More Londoners than ever are working out – and it’s not all about beach bods and muscle gains. Amy Smith hears inspiring stories from exercise evangelists. Portraits Andy Parsons
Coco Victoria Briden, 26, plays midfield for Hackney Women’s Football Club. She is also playing for Great Britain as a striker in the Deaflympics this month.
‘Sport makes me feel good. Living in London can be lonely: it’s a big place and it can be hard. The Hackney club is like a family, everyone is so welcoming.
‘I’ve played football since I was six, just with boys in the street and the park. I had a friend, Sarah, who I’d known since I was born, and we did everything together. Football was our thing: we would travel together, play together. She died at 19 and I just stopped playing. A few years passed and I realised I could play in her memory.
‘I used to be a size 18. It has taken me a long time to get to the shape I am; in the last two years my weight has dropped massively. Now I’m toned and the definition is starting to show; with the Deaflympics, I’m exercising like a maniac! Playing for Great Britain, I have to keep fit and when the season is on, I’m playing a match and training once a week as well as hitting the gym three or four times a week.
‘The deaf community is so close and enriching. We have a unique language, so when everyone gets together we can always understand each other, even when we’re from different countries. There’s no community like it. I think it makes us better football players because we have to be so alert. Hearing people just call out “Man on!” With deaf people you can’t wave about, you’ll look like a twat on the pitch, so you have to always be one step ahead. I’ve introduced other deaf players to the Hackney club. We’ve taught players sign language – mostly swearwords!
‘When I went to Bulgaria to play for England I was on the bench all the time, but in Thailand in 2015, I managed to get on the pitch and I scored within a minute. It was one of my proudest moments – I was running with my arms spread out like a bird – that feeling, the butterflies. How many people can say they’ve scored for their country?’
Hackney Women’s FC plays at Hackney Marshes. The Summer Deaflympics take place in Turkey, until Sun Jul 30.
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