“Everything good in my life has come about as a result of something bad.”
As the realisation suddenly hits her, Liv Cooke laughs in wonder as it sinks in her impressive achievements have resulted from turning negatives into positives.
Liv, 18, who lives in Leyland, was named women’s world freestyling champion at Super Ball 2017, the world open freestyle football championships.
Not only is she the youngest ever world freestyling champion, Liv won with full votes and didn’t drop a single point.
In a bizarre twist of fate, Liv owes her amazing success to injuries as it was a back injury which first led her to freestyling while a broken foot reinforced her desire and ambition to become world champion.
Liv, a former Balshaw’s Church of England High School pupil, says: “All the best things that have happened to me were triggered by the worst things and injuries.
When I played football, whenever we had our water breaks, I was always trying out tricks with the football. I had no idea it was freestyling. I thought it was just a bit of fun doing tricks.
“I always think everything happens for a reason and that there is good in every bad. If you have this mentality, I think it manifests into reality.”
Liv came second in the 2016 women’s world tour final in Melbourne, Australia, after breaking her foot in the final.
She says: “I truly don’t think I would be world champion today if I hadn’t broken my foot!
“The fact I wasn’t able to do any freestyling for four months gave me more hunger and I knew I would come back stronger.”
With a maturity and confidence that belies her years, Liv reveals she meticulously planned every detail of how to become world champion and knew she would achieve her ambition.
She says: “Within six months of training for freestyle, I said to my dad: ‘I am going to be world champion in freestyling before the age of 21’.
“I wasn’t good at freestyling when I started out but I believed in myself. I actually planned to win at the world championships in Prague. There was no doubt in my mind that I would win gold.”
Liv fell into freestyling almost by accident as she had always played football before then.
Liv, who lives with her parents John and Pam and has older brothers Jack, 23 and Sam, 22, recalls: “My brothers both loved football and this influenced me as I wanted to be like them.
“Ever since I was little, I was always out in the street kicking a football.
“I ended up joining Preston North End Girls Football Club at the age of about nine or 10 and worked my way up.
“When I was 14, I signed for Blackburn Rovers Centre of Excellence.”
At the age of 16, Liv made the risky decision of quitting football to concentrate on freestyle - described as the art of self expression with a football while performing tricks.
Liv explains: “When I played football, whenever we had our water breaks, I was always trying out tricks with the football. I had no idea it was freestyling. I thought it was just a bit of fun doing tricks.”
Liv picked up a recurring back injury while playing football. When she was 15, the back injury put her out of action for seven weeks.
Liv says: “While I was out of action from football, I didn’t want to lose my ball control so spent time in the garden practising tricks. During this time, I got really good at the tricks and I discovered freestyling online and loved it. By the time I was fit enough to go back to football, I actually preferred freestyling.”
For a while, Liv juggled football and freestyling, but at 16, she took a gamble by quitting football. Liv says: “I had to make a choice between football and freestyling.
“I was doing well at football but I knew I loved freestyling more.
“The best thing about freestyling is you can see the improvement. If you win a competition, it is because you are the best and a result of the work you put in. But in football, the results can be dependent on your teammates.
“Freestyling is not just a competitive sport - it is a full-on lifestyle and I love everything about it.”
After school, Liv went to Leyland’s Runshaw College to study sport and exercise science.
However, she knew she wanted to be a professional freestyler after college and realised in order to do this she needed to perform well in competitions and train for four or five hours a day. She made the decision to leave college to focus on freestyling.
Liv says: “I wasn’t good at freestyling when I started out but when I am passionate about something, I give it my all.
“I just really enjoyed freestyling and would spend hours practising one trick and when I mastered it, I wanted to do the next level of difficulty and then the next.
“I was constantly trying to improve myself and setting myself harder challenges.”
At the age of 17, Liv began posting videos of herself training online and they began getting a lot of views and going viral earning her lots of followers. Liv says: “That’s when I realised I could make a career out of freestyling.”
Liv only started taking part in freestyling competitions last year and was plagued by injuries.
She explains: “I have been quite unlucky with injuries.
“Two years ago, I decided to go in for my first freestyling competition in the World Championships in the Czech Republic.
“However, two days before the competition, the same back injury which put me out of football that time returned so I was unable to take part. I wasn’t even able to walk for a week.
“But in hindsight, maybe it was for the best as if I had competed, I wouldn’t have done well as my level was not high enough at that point.”
Liv rested and recovered from her injury and then began training hard. She then competed in the Red Bull Streetstyle World Cup in September 2016 and was the youngest competitor and came sixth.
However, Liv wasn’t happy with her result.
She says: “I went into that competitions knowing my level was good enough to make the top four. I knew I could be better so I trained even harder for the next competition.
“The next freestyling competition was the 2016 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia. As I’d trained so hard for the Red Bull Streetstyle World Cup but not done as well as I’d hoped, I had this urge to train even harder.
“However, the World Championships were only two months later which isn’t even enough time for your body to recover. As a result, I picked up a stress fracture from training so hard, but I wasn’t aware of this.
“I knew I was in pain, but I could still do the tricks and there was no way I was going to pull out of the World Championships because of an injury so I pushed through the pain.”
Liv ploughed through the World Championships in Melbourne and made it to the final. But in the final round, Liv’s foot dramatically broke.
She remembers: “I knew as soon as I went down that it had broken and I could not stand or finish the battle.”
Despite breaking her foot, Liv became the youngest vice World Champion by coming second.
Liv says: “Most people would be distraught at breaking their foot in the final, but I was just so happy I had made it to the final and come second and was on cloud nine despite my broken foot.”
However, reality struck when Liv flew back to England and the hospital confirmed her foot was broken. For four months, Liv could not do anything and admits it was a very difficult time for her.
She explains: “It was the toughest four months of my life.
“Freestyling is not just my hobby, it is my career. I gave up college and made lots of sacrifices for freestyling and it was my life.
“But suddenly, for four months, I couldn’t do anything. It was horrible. I just felt lost with nothing to do.
“But I always knew that everything happens for a reason. I remember tweeting: ‘I don’t know why this had to happen, but I know for sure 12 months down the line, I will look back and know exactly why this had to happen.’
“When I had that lightbulb moment, I realised I could use this time valuably and come back stronger.”
Liv began watching videos of MMA star Conor McGregor and tennis ace Serena Williams and they gave her inspiration as she realised they’d been through worse. She then began watching her old freestyling videos and analysing herself and her opponents.
Liv says: “I found my weaknesses and planned exactly what I would do when I returned to freestyling.
“I realised if I could compete with a stress fracture, break my foot and still come second, there was no reason why I couldn’t win the World Championships when I was perfectly healthy.
“My broken foot definitely helped me to become World Champion.
“I had been very narrow-minded with my training and was only training my strengths. I realised how weak my other areas were and knew to be World Champion, I needed to have no weaknesses.”
Liv achieved her goal and became World Champion at Super Ball 2017 in Prague after beating defending world champion Kalina in the final.
The past few months have been a whirlwind and Liv has travelled extensively racking up 29 flights in 48 days. Liv says: “It has all been crazy: breaking my foot, returning to freestyling and then becoming the youngest ever world champion.
“It does not feel real!”
Liv plans to carry on freestyling but won’t train as intensely. She says: “When I was training for the World Championships, I was often in an empty room for five hours at a time six days a week repeating the same tricks.
“However, I enjoyed it as I wanted to win and knew the training would get me to where I wanted to be.”
Liv wants to start a platform for sportswomen like an agency supporting them in their careers.
Liv explains: “I want to work to support and push women’s sport. I think there is an untapped market and a lot of potential in women’s sport. Women’s football is the fastest growing sport in the world.
“I want to use my story and everything I am to give something back to other women in sport.
“My dream came true and I want to help others do the same with theirs.”