Podcast: Countdown to the Paralympics

The Disability Download

It's officially a year to go until Tokyo 2020.

To mark the countdown, we chat to our Ambassador and Paralympian Olivia Breen at the Superhero Series Triathlon in Windsor, and also Paralympian Judoko Christopher Skelley, and Cecilia Kumar, the Head of Disability at Sport England. 


Olivia Breen: Yeah. [Laughs] I love sport, it's just a big thing in my life. It can change and do so many different things for people, it opens so many doors, and you can meet so many amazing people, different pathways you know, so yeah sport is a huge thing in my life.

Christopher Skelly: My advice to anyone is to if times get hard when you can't do it. Try and be positive and get through that time because it will get better and you will find something that you're good at.

Cecilia Kumar: It's the messaging, that little is better than nothing. Every little bit counts. It's not about going off and running a marathon. It really is about small changes to your everyday life that you can kind of incorporate into your routine a much more likely to stick to sustainable behaviour change.

Cathy Lynch: Hello and welcome to The Disability Download. The Disability Download is brought to you by disability charity Leonard Cheshire. I'm Cathy Lynch.

Erin O'Reilly: And I'm Erin O'Reilly and on this podcast, we respond to current topics, share stories and open up conversations about disability. This month we're all about the Paralympics.

Erin: So first up we have our very own Jon Sim chatting to Paralympian Olivia Breen as she cheered on Team Leonard Cheshire the superhero's triathlon back in August.

Jonathan Sim: So it's a pleasure to be at Eton Dorney with Leonard Cheshire ambassador and Paralympian Olivia Breen. Lovely to meet you Olivia.

Olivia: Yeah it's very good to be here. Lovely to meet you too. It's a great event. I am so happy I'm so happy to be asked by Leonard Cheshire to be here and really looking forward to today, really excited.

Jonathan: Excellent. Can you give us an insight into your preparation for the Paralympics? You've obviously got quite a big event tomorrow. But talk us through the last couple of months and months ahead.

Olivia: So basically I train about five days a week, I have Thursday and Sunday off and just eat really healthily, eat sleep well and just trust your coach, trust your gym coach, trust your physio.

You’ve just got to have the right people around you and make sure you have a balance as well like seeing your friends not just be train train train. It’s obviously important training but I also think having a balance as well, being yourself and having a life.

I think that’s really important, you want the best preparation as well so just do your best and just try and enjoy it as much as you can.

Jonathan: And how do you feel physically. You had a personal best recently. Can you explain what happened?

Olivia: Yes, so I’m over the moon with how my season is going after having a bad injury last year after the Commonwealth Games I had a tendinopathy in my knee, which was a hole in my knee which was quite nasty so I had a lot of rehabbing to do and yeah, I’m just over the moon with how everything’s going. I took two-tenths of a second off of my PB in the 100m.

Now it’s just like wow, where did that come from so I’m really happy and really positive for the season and for next year. Obviously, we’ve got the world championships in Dubai in November so I’m really excited so hopefully, a few medals will be there and that’ll be a great progression for Tokyo next year yeah so fingers crossed.

Jonathan: So you're constantly setting yourself new targets with each competition including tomorrow's Diamond League outing is that a first for you.

Olivia: Yeah so tomorrow I’ve got the diamond league in Birmingham so that’ll be really exciting. Hopefully, it’ll be a really good time, it’ll be a good time to get Paralympic sport out there and try and get people to realise, you know, not all able-bodied events, it’s good to have Paralympics and get them to realise disability is a good thing as well you know, trying to get Paralympic sport out there as much as possible.

Jonathan: What's your what's your daily routine like? I mean how far do you have to go to train to meet your coach on a daily basis?

Olivia: So I live in Loughborough, I’m very lucky it’s a ten-minute walk from my house so I’m really lucky so I get up in the morning, have breakfast, have fruit – a coffee to keep me going through the day and then train. My training changes every day one day jump, one day circuits, you know, running one day gym – it changes every day it’s a good routine yeah you’ve got to rest well and recover to make sure you’re ready for the next day of training.

Jonathan: When do you first get together with Team GP after Christmas? When do you first gonna get together as a team?

Olivia: We normally get together March time then talk about the season and then we have a get together before the world championships or the Europeans or whatever we have coming up and we only get together twice a year kind of thing but it’s nice to get together as a team, catch up and stuff with your friends and see how they’re doing, it’s really nice.

Olivia: So there's obviously a bond.

Jonathan: Yeah there’s definitely a bond, yeah

Jonathan: Would you prefer a long jump or sprint.

Olivia: I’m better at Long Jump but I love the sprints. It’s my favourite thing yeah.

Jonathan: Is that a better buzz in a way?

Olivia: Yeah, it is – I just love it, it’s so quick and I love doing things quickly I’m a very fast person so there’s definitely a buzz

Jonathan: What other sports do you watch on tele?

Olivia: I love watching Wimbledon, I love Rugby – I’m not really a football person. My family is very sporty as well. I love all sports really, I love watching gymnastics, the Olympic games and swimming – yeah I love it, it’s really good.

Jonathan: It’s always been long jump and sprint the chosen discipline for you?

Olivia: Yeah 100% I love athletics, it’s been my whole life really. My dad used to be a sprinter and also I love athletics, he’s sporty as well.

Jonathan: Strange question in a way but what does sport mean to you? What does competitive sport mean to you?

Olivia: It means so much, you know, school was never really my thing. I love sport and I was the age of five, I was always walking around my mum had to chase me round the garden.

I love sport it’s a big thing in my life, it can change and do so many things for people, it opens so many doors and you can meet so many amazing people, different pathways so yeah sport is a huge thing in my life.

Jonathan: When you achieve your personal best when you get those personal achievements – how do you feel?

Olivia: So happy, so relieved, all the hard work has paid off and I’m onto the next one.

Jonathan: And what does it mean to you to kind of advocate for Leonard Cheshire and for disabled people.

Olivia: I love Leonard Cheshire, I met them in December last year. I met Selina Mills for the first time then, it’s such a good charity and you help disabled people become independent and help them be the best they can be, opening doors for people.

It’s a great charity to be a part of and be an ambassador for it and I’m so happy to be a part of it.

Jonathan: And this event is a kind of festival of that kind of independent living isn't it and giving people the chance to kind of take part in sports that they probably wouldn't do it on a daily basis and to kind of you know take part in active sport.

Olivia: Yeah I completely agree, it's so good for them to see other sports and to see what they’re good at, with their families as well to see their children to do well and have a family day out.

It’s really important, I would have loved to have done that when I was younger a day like this is so important for disabled people and their families so yeah.

Jonathan: Yeah excellent. Bearing in mind you're competing in a serious event tomorrow. Thanks so much for joining us.

Olivia: Thank you for having me.

Erin: And Olivia actually went on to get second in the T35 to 30 800 meters at the Birmingham Grand Prix the next day. So well done to Olivia on that one.

And next up we have Jono Drain a former Paralympic Judoka who works with us here at Leonard Cheshire.

He's chatting to his friend and former team-mate Chris Skelly about his preparations for the 2020 Paralympics.

Christopher: Well the first judo memory was when I stepped onto the mat Halton Price when I was five and I first got thrown it really hurt really hard to hit my head.

And then I realize actually this is quite good sport for me. I do like physical kind of activity and and I enjoyed the camaraderie I had with my friends and then that's the first big memory.

Jono Drane: Anything else or is that it?

Christopher: That's my first memory yeah and my last memory everything else has been a blur [laughs] it's my only memory.

Jono: So with your disability has it ever been a barrier to you participating in judo but I think we should open up to sport in general.

Christopher: I don't think having a visual impairment is a barrier to sport. I think it was judo has been very it's quite easy to adjust.

You just make the two people could connect if that makes sense so they never let go of introverts and always connected with the grips. I think in any sport you can adapt it to visual impairment and you've just got to somehow figure out how it suits that person.

I know that go ball. There's another sport. They use their ears a bit more so they did have a blindfold on and they use the attribute of hearing to listen to where the ball is.

So their kind of hearing is a lot more, better to pinpoint where the ball is. Rowing is not really difficult sport to adapt you just have people talk to you constantly.

Jono: Wait, you're going off on a tangent here Chris. Have you ever done rowing?

Christopher: No I've not done rowing but.

Jono: This isn't the question because it's about your experience.

Christopher: [Laughs] You said talk about other sports as well.

Jono: Yeah. No I mean as in your experience of sports I mean you used to play obviously quite a bit of rugby and stuff.

Christopher: No it's a stop because I couldn't see the ball anymore.

Jono: Well that's a perfect example of a barrier to sport that kind of stuff is what we're looking for. Not what you think rowing is. [Laughs]

So I know the answer to this question but let's ask anyway. So your first experience with the Paralympic Games was.

Christopher: Rio. Yes.

Jono: Tell me about that.

Christopher: So actually. So I'll do a little bit. My first proper experience was when I was on the pilot inspiration programme in 2012.

I've got to go to London and kind of live in the village and experience that kind of experience. Which I think set me up quite nicely for Rio which I qualified for 2016.

And for me it. My best the best memories of stepping into the village. And just to kind of just stick the. How. So big and it kind of is a dream come true.

You worked so hard for them four years to get there and you worked so hard as your mates including you Jonathan.

Jono: Yeah.

Christopher: You know we kind of got that our one focus was the Paralympic games and it was just so incredible to be there and experience it.

Jono: So with that in mind let's think about looking forward to and to Tokyo now. You're in the middle of a qualification period.

Christopher: Yeah. We've had. Qualifications I had in November of last year at the World Championships.

Took a bronze there and I'm just dropping that in there and then I've done well at last few competitions.

Jono: Yeah you have.

Christopher: Which put me in a very good position for next year but you know we've still got three tough competitions coming up and hopefully they can do quite well there to get myself kind of in a good position to.

Try and get a medal this time and not mess up [Laughs].

Jono: So you've glazed over two really big things for me as a friend. I'm particularly very extremely proud of you. One, you picked up a medal at the World Championships.

Christopher: Well it's the world qualifiers, it's not really the world championships, but I took a silver at the World qualifiers. Which is basically world championships this year. And took a bronze of European Championships but it put me in one of the better positions if that makes sense.

Jono: So where was your world ranking earlier this year?

Christopher: So I won the competition which kind of put in a good position anyway but I'm now world number one. World number one still at this competition. So if I can keep getting good points I can stay in round World number one World number two area. So we want to we want to be seated for the games.

Jono: What is the next year look like for you?

Christopher: So we take Uzbekistan is in two weeks time today. So that will kind of get ready for that. And then we have a couple of weeks off just but we are really like going to downtime while I go on holiday.

And then we kind of crack into the next big period of what we call building the engine for the next year. So it wasn't rigid. Yes.

Jono: So what kind of engine would you like the engine would you call yourself?

Christopher: I know that I'd say I'm a Ford Raptor. I want to be Mustang. 

Jono: Are you far off from the Mustang I’m not entirely sure I know [laughs]

Christopher: I don't know I think I think I'm in a good position. I need I need to get for me I need to get a lot more stronger. Than in my strength. I've got very good condition level but my strength needs to improve a lot to beat some good players in my category.

So got a big training block then, kind of like five months to Nottingham. And then we have a competition in Nottingham. And then we have a last competition for qualification in Azerbaijan.

So by then hopefully we know where I'm seated and hopefully, I'll qualify and then it'll be 12 weeks to the games.

Jono: Nice. As in terms of like time to think about how particularly with being such a successful athlete. What kind of things what advice would you give to a young kid to a disability about the impact sport can have?

Christopher: Quickly I would say I'm I've been very lucky with my success. I've worked hard but I've been very lucky as well.

Jono: I don't I don't I don't think I necessarily agree with that. I always find that fascinating when people say I've been lucky.

I think the fact that you can follow up with your hard work that's the reason why.

Christopher: Yeah I mean the main reason for me for me my advice to anyone is it's just to kind of. If times get hard and you're training. Or when you want to go somewhere you can't do it. Try and be positive and get through that time because it will get better and you will find something that you're good at.

So I mean like when I when I lost everything my job and my drive and everything I found something by accident.

It was always there my in my life which is judo I never thought of doing it as a job and then until someone actually pointed out to me I was like OK.

And so for me, I just think you've got to keep keep going keep going and moving forward. And some of it will come along that will help you to progress in life.

And when you do get a glimmer of it don't look back. And always be positive. For me, it's my advice to anyone who is just kind of if times get hard and you're training or when you want to go somewhere you can't do it.

Try and be positive and get through that time because it will get better. And you will find something you're good at.

Jono: That's lovely. What kind of things, what do you sort of like attribute your mindset to and the fact that you're able to see things and to see this rather than things being a threat seeing them as an opportunity?

 I am hoping you say your Mum because I know that your Mum is a very wonderful person and she has a lot to do with it.

Christopher: Yeah I think it might be upbringing with my mother, having a very positive attitude as well. She's never let me rest on my laurels.

She's always want me to get better at something or try something new. I'm very grateful for her input my life. And then also having have another people around me like the grandparents were a big influence.

Even my Dad you know he works so hard at his job. He kind of had great work in kind of ethics like kind of watching him working and you know just being so focussed on something.

For me as well as having that rest as well. It's good being focused but having a good time to relax your mind and get away from the pressures of what we do.

So that's the biggest thing I think being able to learn but also know when to kind of stop learning and relax if that makes sense.

Jono: That's about the advantages of having a hearing aid and being able to turn them off.

Christopher: I didn't want to say that but yes OK. [Laughs] Or just be a serial snacker.

Jono: Serial snacker, you just drown yourself in Doritos.

Christopher: No no pork pies and onion rings.

Jono: Right. So this one's a little bit difficult not difficult in the sense of like obviously. Just. Do you think that there's enough opportunities for young disabled people to participate in sport and well I'm not I suppose I'm not interested in are there.

#It's just whether you think that there could be more and there could be more done to remove the barriers that some people face.

Christopher: I think there's a lot of opportunity for people to try sport especially with a lot of like social media now Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. I know about Paralympics GB very good at trying to get people into sport with these kind of special days where they have people to go and try out sport. I think it's para-potential days they call them and see if they like to do it.

There's a lot more of them nowadays compared to when I started. So that's a big positive. I think it's also the onus on the on the athlete. On the person who wants to get in sport because. There's all these opportunities out there. But you've actually got to go look for it. Sometimes. You sometimes you say you come across something that you like or you stumble across something you like what you might were to be in your life and you've not really looked into that.

So I do think it's also on the person to go and look around and see what. And try stuff and try something new because they might actually find a sport which you're really good at but you never knew they really good. So I do think it's also on the person themselves they're going to look for it.

Jono: Yeah I think that's a really interesting point. Yeah.

Christopher: I think as I say compared to where I started there was not a lot of para-potential days and then and then since kind of London and after there's been a lot more para-potential days. I think since London in 2012 it's become a lot better and it will still get better.

Jono: Do you think there's more more public support with the Paralympics and it's lot more visible awareness?

Christopher: Especially in Britain. I think Britain is an amazing country for that actually for the publicity of Paralympic sport which obviously channel 4 being kind of the main kind of push for that.

But no it's been it's been a definitely an increase in knowledge as of Paralympic sport and especially now with social media because there's so much more opportunity to publicise it as well.

Jono: Right. Thank you so much.

Christopher: Not a problem mate anytime.

Cathy: And you can follow Chris's journey to Tokyo on Twitter and Instagram. So on Twitter he's @ChristopherSke2 and on Instagram he is @Christopher.Skelley.

Erin: So for our final segment this podcast we've got Jon Sim interviewing Cecilia Kumar who is head of disability over at Sport England.

Jonathan: Welcome to Leonard Cheshire, Cecilia.

Cecilia: Thank you very much. It's great to be here.

Jonathan: If we could start just by asking you to describe your role with Sport England.

Cecilia: Yeah. So Sport England's role is to work to increase participation levels among sport and physical activity and within the disability team our aim is to reduce the significant participation gap that exists between disabled and non-disabled people when it comes to physical activity.

So I work a lot with national disability charities like yourself as well as other sports organisations some disability specific some not. And we work across all of the teams that support England as well to support them to make sure that our investments are including disabled people.

Jonathan: Sports England in many ways have kind of started from scratch in terms of disability. And I was particularly interested in the disability mapping on your website. Can you talk us through that a little?

Cecilia: Yeah. So we we realised quite a few years ago now that we didn't have enough insight and evidence around disabled people's activity levels as well as more general more general evidence around impairments, geographical locations, age, different kind of demographic breakdowns that we need to gather.

So with that wasn't just in the sports or physical activity space that information was maybe out there but it wasn't all in one place. So we did a big piece of work at Sport England with the support of Activity Alliance as well to map disability and on the back of that, we developed a guide around how to engage disabled people within sport and physical activity which have been really useful resources for the sector as well.

Jonathan: And some of the core facts that have come out of your research include that 43 per cent of disabled people are less likely to be active.

Cecilia: Yes so that's through our active lives survey which was originally active people. That's a significant national survey that we do twice a year.

And we know through that that if you have a disability if you have an impairment you're you're twice as likely to be inactive compared with non-disabled people. It's actually slightly over 42 percent compared with 20 percent of the non-disabled population. And in terms of inactivity and you're also if you are inactive and you're disabled you're much more likely to be doing no activity at all than non-disabled people.

So there's a really significant challenge there in terms of the participation gap and it's not just about the solutions to that and not just about creating more opportunities they're about really digging into understandings about why people feel that they can't be active.

Jonathan: In your time at Sport England to date have you found the grassroots sport is slowly becoming more inclusive?

Cecilia: I'd say cautiously yes. I know that we invest to make that happen. We have a very broad range of investments which reflects the fact that disabled people are not a homogenous group. And so it's not a one size fits all kind of approach to our investment but absolutely we invest in organisations like Activity Alliance to run the inclusive activity programme which is all about upskilling coaches and deliverers.

So there's workforce pieces going on. We work around supporting social workers to be able to support the people they work with to be more physically active. So there's a whole range of work going on around making the workforce more inclusive more person-centred and thinking about the needs of disabled people, which in many cases are not different to non-disabled people.

It's just around creating an inclusive environment where people feel that they can ask questions they feel that they can. If there is anything that they might need to be adapted or if they might need to take a break that is a really comfortable environment for that to be able to take place which is the same for lots of people taking part in activity especially for the first time.

Jonathan: We're starting a countdown to the Paralympics here. The last two have been hugely successful TV figures were up, attendances at the events themselves were fantastic. How can you harness that enthusiasm to fuel disabled sport participation?

Cecilia: So you'll probably see that the BPA has just launched their impossible to ignore programme which is fantastic and that's all around harnessing the power of the Paralympics to change perceptions more widely in society and that's based on evidence that they have around that which is which we've seen through Rio and through London that the Paralympics has the ability to really change particularly non-disabled people's perceptions around disability.

And then I think for disabled people wanting to take part in physical activity is a really great opportunity to kind of see positive role models and to inspire all of us to take part in sport and physical activity.

So at Sport England we're investing and travelled to Tokyo which is through our families fund actually, it's a children and young person investment. So if you've got any kids who are at primary school age that's all around supporting families to be active together. And we're sending out information to all primary schools in the country to be able to take part in that. You can find information about that on our website. That's a really fun inclusive programme.

And you know wherever people find inspiration is fantastic. So that might be from the Paralympics. It might also be that you're inspired by your friends your family the people that you take part in sport with an activity local activity centre or whatever it is. So I think for us at Sport England I think we're really aware that there's so many different ways that people are influenced in our lives and we have so much different, it might be through people, it might be through social media, you know might be through celebrities, it might be through the Paralympics and we would just make sure that we're opening up as many opportunities and avenues for people to feel that they really want to engage and that when they do those opportunities are available for them.

We launched our we are undefeatable campaign last week which is all around getting people with long term health conditions to be more physically active and the principles that are in that are the same ready for anybody looking to do more activity or looking to take up some physical activity. It's the messaging that little is better than nothing that every little bit counts. It's not about going off and running a marathon it really is about small changes to your everyday life that you can kind of incorporate into your routine are much more likely to stick when it comes to sustainable behaviour change.

Doing it with other people with friends and family. We hear so often in the evaluations that we do that the social side of it is actually much more. It's first and foremost the physical activity benefits that you get from doing sport are almost secondary.

People want them but really the bit that makes them really really want to do it again and want to do it regularly is is the social engagement. And I think that's particularly true when we're talking about disabled people because we know that disabled people are more likely to experience loneliness. So that's really important for us as well.

Jonathan: So what is that first step for disabled people interested in kind of getting off the sofa and becoming involved in local sport? And how can Sport England help with that?

Cecilia: So I think there are loads of different ways of doing it and it does depend what you want to do and what kind of sports you want to get involved and how you want to do it. So, for example, the para-sport website has lots of opportunities of events going on. So to the national disability sport organisations — so their impairment specific organisations such as British blind sport, UK deaf sport, cerebral palsy sport. They'll have events going on that they're running in local areas.

It's also talking to you might not want to take part in a in a traditional sporting environment. It might be talking to your sibling or to your support worker about how you can be more physically active in your day to day life incorporating regular walking. There's loads of really great programmes that we run so depending on you know as I mentioned round the world challenge is running in quite a lot of locations that will be increasing throughout the next few years.

We invest in sense to support people with complex communication needs to be physically active. So if you're engaged with a disability organisation then talking to them about what services that they've got that might that might be suitable. If you don't want to do that then I think looking looking online looking at activity alliance, looking at Para-sport for the opportunities that are available. But if it's not something that's right for you I wouldn't let.

I think the message is really very much, don't let that stop you. It doesn't need to be something that's a very sort of traditional sporting environment there's so many different ways that you can get active. You can do videos in your living room you know and we really want to kind of facilitate and support all of those ways that just as important as actually you know signing up paying a membership fees and joining in that very kind of traditional club route which can be absolutely great as well.

Jonathan: Cecelia, thank you very much.

Cecilia: No problem. Thanks for having me.

Erin: And anyone looking to find out about opportunities in their local area. You can get in touch with your local active partnership. There's actually 43 across England so go online and have a look and see which ones closest to you.

Cathy: So if any of you who are wondering what the BPA is when Cecilia mentioned it in her interview the BPA stands for the British Paralympic Association. 

And that's all we've got time for this episode. We hope you've enjoyed it and found it really useful. Give us a rating on Itunes. If you have any suggestions for feature topics you'd like us to talk about or get people on the podcast email us. Send your email to disabilitydownload@leonardcheshire.org.

Erin: And you can also get in touch by tweeting us @LeonardCheshire. We'd really love to know what you think. We really hope you tune in for the next instalment.

Cathy: We'd like to say a special thank you to our guest reporter Jono Drane.

Erin: And of course to everyone else that took part this podcast.

Cathy: I'm Cathy Lynch.

Erin: And I'm Erin O'Reilly.

Cathy and Erin: This has been The Disability Download.