OLYMPIAN and former student Charlie Spedding has been made an honorary fellow of Sunderland University nearly four decades after he graduated.
The record-breaking marathon runner joined graduates at the Stadium of Light to receive the accolade in recognition of his outstanding contribution to sport.
He was handed the award by fellow Olympian and university chancellor Steve Cram.
Charlie, from County Durham, followed his father Joe into the pharmacy industry, graduating from Sunderland Polytechnic – which later became the university – in 1974.
He said being made an honorary fellow “feels great”.
“It feels like a terrific honour and something I did not expect,” he said.
“The invitation came out of the blue. It is 38 years since I was a student here. I am absolutely thrilled.”
A keen runner all his life, Charlie quit his career as a pharmacist to focus on his lifelong dream of becoming a professional athlete.
In 1983 he was National Champion in the 10,000 metres.
The following year he won the London Marathon, then a bronze medal in the Los Angeles Olympics.
Charlie returned to the world of pharmacy soon afterwards and now campaigns for increased physical exercise for schoolchildren.
He had some words of wisdom for young athletes.
“I joined a running club when I was 16 and I was 32 when I made it to the Olympics,” he said.
“We live in a world now with instant gratification, and to become a successful sportsman you have to forget all about that and keep working.”
Steve Cram said: “We give these honorary degrees and fellowship to people that we hope are fantastic examples to the students on different levels.
“Charlie used his pharmacy degree but also went on and had his athletics career.”
Other honoraries receiving awards this week are comedian Eddie Izzard, ITV News at Ten presenter Alastair Stewart, artist Norman Cornish and executive director of The Customs House, Ray Spencer.
This year’s annual awards ceremonies are the biggest in the university’s 111-year history.
Over five days, 3,218 students from 68 countries – from Nepal to Uzbekistan – will graduate at the Stadium of Light watched by 8,786 guests, with 289 academic staff cheering on the class of 2012.