcement.

Denial about the illness, which caused him to treat it like an injury that would heal in time, gave way to an anger that spurred him on to train harder than ever before.

A phase of bargaining ensued, when he found one day a week to address the illness and then tried to get on with life as normal on the other days, but this eventually gave way to understanding and, finally, acceptance.

In a talk to all the pupils aged 13 to 18, Mr Hignell, who received the Helen Rollason Award for courage and achievement in the face of adversity in 2008, pressed home his 'life is for living theme', highlighting his failures as well as his successes and showing his appreciation for the talents and wisdom of others, and he singled out World Cup winning fly-half Jonny Wilkinson for particular praise.

Mr Hignell said: 'There is nobody I have ever come across in the world of sport who has been more influential in this one area: Johnny Wilkinson honoured his talent.'

Echoing the words of Nelson Mandela, the author of the award-winning 'Higgy matches, microphones and Ms' reminded the pupils that they would achieve more through acts of mercy than through acts of retribution, and he advised them to follow in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus and keep their options open.

A tireless fund-raiser, who has triumphed over adversity to be awarded the CBE for his services to sport and charity, Mr Hignell recalled his mother's familiar catchphrase: 'There's no such word as 'can't'.'

He said: 'The only thing you can do going into any event in your life is to come back saying that you gave everything.'

Director of studies Mr Mike Forrest, who organized the visit and was a contemporary of Mr Hignell at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, said: 'It was good to welcome Alastair to the school to talk about his life and through this to provide motivation for our pupils.'

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