20 Mar Interview with Diane Modahl
Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist Diane Modahl and CEO of the Diane Modahl Sports Foundation (DMSF), set up the Foundation with her husband Vicente in 2010 to make a difference in her home-town Manchester. DMSF now works with over 1000 young people across North, South and Central Manchester per week and brings coaching, mentoring and educational opportunities to children and young adults.
Tell me a little bit about your upbringing, how did you get into athletics?
My earliest memories of athletics are growing up in Longsight in Manchester and every summer my dad would round up my brothers and sisters, (I have four sisters and two brothers) and would organise relay races on the field at the back of the house. We would race from one lamppost to another and it was so brilliant. I also remember though that I never won those races! In the summers after racing each other, we would wait for the ice cream van to come and that was all the incentive I needed to keep going. At eleven years old, whilst in my first year in high school, a PE Teacher invited a coach from Sale Harriers to come along. The coach — Alan Robertshaw, told me that I had potential and asked if I would like to join a running club. I said yes and that’s where my athletics journey started. Three times a week, every week, I would be driven to Sale Harriers. I achieved my first international vest when I was 16 and won my first global medal when I was 19. I won a silver medal at the 1986 Commonwealth Games, before going one better and getting gold in Auckland in 1990. It’s all about hard work, whether that be running cross country, road races or track. My progression was about having a brilliant coach that would enable me to get to the Olympic Games.
What was the proudest moment of your career?
There have been so many, the one that springs to mind, would have been qualifying for my first Olympic games. When you achieve that, you get an official letter from the queen, I was in the running to qualify and knew I was the best British athlete at the time. However, I pulled my hamstring so was a bit unsure as to whether I would be able to get there. One day, before the Olympics, I came home and there was a letter waiting for me and it said: Her Majesty the Queen would be delighted if you would attend the 23rd Olympiad in Seoul. For an athlete that is a pinnacle of the career – everyone dreams of the Olympics.
When did you set up DMSF & why?
Vicente and I set up the charity in 2010, we reflected very much on the good, the bad and the ugly that sport has to offer, all in equal measure. We were reflecting on the challenges and recognised that there were still barriers to climb over for young people. I was lucky enough to have a volunteer that would take me to and from training, but then you must take into account the cost of training, the style of coaching and the timing of the sessions. We know there is lots of potential, but a lack of opportunity for young people in areas of deprivation and wanted to fill a gap and provide a sense of purpose through sport and beyond. In order to make the Foundation a success we had to go where young people already are, primary and secondary schools and use sport as a catalyst for change – in the right place, style and time and to ensure that aspirational opportunities were accessible. Due to the footprint that Team DMSF have created across Manchester, we were successful in getting funding from Sport England – they wanted us to extend the programme into community youth clubs, to compliment the work we are already doing, in schools. We headed straight into, the hard to reach audience, 14-25-year olds who are not already engaged in sports. That’s where the DMSF Hub was born, and now we deliver in 33 venues across Manchester.
What is your goal with DMSF?
The team’s ambition, is to extend our reach across the whole of Greater Manchester with the ten boroughs, we currently deliver across four. We want to grow our footprint and become the place of choice for any school or community group who are serious about raising the aspirations of young people in both sport and education.
Where do you see DMSF in a years’ time?
We work with over 1000 people each week; our immediate priority is to be able to sustain funding as we see public funds rapidly shrinking. Medium term, we intend to deliver more programmes into schools and community projects delivering up to 50 programmes and celebrating our successes. Longer term, we are seeking to establish the charity by securing a principle sponsor.
For any potential future investors reading this interview, why should they invest in DMSF?
The impact that sport can have on many young people’s lives is proven. Not only the physical benefits but also the transferable skills of resilience, positivity and commitment. An investment into DMSF would activate a business brand and ensure that young people in deprived areas have a genuine chance of raising their aspirations and achieving their full potential through sport and beyond.