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My deafness didn't stop me winning gold in the Commonwealth Games

Photo: Olivia Breen won gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. (Photo by Gary Mitchell)

The starting pistol goes off, and Olivia Breen shoots forward. Within seconds, she’s surged past her competitors to win the T38 100m final in this year’s Commonwealth Games. “Winning a gold medal in the 100m had taken me over 10 years to accomplish. It was the most incredible day of my life,” she says.

Olivia (26) has cerebral palsy and competes in T38 events, which are for athletes with coordination impairments. She’s also moderately to severely deaf, something she feels is entirely overlooked in the sporting world. “In my athletic life, my deafness doesn’t count as a disability,” she says. “I’m the only deaf girl in T38 but this isn’t regarded as an additional disability.”

When every second counts, not being able to hear the starting pistol can be a big problem for Olivia. “I have difficulty hearing the gun and have to wait for the other girls to respond before I push out of the blocks, which has always been a disadvantage,” Olivia says.

Alongside the 100m event, Olivia also competes in the long jump. “It’s very difficult to communicate with my coach in long jump competitions as coaches aren’t allowed by the pit,” Olivia explains. “I can’t hear what he’s saying and have to rely on lip-reading, which is a disadvantage for me.”

Despite the challenges, Olivia has worked hard and won many medals in her career. She also has no trouble advocating for herself both on and off the track. “I’m not a shy person. If I can’t hear what someone’s saying, I’ll ask them to face me so I can understand them,” she says.

Olivia is now looking forward to the IPC World Championships in Paris next year as well as the 2024 Paralympic Games. She has some words of advice for other aspiring athletes: “Find a sport you enjoy, work hard, believe in yourself and never give up.”

Winter 2022 Families magazine