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Black History Month: Audrey Livingston’s Journey Through Swim, Bike and Run

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Audrey Livingston’s journey through triathlon has seen her go from strength-to-strength since joining the sport in 2006, however this hasn’t stopped her from pushing for change and demanding representation across the sport.

With her first foray in the sport being a charity fundraiser, Livingston is now a level 3 triathlon coach, national Technical Official, coaching mentor, member of the Triathlon England council, part of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and is soon to become the Chairperson of her local triathlon club.

“I started triathlon because I wanted to raise money for the charity, Sickle Cell, and running a marathon was not top of the list,” said Livingston.

“I might have subconsciously been influenced by watching triathlon enter the Olympic arena in 2000 at Sydney and then there were articles in various newspapers about ways to raise money and triathlon was mentioned there too.

“I was working in media and one of my clients took part in the London Triathlon and I went to support. My take away thought was that there were people of all shapes, sizes and ability and I thought that if they could do it, so can I.”

She continued: “My thought process was that I can run, I can swim, and I can ride a bike, so how hard can it be? This was despite having not ridden a bike since I was 16 and I joined the club in my early 40s. On top of that, my version of swimming was to take a deep breath and swim until I ran out of air.”

From there, Livingston joined Crystal Palace Triathlon Club and gradually fell in love with the sport, going from casual participant to taking an active role in her local area.

After two years of enjoying the sport, Livingston became a member of her local club’s committee and volunteered to assist the club’s coach with a newly organised junior section. She followed this by simultaneously completing both a level 1 coaching course and level 1 race referee course and continued to progress along each route.

Livingston added: “I was also co-opted onto the London Region Committee as the Coaching Coordinator and have been responsible for CPDs for London coaches. The best one I did was working with GSK to do a two-part nutrition course which meant I met people like Dame Kelly Holmes.”

Livingston has shared a lot of amazing memories in multisport, travelling to Denmark, Hungary and Transylvania as a Technical Official and has become in many ways an ambassador for ethnic minorities within the sport.

“I sometimes feel like I’m the only person that people can speak to with regards to minorities, which is good and bad at the same time,” said Livingston.

“I think that, as there are so few black people in the sport and not many who are as vocal or prominent as me, that sometimes I feel like the ‘token’ person of colour. Hopefully, this piece will change that.

“My experiences in the sport have been mostly good, as I was lucky to join a club where it was all about training and socialising together. No one was put in categories or labelled, no one asked questions about how I cope with my hair or assumed that I was a fast runner.”

She continued: “There were a couple of other black male members of the club, one other black female and one Asian female from what I remember, and we had a paratriathlete.”

There have however been times when being a black woman has resulted in Livingston being treated differently, saying: “I have gotten strange looks or people may have done a double take. I have on many occasions been and still am mistaken for a black male, I know I have short hair and an athletic build, but it is not a nice experience and still angers and upsets me.

“One thing that springs to mind when asked about my experiences is what a friend asked me many years ago. She was an old boss and a friend of mine and asked if I had ever missed out on a job because of my colour. I responded; how would I know?”

Livingston declared: “Personally, I did not have that feeling from anyone that ‘you can't do that’. I tend to do what I want, when I want, because I can. If it does not work out, move on and try something else.”

Throughout her 14 years in the sport, progress has been made in certain areas and multisport has been moving forward with regards to representation of ethnic minorities, but at times progress has been slow.

“I have noticed that the British Triathlon board has changed from looking predominantly white and male to a more diverse representation of the world we live in today,” said Livingston.

“I would go to events as a competitor or as a Technical Official and be the only black person there, lately there are more people from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds at events as competitors, although I do feel like the imagery used after events still doesn’t necessarily reflect this.

“The number of officials still seems low and there are a few coaches out there but not many I know and have personally met, maybe three or four at various workshops.”

Livingston continued: “It’s important we show that the sport is open to anyone and everyone. Also, that triathlon is acknowledging equality, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the sport from grass roots to board level and beyond. Currently we are doing more than some sports and their NGBs but there is always more we can be doing.”

She concluded: “I’m in the position now where I can influence people coming up because they can see that I’m a coach, an athlete, a Technical Official and a coaching mentor. So, you don’t have to be an athlete. There are plenty of other opportunities in this sport and that’s what I find really important.

“I don’t want to feel like the only one. I hope there are other black and Asian people in the sport that see this and come forward.”

Next week, we will be speaking to Livingston about the Black Lives Matter movement, how we can improve representation in the sport and what her hopes are for the future of swim, bike and run.

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