“I had no idea what the future would be like for Olivia. We thought we would open up a coffee shop and she would own and run it.”
Sports lawyer Michael Breen has never been afraid to voice his opinions but he has every right to be fiercely proud and passionate when discussing his daughter’s vulnerabilities and achievements.
Olivia Breen, 23 and born with cerebral palsy, won relay gold at London 2012, suffered a difficult Rio Games in 2016 during her time as a Sky Scholar (last in the long jump and dropped just before the relay final), only to hit back and become World and Commonwealth champion.
As Sky celebrates eight years of its Scholarship programme, Michael Breen opens on how being a Scholar boosted Olivia and how her condition and character have shaped her remarkable journey.
“Olivia has had to deal with many physical problems; she has cerebral palsy, learning difficulties and she is deaf.
“Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine she would become a professional athlete.
“Even if we had those dreams we’d never thought she would be able to achieve all she has achieved as a professional athlete.
“Given everything she’s faced with, her tenacity, dedication and determination to carry on in the face of adversity, she’s never given up.
“She’s thought she deserves to be here and decided to make her mark in Paralympic sport and believed she was a true Paralympian.
“Para sport has many difficulties anyway but it’s all about fair competition and being the best you can be. She is definitely the best she can be. That is why we are so very proud of her.
“Being a parent of a para athlete is interesting!
“Helen (Olivia’s mum) does most of the work but it’s all about the team and as a team there are lots of things to organise.
“Things like making sure all the supplements she takes are OK, keeping across the anti-doping whereabouts scheme and lots of other practical stuff.
“And for Olivia, she gets on and trains. She can train 365 days a year but she’ll need to be focused for that one day in the year when she needs to be on it.
“Our proudest day was her winning bronze at London 2012. She had just turned 16 and was competing in front of all her school mates. Then she won long jump gold at the London World Championships in 2017 and gold at the Commonwealths in Australia.
“There are a few highs but there have been many bad days. Sport is difficult but there are many difficulties in Para Olympic sport which make things hard and unfair.
“Overall, it’s a great thing to do and we are happy that it makes Olivia happy. The high days just about balance out the low days!
“We are so very grateful that Olivia got on the Scholarship. We were delighted and excited when we found out and the first thing Tony Lester (Head of Inspiring Young People) said was get a professional coach.