The Tokyo 2021 Paralympics is just round the corner, so what better time to have an episode all about accessible sports and the Paralympics. We chat to Paralympic long jumper and 100 meter sprinter (and Leonard Cheshire sports ambassador) Livvy Breen, as well as her good friend Mo Jomni, a paralympic wheelchair racer. We get an insight into their training routines, what life is like as a Paralympian and just why inclusive sport is so important. Music: Sun Shine by Cymatix provided by Premiumbeat.
Follow Livvy on Twitter: @BreenOlivia
And on Instagram: @livvy_breen
Follow Mo on Twitter: @MoatezJomni
And on Instagram: @mr_jomni
Follow Leonard Cheshire: @LeonardCheshire
Find out more about Leonard Cheshire: https://www.leonardcheshire.org/
Check out Livvy's 15 minute home work outs: https://www.leonardcheshire.org/get-support/learning/can-do/show-me-you-can
Find out more about the Paralympics: https://paralympics.org.uk/articles/games/tokyo-2021
Livvy Breen: Find what you like doing, what you enjoy doing. And luckily, me and Mo have found that in athletics.
Mo Jomni: I mean this is Great Britain and this is where the Paralympics actually started you know?
Livvy: Stoke Mandeville!
Mo:Which should really ignite that fire and keep that 2012 alive as much as possible.
Erin O’Reilly: Hello and welcome to The Disability Download – The Disability Download is brought to you by pan disability charity Leonard Cheshire, I’m Erin O’Reilly and on this podcast we respond to current topics, share stories and open up conversations about disability.
Hi everyone and thanks so much for tuning in! It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the end of July, I mean I feel like this year is really flying by! But, there’s a few exciting things coming up for the rest of summer, one of which is the Tokyo 2021 Paralympics. Now after much uncertainty, it looks like the games are definitely going ahead and we’ll get the chance to tune into two really exciting weeks of parasport at the end of August. So we thought what better time than to have an episode all about accessible sport and the Paralympics. So we’re really, really excited to be joined by two Paralympians for this episode! My colleague Jon catches up with Paralympian long jumper and 100 meter sprinter and she’s also Leonard Cheshire’s Sports Ambassador, Olivia Breen, also known as Livvy, as well as her good friend Paralympic wheelchair racer, Moatez Jomni, more commonly known as Mo. Livvy and Mo competed together at the Paralympics in Rio in 2016 and they have a really, really great friendship which I think you can just really hear throughout this interview. And they just talk about finding their passion, their routines with their sports, what training’s like, the importance of inclusion and accessible sports, and their hopes for the future as well!
Now we’re still recording remotely, so please do bear with us with the audio at times. So, let’s go over to Jon, Livvy and Mo!
Jon Sim: So, Livvy, Mo, welcome to the Disability Download, absolute pleasure to have you joining us this morning.
Mo: Thank you.
Jon: Um, one Paralympian and one prospective Paralympian, um..
Jon: In Mo, don't laugh Livvy you know...[laughs]
Jon: And Livvy, can I just ask you one fairly basic and obvious first question, are you excited about Tokyo?
Livvy: Yeah, I'm obviously really excited, and obviously it’s going to be very different games than the previous games I've been too because obviously of Covid, but I'm really excited and I feel really confident going into. I’ve had a really good season, so fingers crossed it will carry on in Tokyo!
Jon: Fantastic, uhm, has it been hard to do that prep all over again two years in a row? I mean can you talk us through how that's been for you both? Kind of physically and mentally?
Livvy: So for me it was actually really helpful for me like mentally and physically. I think I'm a lot stronger, a lot power more power... a lot stronger more power, more powerful. And I think for me during lockdown, I just thought, well, this is my time to get better and work on my weaknesses and it's really paid off and, I don't think I'll be running the times and jumping what I've been jumping if I didn't train during lockdown, so I think personally it's really helped me.
Jon: Sure, and how, in terms of helping you with that, helping you psychologically, how much of a role does your coach play in that? And also I guess your, your folks as well your parents?
Livvy: My coach plays a big role in it and I think having a good team around you, your friends and family like just having a small team really plays a big role. And just making sure you're mentally ready as well. That's a big thing. 'Cause obviously physically, mentally it comes together. If you're not, if you're not mentally prepared, then that doesn't go together physically, if that makes sense? So yeah, and it obviously was hard not seeing my coach for six months, but we would just send, send him videos of my training. He was telling me what to work on and it just yeah, we worked together as a team!
Jon: What about your mates? Like Mo, you know fellow competitors, I guess they play quite a large role as well because you know, you're, you're both individual competitors, but certainly in the Olympics you're going to be part of a wider team. Can I ask you Livvy initially? Who do you turn to of your mates? Would it be people like Mo?
Livvy: [Laughs] Yeah I turn to Mo, basically, we've been like best friends since the day we met and we just get on really well. We just get each other and it's just really nice to have that support. Obviously in Rio, both of us didn't have a good game. It was just nice to have like each other there, have a vent to, have a cry to, you know, and just give each other a hug! It was just nice to have that support, definitely.
Jon: So I was doing you a disservice talking about a prospective Paralympian, Mo I mean you have had the experience of Rio.
Jon: But we'll go more on that a bit later, but talk me through how you guys met in the first place. I guess it was when you were, you know a young lad watching London 2012, right?
Mo: Yeah, I was literally just started like late 2012 just before the games and it was just ,I was just starting out as a new wheelchair racer and everything was new and exciting and I never thought how big the Paralympics was going to be I thought it was just going to be a random games. And I saw Olivia on TV I but I never thought in my life I would actually meet someone in person. This, this young little girl with braces and enjoying life and....
Mo: Yeah, it it was, it's it's a good thing. It's it. It was, uh, it was fun. It was, she was quite sweet and she was very welcoming, yeah.
Jon: So when did you first actually meet her? And in fact just talk us through how you became involved in you know this level of Parasport in the first place.
Mo: I got involved just literally after I got discharged from hospital. I was I was not in a very good place. I was having operations and stuff. Looking forward to start a new life for myself. I thought I'm going to be, you know, you know I'm going to go back to being sporty. And I joined I, I joined the Weir Archer Academy before the Weir Archer Academy was with David. I didn't know who the hell he was. I just thought I want to, you know, train. I got into it, obviously, 2013, everybody stared you know paying attention. I met Livvy. But 2014 was my first European as a GB athlete. It was amazing. I got to know Livvy Breen more and you know, like I said it was, it was fun to be representing in a country, and I never thought I would ever, ever. It was quick. It just happened so quick. As long as, because I was persistent.
Jon: Yes, were you interested in sport? You're a sports fan.
Mo: Yes, yes. I was, I was interested in sports, of course, 'cause I want to do it when I was 16 and and I was younger, everybody said, oh, you're not going to have a life in it. You know, just you know, get a desk job or whatever and whatnot. And when I was got, when I got a bit older and wiser, I get to think for myself as a young man, and I thought let me just do what I want to do and I just that's what I did. I made that one phone call. And they told me to come in. Let's have a look at you. They made it so comfortable and easy and I just, I never looked back.
Jon: That's based in southwest London as well, right?
Mo: Yeah Kingston yeah Kingston.
Jon: Yeah, Kingston and how about you Livyy? What was your first foray into, into sport when you were younger? What kind of age were you?
Livvy: So basically I've always loved sports and always tried different sports and stuff and they kept saying to me join athletics, join disability, join disability sport. And I was thinking because my parents are treated me so equally to my brothers, I never saw myself as disabled. And obviously I was always at the back of the board, having fun with my friends, always getting told off for talking too much as usual, I’m always the chatty one. And then I was like, well, I got a bit older, 15 years old, I was like, do you know what? Let's give it a try and it was the best thing ever! Like it's opened so many doors for me. Obviously meeting people like Mo and other people and seeing people with disabilities. It's just so inspiring. Obviously I never knew, obviously I had known I’ve got a disability, but like it was just nice to see people out there working as hard as they can to make this the best they can be. And obviously I got, it happened very quickly for me, so I got nationally classified in May... in January 2012 and then I ran my first race at Kingston in 2012 and I was number one in the UK in the T38 category which is the runner’s category in Cerebral Palsy. But I didn't really know where life was going and I got a call from GB saying we’d love you to run...represent GB at Gateshead to get the qualifying for 2012 relay team. And I was thinking what? [laughs] And I couldn’t help thinking like, well, the able-bodied men can't get the baton round, how are the CP guys going to get the baton round? And yeah it was amazing and obviously I got, went to the European 2012 in Holland, got two bronze medals and then on the month of July I got chosen to represent Great Britain at the 2012 Highland Games, at 16 years of...16 years of age! It was just wow.
Jon: Came back with a medal!
Livvy: Yeah, yeah, in the relay and I ran the first leg and made through all the finals as well.
Jon: Where do you keep your medal by the way?
Livvy: It's basically at home, my, actually my brothers bought me like a medal cab...like what's it called? A medal cabinet and I've got like I've got all my medals in there so when people come into the house, that's one of the first things you see.
Jon: That's the first place you take them, yeah? [laughs] Even if it's just a delivery driver.
Livvy: [laughs] Like hmmm have you seen this?
Jon: So if you wouldn't mind just talk us through that classification Livvy T53 for people who wouldn't, who might not know what does it mean?
Livvy: Me or Mo sorry?
Mo: I'm 53
Jon: And then we’ll ask Mo. So what does that actually mean that classification?
Livvy: For T53 or T38
Jon: Which one is which for both of you?
Mo: I'm T53.
Jon: That's right, sorry, and you’re T38.
Livvy: [laughs] Yeah, yeah.
Jon: Ok so what does T38 mean?
Livvy:OK, it's basically, uh from T35 to T38 is like Cerebral Palsy or if you’ve had a stroke as well. That's the classification. So the most highest number you are the most mildest you are so. So me it affected all my limbs. I've got two different types of Cerebral Palsy, I’ve got Ataxia and Athetoid, and so yeah, if you have Cerbral Palsy, and if you’ve had a stroke or MS Now as well, then that's the classification you get put in.
Jon: Understood and what about yourself Mo?
Mo: For me it's something to do with your core and the level of your injury of your spine. So my my injury level is, is high. So T10 complete paraplegic. So I don't have as much as stability as the other racers in like a T54 is where they have more function in the core muscles, so they get a better advantage better take off, better control. For me it's just mild, so yeah.
Jon: Ok. And what kind of preparation do you specifically do for wheelchair racing? Talk me through your, talk me through the average training day that you go through yourself.
Mo: Wow, the average routine will be just in the park in Richmond Park in the morning with a bunch of cyclists and it's just and just shouting at you. Keep going and stop moaning. I'm going to do it my way. I thought Jenny, Jenny said we had to do this. I said yeah, Jenny had to do this, but not that slow mate. And it's just like so motivated in the morning and, but that's, depending on the mileage like I could do like 12 miles 18 miles a day, uh, and it's very intense because you have to go through hills, down hills and. And if weather permitting it’s not like minus four or when it's raining on windy and you don't, I don't even have a chance to complain. You know I'm just saving all the last breath I have!
Jon: Would you need do any additional kind of upper body work, bearing in mind just...
Mo: Oh, of course.
Jon: how physical it is itself.
Mo: Yeah yeah yeah. I mean going to the gym is very important just to stay, stay, stay well. Injury risk free. Uh you don't wanna I'm I'm not supposed to do much too much gym because I get too muscular. You know I have to be a certain weight. Certain you know, certain type of leanness. Your diet is very important. Which is the most hardest bit out of all the training. In case you got a donut, you got a donut there. You got Krispy Kreme’s waiting for you. [Livvy laughs] And but other than that, it's it's, it's a great discipline. At the same time, if you really want it, just do it. If you don't, I don't force myself, I just look forward to that cheat day. I tell you that now, every day.
Jon: Have you both got long term relationship with your respective coaches and and and do you have other I...I mean, I guess the GB team must have nutritionists and dieticians and that kind of thing, but I guess you just how were you tested? How do they know that you're not eating these Krispy Kremes and doner kebabs!?
Mo: Well for me. [laughs] Well for me I have like every other day I get a phone call from my from my dietician that the Academy set up for each individual athlete. Uh, I mean, they can tell by your bloods, you know lactic intake and they come check your fat and stuff which is, you can't escape that man and they can always tell depending on your performance, like have you done this? What did you do today? How much did you drink? What did you eat today? So it's it's it's, a consistent, but you get used to it and you just can't get away with it. Man, I tell you that now!
Jon: So you have, you have the diet police.
Mo: I know the diet police yes, and then they you know they never force a diet on you. They just you know they make, they don't make sure they’re just kind of, let you know that you have to do this and you do that and they said they never force yourself to go into diet. If you feel like you haven't achieved that, just do it, but it's, it's a psychological trick they play on you and.. [laughs]
Mo: It’senjoyable, it’s a mind game. But yeah, yeah, I mean I don't mind the dieting. It's worked well for me. I feel in a better shape of course. I don't drink Coca Cola as much. So yeah.
Jon: Do you think, I mean, you’ve both been, you both...I mean you made a phone call Mo. You were pretty athletic as a as a young kid yourself Livvy. Do you think generally there are opportunities out there for young kids with disabilities to get into the sport and do you think that's improved during your lifetime? Say since say since 2012 since the 2012 London Olympics. If I can ask you first Livvy?
Livvy: I personally think it's getting a lot better, and I think disability is definitely more aware. Obviously I think with COVID-19 with like the diversity, like Black Lives Matter and everything, I think it's definitely getting more where people get being more alert to disability, which is really, really nice to see and just... and people are more passionate and asking more questions. And it's just really nice for people to be interested, interested in disability. I do think people are.. I don’t know since 2012 as well, there's more, I don’t know, people who want to get involved and yeah it’s just really good to see.
Jon: Do you think the quality of disability sport, you know elite level that you guys compete in has improved?
Livvy: Yeah I do. I think there's still work to do, definitely. I think hopefully after Tokyo 2021 it will be more...it'll get better. I think there's definitely work to be more improved to get the quality out there more.
Jon: Like yourself, Mo, would you...what would you suggest, a young, you know teenage disabled lad who wanted to get into sport, what, what advice would you give them?
Mo: I'd say just go out there and give it a try. You don't have to genuinely be doing athletics you know? Or you just, just do something else with your life. Like go volunteering for athletics or just go out there, just explore, volunteer, do something that will move you and just inspire you. Because yeah, I think that with the Paralympics it inspired me more just to pursue what I really wanted to do. Uh, and athletics' not for everyone, go and do swimming, uh, basketball, anything...
Mo: So much that has happened since 21. We got the attention, but I think it just needs to be more recognized and people need to be more understanding and show us their support. I mean this is Great Britain and this is where the Paralympics actually started you know?
Livvy: Stoke Mandeville!
Mo: Which should really ignite that fire and keep that 2012 alive as much as possible.
Jon: I mean, as two young people with a disability, what do you think...what do you think the major issues facing disabled people are in this country..the UK 2021? Livvy hat do you think fir of all? I mean at Leonard Cheshire we campaign around social care, transport...what issues....obviously you're both passionate about sport, but is there anything else that gets you going or you know you're passionate about in terms of disability rights?
Livvy: I think hearing disability stories and hearing other people's stories and what they've been through and what helps them, I think that's really inspiring. I think like for example, I went to a little girl's house on Saturday, who I met from Adidas and who's got cerebral palsy and it was just really nice. She was really... it was really nice to see her face and what I did for the family as well. I think it's just giving them hope of what sport can do and what you know what having a good support network can do for you I think. It's just trying to get the message out there that there's always a life out there for you no matter what disability you have, and just trying to find your passion, find what you like doing, what you enjoy doing. And luckily, me and Mo have found that in athletics. We've met amazing people as well, and it's just trying to get people out there more and make them realise that there is a life out there for them.
Jon: Sure, and what do you think Mo?
Mo: Well, I mean, I just, I do, I do school talks with able-bodied people and they always have this one disabled kid in school and I always do talks with them and say, you know, just to inspire them as well as much as you know, disabled people just to make them understand you still, just you know, just pursue. Show them what you're capable of and just what you do, what you're doing. And I mean there's a lot of work to be done, and I do part time coaching. I mean, you even get adults you know in their late, late in the stage of their life or their injuries and accidents, and like with MS and I love just showing them that they can be more than they are and they’re so keen and this...And the Academy has so much athletes coming in every day like just to try it and I can just sit at the track, play and come back home at like 10 o'clock, 10:00 o'clock at night just because I'm just helping out these people just to pursue what they want.
Jon: Fantastic would be great actually to get down there and see how it all works. I mean, what were your...if you don't mind me asking, what were your school days like? I mean, Livvy as a you know, you know as a young disabled kid at school, I mean talk me through your school life as you were, you know a young kid. Where did you go to school? What was it...how did you feel growing up with a disability?
Livvy: I think for me, uhm, I went to a private school to start with and that was a big... 'cause obviously I've got some learning difficulties at school wise. And I just I found school really hard and I had a really good LSA with me every time and she would...she really fought for me. I spoke to my parents and and we realised that private school wasn't for me. They thought it would be good because obviously it was smaller classes, not as many people could support me. When I was younger I was really wobbly and I fell over quite a lot. So my parents thought for me private school would be better for me in a smaller environment. But for me, and then they decided to move me to a state school and for me personally, that was really the best thing ever I've ever done. There's the...the kids were....obviously the kids aat private school were lovely, but the help and teacher assistants were really good as well and they just tried to teach me the best, just help me to be the best I can be. And then I went to secondary school to another state school and that was really good. I also I'm also deaf as well, so I also have a deaf like, a deaf basic teacher and she was really really good and she just helped me, like the classes they got like, what's it called, sample systems? So like the teacher would wear like like it was like a big microphone to make sure I could hear and I was always at the front of the class. Obviously I didn’t like that because I was the center of attention. Obviously I got told off for talking a lot! But school for me...obviously I got bullied quite a bit at school as well, but that's life. And people obviously immature or don’t really understand disability. But I think it was...it made me tougher and it makes you more determined to show them, to prove them wrong. So for example, now I get messages from people Instagram, Facebook saying like oh my gosh you’re amazing blah blah blah. I'm like, I'm just like, you didn't really talk to me at school like thank you, but no like go away, you know, don't try to be my friend just because I'm now a big person. Like obviously I don’t see myself as a big person but for them they may see me as a big person. But school was really good for me and I obviously love the social side. And obviously like the school work, but I always wanted to be the best I could! P.E was my favourite lesson of course!
Jon: I guess is that similar to your experience Mo? I mean I guess you build up...do you think you build up a level of resilience that probably helps you in athletics?
Mo: Of course, I mean when I was in primary school, I was bullied man because I had...I was...I was getting like a teaching assistant all the time and they thought...I didn't have a really good time at primary school. Secondary school was a little better, but I used to get criticized a lot and get told off a lot and thinking why do you need to do this and who do you think you are type of guy? Secondary school was a little better, but it helped me because I went to Community Schools. And you know how children are very like, you know, cruel and don't understand, they’re ignorant. But as time went by, I got a lot smarter on how to deal with that type of stuff and it just made me more, tougher. And now, like Livvy, I was laughing at what Livvy was saying about now I get like, like private messages for all well done I saw you in a Channel 4 advert and stuff. And like yeah all I just say is thank you. [Livvy laughs] And it's, for me to see, to do that and succeed and make something of myself and I can see them. You know, I don't want to crush judgment or nothing because that's not my path. I'm in a different path from then, I’m in a better place, stronger, smarter. I got, I got a purpose.
Livvy: And more determined.
Mo: Found it. And more determined yeah.
Jon: And can I ask you just a couple of questions about representing Wales Livvy?
Jon: Is that OK? I mean, there's the small matter of the Paralympics coming up, but there's also the Commonwealth Games next year. What's the connection with Wales and your family? Where does the lineages come from?
Livvy: [Laughs] Erm so basically my mum’s Welsh and my dad’s Irish. But my mum, obviously I was...had always had spent every school holiday in Wales. My grandparents, my grandparents, had a big...they've had a big part of my life and they've really helped my parents as well. My dad was away a lot when I was younger working for Formula One. So and yeah, they had a big part of my life. Basically Wales, I met them in Croatia in 2012 and the coach came up to me and she was like we would love you to represent Wales and I was like yeah I'd love to! So obviously they were one of the first places to ask me, so I just thought, yeah, I'd love to like let me know what I can do! And obviously in 2014 we had the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in the long jump and I just thought let's try it! and turns out I'm really Good! I just think just aways give it a try 'cause you never know what you're gonna be...if you're gonna be good at it or not, yeah.
Jon: And whereabouts in Wales was your mother from?
Livvy: She's from Cardiff.
Jon: OK South Wales.
Livvy: Yeah, my grandparents still live there. My, auntie and cousins all live there. So yeah we still go there quite a lot. Obviously with lockdown I haven't been there as much, but yeah.
Jon: And so what',s what's next for you both? I mean, train, train, train I guess.
Mo: Technically, yeah, technically, yeah, definitely yeah.
Livvy: [Laughs] Yes that is our life!
Jon: Is it a seven day a week thing?
Livvy: Five days a week for me.
Mo: Me yeah me for me it's depends on what intensity. So it's like four days, three days a week because things are getting very intense like short work-ins. But it's the intensity of that short work will have you feel like you've been all day doing all day and and it's exciting. I'm enjoying it. My body is killing me at the moment, right now and it's just, but it'll be so worth it in the end of the day, you know. Looking forward to it man. I really am and it's it's really fun. It's really fun 'cause it's just a different ball game than winter training, isn't it Liv?
Livvy: 100% obviously all the winter training we do in the winter, that's a big part of the, for the summer and it's just nice to see it all paying off and being back with our coaches as well. Being back with our training group just it may, I think during COVID it just makes you appreciate things so much more as well.
Jon: Is there any more big competitions for you both between now and?
Livvy: Well I've got the Gateshead Diamond League on the 12th of July. Yeah, 100 metres and then I think we're both doing Bedford, aren't we?
Mo: Yeah yeah. So next week I'm doing Coventry so it's a, it's a two day event so it's two finals and if that goes well I'll still do Bedford because you know what Jenny is like. You gotta show up Mo. You gotta show up. You got to perform. You gotta you gotta show up what you doing? And and David, David's going to be that in Coventry actually as well. So he's competing. He's back on a track now. So yeah, it's going to be a lot fun.
Jon: That's Jenny Archer your coach, right?
Mo: Yeah, yeah.
Jon:How are you kind of designated a coach, how does that happen? Who kind of says right, this is going to, be she's going to be your coach?
Mo: Uh, she was just there, really. I mean she was the coach. I, you know, when I first met her she was the coach and she was welcoming. She was, she's smart, she's clever, she's kind, but on the track man, you don't mess around with her, tell you that now!
Mo: Yeah yeah she is, yeah, she's fearless. I'll tell you that and she's the most genuine, honest people you ever meet. I think that's her Irish side I think!
Jon: So what was her kind of discipline as an, as an athlete?
Mo: Uh, she used to be, she said she used to be a 400 runner, actually a sprinter. Yeah and but, she always tells us the story of that. Funnily enough like, she had all the opportunities, but you know she was young and naive, but she chose coaching. But she said if she would do it again, she would do it, she would do the sprinting as a career and she always reminds us of that story and just take the opportunity while you’re young, you're old, just do it.
Jon: Yes. Very good. Listen, it's been really lovely talking to you both, thank you.
Mo: Thank you Jonathan.
Erin: Ah it was so great to hear from Livvy and Mo and get their insight in what it’s like to be a Paralympian. Just want to say a huge thanks to Jon, Livvy and Mo for such an enjoyable interview! I know I’ll definitely be following both of their sports journeys and cheering them on! And what I’ll do is I’ll pop links to their social profiles and any other relevant links in the show notes on our Simplecast site so you can go there and check those out.
As always, we would love to know what you thought of the episode, if you’ve got ideas for future episodes or any guests you’d really love to hear from. So please do email ideas to email@example.com or you can get in touch with us on Twitter or Instagram @LeonardCheshire. And please do like, share and subscribe to the podcast!
Thank you so much for tuning in everyone, stay safe, until next time, I’m Erin and this has been The Disability Download!