Diane arrived at our meeting a mere 7 minutes late. Yet despite this perfect chance for me to enjoy the recently refurbished rather splendid interiors at The Stanneylands in Wilmslow, she had chosen to send me an apologetic message to inform of her imminent, albeit slightly delayed arrival status. One of the many reasons why Diane Modal is one of the most inspirational and integrity filled individuals I know. 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. This is abhorrent, that any human ought to have to deal with this level of abuse and I watch her with alert admiration as she talks. 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 display her lithe muscles cultivated from her years of training no doubt. She’s a slender and strong size 8 and I observe 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 7 times British Champion, unbeaten for 6 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 4 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, ‘..that we 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. She continues, ‘.We were financially poor but I don’t 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 Diane’s 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.’ she shares with me.
Age eleven, 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, I’m able to listen and I’m unafraid 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 Melissa 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!
In 2010 along with her husband Vicente, co-founded the Diane Modahl Sports Foundation (DMSF).
A registered charity, DMSF is committed in its mission to give young people a purpose in sport, education and employability.
By fostering aspiration, breaking down barriers and using sport as a catalyst for change, we act with integrity to create opportunities and instil resilience.
Our qualified coaches, mentors and trainers work in Primary, Secondary and Academy Schools and across the youth sector – delivering engaging sport and education programmes.
We rely on building partnerships with like-minded organisations who want to make a positive impact on the community and contribute to local skills, training and education. This enables our team to go out and do what we do best. Turning barriers into an opportunity to cross the DMSF Blue Line.
To find out more and to make a donation please go to http://www.dmsf.org.uk/donate/