Norfolk’s triple Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington is set to receive an honorary degree at Birmingham University tomorrow as a tribute to her work in sport and international development.

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The 1998 graduate will become a Doctor of the University, which will fit nicely alongside her first class honours degree in BSc Geography, a distinction from her 2001 Masters in Development Studies from the University of Manchester and the MBE she was awarded in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list and received last week.

On receiving her honorary degree nomination Wellington said: ‘I am thrilled to be receiving this honour from the University of Birmingham. The years I spent as a student at Birmingham were some of the best of my life as I was able to fulfil my academic goals and just as importantly be an active member of a number of different clubs, including the swimming and water polo team.’

She added: ‘These experiences I will treasure forever, and I know that they have helped to shape me into the athlete and person I am today. I am so proud to be an alumna of the university, and to have been awarded this honorary degree means an incredible amount to me.”

Zena Wooldridge, the university’s director of sport, who nominated Wellington for her honorary degree said: ‘This exceptional woman is an inspiration to all those who appreciate the almost super-human scale of her achievements, and the level of dedication behind her success that also made her such an exceptional student. It will be a real privilege to witness Wellington back on campus to receive such a well-deserved honour from her university, and sharing her experiences with students who are graduating alongside her.”

However, it is not just her sporting and academic achievements which have got Wellington noticed. She is committed to and passionate about using sport to change the lives of those living in under-privileged and conflict-affected parts of the world.

After graduating from Birmingham, Wellington travelled the world for two years which opened her eyes to what she described as ‘many problems in the world, but also the opportunity for positive change’.

Wellington said: “Sport has the power to build bridges, to empower, to teach, to heal – this is what triathlon and every other sport should be about and I hope that I, in some small way, can help inspire others to take up sport and realise their own dreams and their full potential.”

After working as a policy adviser to the UK Government agency Defra, specialising in international development and environmental policy, Wellington discovered her aptitude for triathlon while working in Nepal on a community-led sanitation project.

Being in Nepal gave her a good basis for altitude fitness as she would run and cycle the many hills of Kathmandu Valley, near where she was based.

In February 2007 Wellington decided to leave her role at Defra to concentrate on becoming a professional athlete.

Within a year she became the first British athlete to win the World Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii – a feat she repeated in 2008 and 2009 – and is currently undefeated at Ironman distance.

A force to be reckoned with in Ironman competitions, in which athletes swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and run 26.2 miles, she holds the records for both the Ironman World Championships and the World Record for ironman-distance triathlon races.

Wellington has a packed schedule at present, with the athlete having a sell-out date at The Forum in Norwich this evening when she will be speaking at an event organised by Norfolk triathlon club Tri-Anglia.

Club spokesman Rob Lines said: “Chrissie is a role model for all of us out there who have a passion for sport. Her determination and commitment to triathlon is outstanding – she is a genuine sports hero. The evening will be a really special event.”

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