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POWER PLAY

British athlete Diane Modahl speaks candidly with Melissa Porter, from her amazing upbringing in Moss Side to using sport as a catalyst for change. 

Diane Modahl is considered a trail blazer in her industry, being the first British athlete to win her appeal against the British Athletic Federation (BAF), who eventually dropped their original unsubstantiated doping charge against her. Her legal ‘victory’ saw this unjust journey include being suspended, prosecuted and then banned from her beloved sport in 1994. The BAF, forcing her to leave the Commonwealth Games amidst black clouds of shame and the process of recovering her innocence, cost her personally over half a million pounds in legal fees.

I’m curious how one recovers after such a vexatious incident. I’m aware I’m sitting in the presence of power.  

Diane embodies a vision of excellence, focus and discipline. Her hair is styled in a neat and trendy bob offset by an immaculately made-up face. Her simple and stylish black short sleeved shift dress displays her lithe muscles cultivated from her years of training no doubt. She’s a slender and strong size 8 and orders a mint tea with a light beetroot and goats cheese salad for our lunchtime interview. But that’s all the surface superficial stuff and I’m curious about the girl who one day fell asleep and the next day woke up having achieved the title of seven times British Champion, unbeaten for six consecutive seasons and Commonwealth record holder over her specialist distance of 800m.

The woman who made decisions and took the action that saw her competing in four Olympic Games; Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney. What drives the choices, thoughts and behaviour of this perfect power house? Born in Moss Side, Manchester to a Jamaican mother and father, Diane was the youngest of seven children. She recalls her childhood was amazing and divulges details about her two up two down home that all nine lived in and ...that they initially shared with other families.

In my head, I’m questioning how she’s managed to frame this same situation described as amazing, most might consider to the contrary.

"We were financially poor but I dont remember being poor." Diane laughs, "All my siblings slept in the same room, three girls in a double bed, the twins in a single and the boys in a bunk in a tiny room next to ours."

Their childhood home was social housing and Dianes mum worked for the NHS as a nurse while her father rolled pastry for pies and sausage rolls at Walls in Hyde waking up at 5am each day to ride the two buses to work.

"I felt loved by my parents, Diane shares with me. We always had a hot meal and always a look of support from them. They were kind. Very generous with their time and they made us feel empowered, they were always there."

My proverbial penny dropped as Diane revealed her formative behavioural model of the world. Her parents were rich with love. Diane’s parents provided her with the road map of what it took to be a family which included sports days her dad, aka The Pied Piper, organised on land next to the Apollo in Longsight.

"I never won any of the races but my dad played with us, he encouraged us and had fun with us".  

Age 11, Diane believes was a pivotal juncture in her life and marked by a, perhaps chance, meeting with Alan Robertshaw, a coach who spotted her potential during a PE session at school.

"Alan believed in me and we all need someone to believe in us. I was able to trust my strong foundations and from there was able to start building what I now know were my career dreams. My strong stable home life was my starting point."

Alan had spotted Diane’s running potential to which she and her family were oblivious. We begin to discuss what she believes, the now deceased, Alan saw in her to commit his time to her development as the world class athlete she is considered today.

"Alan would have said I had the attitude to succeed, Diane continues. I was willing to do the work, to turn up on time, to listen and to ask questions. I’m able to execute what I’m being taught."

She looks at me straight in the eye with her grounded assertiveness, "talent is nothing without work ethic, and with work ethic coupled with talent, it’s at this point you have a winner. My definition of success is to cultivate the right attitude and to combine this with an unshakeable self-belief."

To which our hour comes to a close and I get my answer to my original thought; Diane is a leader and a champion. I have no doubt she will continue to win in all her endeavours in the way she achieved her victory in the courts and against the establishment that was the BAF (they pronounced themselves bankrupt post their Modal faux pas). Self-belief, attitude and action. Boom! This is something Diane is passionate about sharing. In 2010 along with her husband Vicente, co-founded the Diane Modahl Sports Foundation (DMSF). A registered charity, DMSF works in primary, secondary and academy schools and is committed in its mission to give young people a purpose in sport, education and employability by breaking down barriers and using sport as a catalyst for change.

dmsf.org.uk