Young Sportsperson of the Year 2018, Olivia, knows only too well how hard it is to feel like you ‘fit in’. She describes how finding wheelchair athletics and having cochlear implant surgery has changed her life.
“I was born premature at just 24 weeks and spent nearly 6 months in a special baby care unit at the hospital after suffering a bleed to my brain. At 1 year old I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy affecting all four of my limbs, but mainly my legs. As I grew older, I was also diagnosed with severe hearing and sight impairments.
My early life had certainly not been easy. Growing up I struggled at school and I didn’t really know where I fitted in. Until, at the age of 11 I watched the London 2012 Paralympics and I thought ‘I want to try that!’. I felt inspired to try sport to boost my confidence so in 2014 I joined the Weir Archer Academy who coach and train wheelchair athletes of all abilities and levels. I loved the feeling of being able to put all my anger into the wheels if I’d had a bad day.
Joining the Academy has given me a life that I didn’t expect to have, and the focus to do well and, fast forward 5 years, I am now an Internationally competing athlete and ranked number 1 in the UK across several distances.
Earlier this year I made the decision to have cochlear implant surgery and I was fitted with bilateral Cochlear™ Nucleus® 7 sound processors. It has been a tough time learning and re-learning sounds, there are so many I had never heard before or even knew made a sound, like the zip on a jacket. Things you would ordinarily take for granted were just incredible to me.
What were my hopes when it came to racing with my Cochlear implants? Well, I had never heard the start gun before so my reaction times were slow, and I always felt that additional stress at the start of the race. The race times I have achieved on the track this year wouldn’t have been possible without my Cochlear implants – I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today or feel the confidence that I do without them.
My Cochlear implants haven’t just played a big part in improving my racing, they have helped me enormously in my everyday life. They’ve given me increased independence and the ability to have proper conversations and talk on the phone – things that would never have been possible before. It’s been completely life changing in so many ways and far beyond what I ever expected.
2018 was a year to remember and I was honoured to be invited to the Pride of Sports Awards in London and completely blown away when I was awarded the Young Sportsperson of the Year 2018 award.
After another personal record-breaking season in 2019, my goal now is the 2024 Paralympics in Paris. My racing category is not currently recognised by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) so I am attending all the key race meets and hoping I can help influence change for the inclusion of my category for 2024.
I feel very passionately about inclusion in sport and I am an ambassador for Ability Today, an online platform providing news and information on products, services and organisations that help and support the disabled community.
Since joining the Weir Archer Academy and getting my Cochlear implants I have grown in confidence and accepted that having a disability does not define who you are, nor should it be a barrier to life. No mountain is ever too high.