Deborah Grace meets the inspirational former athlete Diane Modahl, now working to improve life chances for young people across Manchester.
Manchester’s Diane Modahl won 800m silver in the 1986 Commonwealth Games, and gold in 1990. She came third in the 1989 IAAF Grand Prix Final, just missed out on a World Championship medal in 1993 and won her race in The 1994 European Cup. She won six AAAs national 800m titles and represented Great Britain at four Olympic Games. In 1994, Diane was wrongly accused of using drugs and banned from the sport. Her name was subsequently cleared after a legal battle and she returned to competition in 1996, winning bronze at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. She retired in 2002 and went on to establish the Diane Modahl Sports Foundation, with husband, Vicente Modahl.
What are your earliest memories?
My first ever birthday party, aged ten, in Longsight, with my four sisters and two brothers. We were allowed fizzy pop. In those days you needed a bottle opener to remove the lid and I remember the sound of the bubbles rushing to the top! And a year later in high school, meeting Alan Robertshawe, a volunteer with Sale Harriers, at the end of a PE lesson. That chance meeting changed my life for ever.
How long have you lived in south Manchester?
We moved from Longsight to Didsbury in 1977 when I was 11 and we’re still there now. I remember being very happy, moving into this gorgeous house which had no heating, no electricity. Flipping freezing; we had to burn newspapers just to keep warm!
What was the inspiration behind the Diane Modahl Sports Foundation?
When I retired from international athletics, I went all the way back to the beginning. I didn’t think about the competitions, the medals, or travelling the world. What I thought about was the 11-year-old me being given an opportunity to be the best that I could be. So, when I co-founded the Foundation with my husband, Vicente Modahl, it was about breaking down barriers to enable youngsters growing up in deprived areas to fulfil their potential; not just to win medals, but to become amazing young people.
Tell me about the work of the Foundation.
We send mentors, trainers and coaches into inner-city schools to provide engaging, challenging and fun sporting activities. We encourage those with aspirations to be the next Jess Ennis or Darren Campbell. But it’s more than that; it’s about using sport as a catalyst for change. For instance, we’re not all going to be great academics, but sport can give some young people the confidence to go out and achieve 5 A*s – Cs. They can use those transferable skills, and the resilience learned through sport, to apply themselves in other areas.
Your greatest achievement?
It hasn’t happened yet! I’m proud when I see the confidence of a young person growing and developing. I’m most proud of my family and my girls (Imani 21, Gisella 10, Giorgia 9) and the fact that they are so generous of spirit. I’m proud of the way they are respectful and how my husband and I have raised them to be kind and grateful.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Never, never, never give up! Even when you are staring defeat in the face, just run through the line and give everything you have! Even today, it’s hard to contemplate what my husband and I endured when I was falsely accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs. That was 1994, but we’re still recovering and that won’t end until we’ve had justice. For us, that’s about compensation – not just the money, but a recognition of the wrong that was done to us. We’ve never even received an apology! I will never give up hope that one day the travesty and the injustice that we suffered will be recognised. It was heart-breaking, shocking and unfair!
Your greatest inspiration?
My mum, Lena Constance Edwards, an amazing human being who fills me with joy every single day. When I grow up I want to be just like her! Images by Mike Black Photography