Now the Olympics have come to a close all eyes are on the Paralympic athletes, and the pressure is on! We speak to Olivia Breen, GB sprinter and long jumper about the road to Rio, the sacrifices she makes for her sport and what’s next on the horizon
“For me, I love running – nothing makes me happier – so for me I have no choice – running is what I do.”
You are a sprint distance runner and Long Jumper. How did you first get into these?
I’ve always loved running – I always found it easier to do things quickly. Sports Day was my favourite day of the year as it was the one day in the school year when I was better than most of my friends at something.
I was a member of a local athletics club at junior school and then at aged 13 I joined City of Portsmouth AC. I was classified as a T38 athlete at the beginning of 2012. I began long jump in 2014 as there was no sprint event for my class in the Commonwealth Games
Take us through your training regime (particularly before Rio) how has this been balanced with any academic commitments?
Obviously training is my life and most of my time is spent doing it or thinking about it. I have just finished a BTEC level 3 at Oaklands College in St Albans in Coaching and Fitness but it has been hard to fit in the assignments around training and competing. Oaklands College have been really supportive and understanding but it has been quite stressful, even though I was doing a course that was relevant to my training.
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays tend to be my big training days. Recently I have been concentrating on my long jump so I will do a couple of hours of that in the morning. I may do some sprint work after this and then head to the gym. These three days I tend to be at Lee Valley for about 5 hours.
Tuesday tends to be a lighter day centred on circuit training, pool sessions and possibly a bike session. Then on Thursdays I will do a light circuit session.
At weekends, I will normally go to the track on a Saturday on my own and practice my race starts and do some short, explosive sprint work. Sunday is my day off and I try to see friends and be a normal 20 year old.
What has the experience in Rio been like?
After watching the Olympics, which have been amazing, I am really excited to start competing.
There has been much controversy about lack of funds for Paralympians- though not specifically for the UK. Do you think inability to secure funding is a deterrent for young disabled athletes?
It’s really sad that this situation has come about. The National Lottery in the UK provides great financial support for disability sport. It’s so sad for poorer countries that cannot afford to step in and help athletes. These athletes will have been training really hard for four years and it would be horrible if they can’t make it, through no fault of their own.
I don’t know if young people think about funding that much really. If you find you have a talent in a sport it is often when you are still living at home and often people involved in disability sport have supportive families who help them financially.
You have noted that your Cerebral Palsy affects your ability to train during cold weather; how do you keep up your training regime in the winter months?
Well we have to keep training whatever the weather! Fortunately, I train out of Lee Valley in London, which has an indoor facility – it makes an enormous difference to training in winter. I have noticed a marked difference in how I feel during the winter though and have to make sure to spend lots of time warming up to avoid injury.
Last winter I was away quite a lot so it didn’t impact me too much. I had the World Champs in Doha in October and then went back there in December. I then went to Tenerife in March. Having these times away really helps my body.
You have done outstandingly well over the last few years (particularly at the IPC Athletics European Championships). What have been your highlights since 2012?
I don’t think anything will top the night we won our relay medal at London 2012. It was just unbelievable. Competing in a packed out stadium in front of family and friends and 200 people from my school and then to medal was just phenomenal.
I really enjoyed the Commonwealth Games as well. Competing in front of a huge crowd again was awesome. However, I was annoyed with myself as I was still pretty inexperienced and didn’t concentrate as well as I should have. If I had jumped just 4 centimetres further I could have medalled. It was still an amazing experience though.
You are an ambassador for ‘Dreams Come True’. Tell us a bit about this role.
Dreams Come True is an amazing charity that literally helps to make the dreams of seriously ill children come true. My role as ambassador is to help promote their work and show other young people that dreams can come true! This can vary from giving presentations at charity dinners, telling my story and raising awareness for the charity or attending events with some of the children like the dream party at Hamleys toy store in London, when Hamleys closes its doors to the public and lets the charity’s children have the run of the shop.
I like these events the best as I really enjoy spending time with children. The conditions which some of these children have to live with are really terrible but they are so happy and cheerful and trying to be the best they can be. I love how positive they are.
If you could give one piece of advice for young athletes, what would it be?
My advice would be “Never give up”! Being an athlete is hard and you have to make lots of sacrifices like not going to parties, eating really healthily, not having late nights and lots of other things. Often things in an athlete’s life don’t go to plan – sometimes it may be your fault but sometimes it has nothing to do with you and it is just the way things are.
For me, I love running – nothing makes me happier – so for me I have no choice – running is what I do.
You are still just 20 years old, what is next for you?
It’s funny, because Rio has been at the front of my mind for the last four years – it has been my motivation to go training on those cold, wet winter mornings. I haven’t really thought beyond it. I will definitely take some time off after Rio and then start thinking of the next step.
Next year obviously there is the World Champs in London and it will be great to be back in the Olympic Stadium again. The Commonwealth Games in 2018 is Australia and I am really lucky as I have a sprint and long jump event there. So there is plenty to look forward to!